Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack is preparing to begin his duties as president of Claflin University on Aug. 1.
While he’s still serving as president of Harris-Stowe State University in Missouri, Warmack has enlisted the help those at his future university.
“I’m appointing a transition team. This team will consist of multiple individuals from the campus, faculty, staff and students. Their responsibility will be to present me with a (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis,” Warmack said.
Warmack says he’ll be moving into the job without any preconceived notions.
“My first goal, my objective is to spend the first 30 to 60, 90 days listening. Listening to the people on campus, getting a chance to hear,” Warmack said.
“I gave the board a 30-60-90 day plan and a pre-30-day plan that I would implement if I was selected as president, and I’m doing those things,” he said. “One of the things clearly stated within 30 days of being named, I’m calling key donors, I’m calling each board member, I’m calling key student leaders, I’m calling faculty members and key alumni just to have introductory calls, and just for them to know I’m excited about joining Claflin, how do we work together to continue to pull Claflin to the next direction.”
Warmack said he has already reviewed the university’s strategic plan.
“From the outside looking in, you can review a strategic plan, you can look at an enrollment management plan, you can look at 990 budgets, you can look at annual audits. And so I’ve explored every one of those things, but at the same time, until you step foot on a campus and get to know and hear from the soldiers that’s doing the work every day, then you miss the boat,” Warmack said.
He said that he remains prayerful that God gives him wisdom and insight.
Warmack said that he sees opportunities for growth at Claflin, including expanding the university's brand globally.
“That’s an area I look forward to continuing to help build and strengthen,” he said.
Warmack’s conversations with the university’s board members revealed other opportunities.
“Claflin has an ambitious enrollment growth aspiration. … I have a lot of years of having record enrollment at multiple institutions, and that’s been my strong point,” Warmack said.
Under current Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale’s leadership, Claflin became recognized as one of the nation’s top historically black universities and one of the state’s top liberal arts institutions.
Warmack acknowledged those as great achievements, but also feels that he can help “continue to tell the Claflin story.”
“I think Claflin is really poised to be a national leader,” Warmack said. He said his goal is for the university to be regarded as, “the top regional liberal arts institution in the country. We’ll just happen to be an HBCU, but our goal will be to be one of the best in the country.”
Warmack’s preparation for his transition has included talks with Tisdale and board members.
“I am a sponge, so I love to learn,” he said about his conversations with Tisdale.
“I’ve been working very hard with identifying some of those things that board members feel they think are pressing issues, and what they think we need to address immediately,” Warmack said.
“And then the other piece is having good conversations with President Tisdale about the things he’s been able to do to get the institution to where it is today, and the suggestions and recommendations that he had for me that will continue to move the direction going forward,” Warmack added.
Warmack noted that he will also pulling from his experiences at HSSU.
While at HSSU, Warmack experienced success and also experienced criticism. Some of those criticisms followed reports of low freshman retention rates, low graduation rates and the hiring of a staff member with a criminal history in the university’s human resources department.
Warmack addressed those criticisms.
“Anyone that’s ever been in leadership knows you get the good and the bad. I inherited a very challenged institution. I came in, there were a lot of challenges. It was clear the board brought me in to fix it. My sole responsibility was to bring the institution back to where they wanted it to be,” he said.
He said, “Enrollment had dropped 10 years in a row, we had performance funding challenges, all of the things. And so, we had to build the right team and get the right folks in the right seat on the bus to be able to tackle some of those challenges.”
Warmack also addressed the hiring of a staff member who had a criminal history.
“The state of Missouri has a mandatory background check. Every employee in the state of Missouri, before you’re hired, you have to go through the state background check. Those are outlined policies and procedures. Every employee that was hired here has gone through that background check,” he said.
“We followed all of our policies and procedures to a T, and once we found out that whatever the background challenges were, the person was no longer at the institution,” Warmack said. “When the article was published, the person had already been transitioned from the university six months prior.”
“Once we found out, we did what we needed to do as an institution to move forward to ensure that the institution was in the right space,” Warmack said.
Warmack noted that the issues that he and the university received criticism for occurred early in his tenure, and that the university experienced growth in enrollment, retention and graduation rates.
“We were cleaning up after years and years of challenges while continuing to work through what we needed to do to make those things happen,” he said.
“Anything that’s happened at the institution in the past has been part of what we’ve done to move the institution forward,” he stated.
Warmack said he has a different view of the challenges he faced at HSSU and throughout his higher education career
“For me, every challenge becomes an opportunity,” Warmack said.
In his review of Claflin, Warmack said he has already been able to identify challenges and opportunities for the institution.
“Reviewing your audit, your (IRS) 990s, Claflin had its share of challenges as well, and so I’m excited to work with the board, faculty, staff and students to overcome some of those challenges,” he said.
“Claflin has its share of challenges that are there that will allow me to have plenty of opportunities to continue to help the institution move forward,” Warmack stated.
Warmack said his family is in the process of surveying potential schools for his daughter, and his wife will continue her work in the medical field.
Although Warmack’s wife won’t serve in an official capacity with the university, he is confident she will find her niche.
“My wife will work on her civic engagement. She’s really big on mentoring. That’s something that she’s passionate about. She’s really conscious about health and wellness for women, and she’s very community-oriented,” Warmack said.
He noted that this is not his wife’s first time as the first lady of an institution and that she knows her role in that capacity.
Looking 25 years into the future, Claflin’s ninth president hopes to have a positive legacy.
“I will want folks to say he came and gave 110 percent to the institution. He was unwilling to compromise student success, and he had an unwavering support for faculty and embraces alumni and truly had a keen understanding of the higher education academy,” Warmack said.
“Ensuring staff and this whole notion of shared governance that everyone has a voice and everyone has value, that is what’s important to me, and that Claflin will be in a better place than it was 25 years before,” he stated.
Warmack said he wants students to continue to have transformational experiences.
“My ego is never tied to this work. I do this because it’s my ministry, it’s what I’m called to do.”