Q&A: Makola M. Abdullah

After a year as president of Virginia State University, Makola M. Abdullah believes the historically black land grant institution is on the road to recovery from its crisis of 2014. An overly optimistic operating budget had projected the enrollment of 5,500 students that fall, but 1,000 fewer students matriculated. VSU has said the drop-off cost the school $17.6 million. The university shuttered several residence halls and sharply reduced its budget, and then-President Keith M. Miller resigned.

Abdullah, a 47-year-old Chicago native, previously served as provost at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. His formal inauguration was set for March 24, after this issue went to press.

Richmond magazine: Could you give us a progress report on VSU?

Abdullah: From fall 2015 to fall 2016, we increased the number of freshmen by 30 percent. The question becomes, where do we go from here? If we can grow, and I believe we will, it will begin to tell us what is the next trend line. If it remains flatter, and the new normal is 4,700 students, we’ll have to make changes to be long-term successful at 4,600 to 4,700. I believe this year will tell the tale, and the early signs look good. I’m very excited.

RM: Given students’ previous complaints about a lack of transparency in the administration, have you shown that you’re going to be transparent?

Abdullah: Definitely. We have been working to include shared governance, which has included faculty being in on the provost search. We’ve reinstituted the staff senate and I really try to engage the students. I try to eat in the dining hall four or five times a week. Sometimes the students ask me questions and sometimes they don’t, but I’m in a space where access to me is easy. So if there are challenges, I can know about them earlier.

RM: What would you say to students who might be considering a historically black college or university?

Abdullah: Because of the emphasis that our institutions place on mentoring, and the value we place on undergraduate education and teaching, our HBCUs are some of the best values in higher education in the country.

Source: Richmond Magazine