Laurence B. Alexander, associate dean of the graduate school and director of the Office of Minority Programs at the University of Florida, participated in a question and answer session with University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff alumni and members of the community Tuesday evening as part of a two-day chancellor candidate visit.
The event at the Donald W. Reynolds Center was held to allow as many interested residents as possible the chance to speak with Alexander, who is the third of four candidates selected by an advisory search committee to visit the campus over the past week.
“We are delighted and humbled to be here and to have this opportunity,” said Alexander, who is in Pine Bluff with his wife, Veronica. “We hail from Gainesville, Fla., and are both from New Orleans. I am excited about this opportunity here at UAPB. It’s the fire and the passion that I see all the way through the faculty, staff, students and alumni, that excites me. People love UAPB and it is clear that their heart is in it. That’s what separates it from other schools and what excites me.”
Alexander said that his passion is using higher education to make a difference in the lives of students.
“I am from the largest and most notorious housing project in New Orleans,” Alexander said. “I was raised by a single mother, the youngest of five children. We got by on public assistance. I went to school on public assistance. That is why I am so passionate about helping students to cross over to success through higher education.”
During the question and answer session Alexander was asked to describe a couple of instances of how he worked with black students in a predominately white institution.
“I have had to intervene on behalf of some of our African American students with their professors when they don’t feel like they are getting a fair shake,” Alexander said. “Almost always I call their professor on the phone and they know why I’m calling. It is usually settled very quickly. I have not had a case that has been protracted.”
“I am with the graduate school and a lot of our African American students don’t have the minimum scores required in their departments,” Alexander said. “They are often borderline and below. That’s where my advocacy comes to the fore. African Americans often don’t test well on standardized exams and I speak with professors about the fact that tests like the GRE [Graduate Record Exam] are not as strong a predictor of academic success as is grade point average and student experience.”
Alexander said that he and his staff encourage black students to work on keeping their GPA up and to get as much research experience as they can.
“We tell the faculty not to make the GRE the deciding factor in acceptance,” Alexander said.
Another questioner asked Alexander what skills he brings to the table.
“I bring 26 years of experience in higher education to the table,” Alexander said. “I bring a large academic portfolio to this job. I’ve taught 10,000 students in my career and I’ve learned how to get students to excel.”
Alexander was asked if he has had to work with students in need of remedial course work over the course of his career and what experience he has had with historically black colleges and universities.
“At the University of Florida we have partnerships with Florida A&M University, a historically black university,” Alexander said. “As for remediation, I have dealt with students who need some form of remediation. We have problems at the university with students who don’t write well. We have a top 10 journalism school and people who can’t write well so we have a remedial class to help students with their writing.”
Another question pertained to how Alexander thought the ties between the university and the community could be strengthened.
“The futures of both are inextricably interwoven and together great things can happen,” Alexander said. “UAPB is providing a workforce for Pine Bluff. It provides human capital to the community. I’d like to see the principles of entrepreneurship taught to our students. If people can’t find a job then they can create their own.”
Kim Luckes, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Norfolk State University in Virginia, visited Jan. 22-23; Robert Mock, vice president for student affairs at the University of Kentucky, visited Jan. 24-25; and Everette J. Freeman, president of Albany State University in Georgia will visit Feb. 5-6.