When Rob Robinson of Hamlet was a student and
baseball player at St. Augustine's University -nee College
- in the mid 1970s, he walked into Dean J.H. Twitty's
office and caught the tail end of a telephone
The normally even-tempered Dean Twitty - who was also the baseball coach - "was arguing with someone on the other end about a building on campus. The building was not being used and there was a push by some people on campus to tear it down.
"I asked him why he was fighting so hard for that old, undistinguished building," Robinson recalled.
Dean Twitty's answer: "Because I know that building's history. I know what it means to this campus... It was built by students."
When St. Aug's picks a successor to President Everett Ward, who announced recently that he is leaving this summer after five years, that is the kind of person it must pick - someone who knows and appreciates its history.
It needs someone like Rob or me - if, that is, I had any skills that would translate to what St. Aug's needs. Which I don't.
What I do have, though, is a fierce loyalty and - sure, I'll say it - love for the school on Raleigh's Oakwood Avenue.
When the college basketball scholarship offers I was delusionally expecting never materialized during my senior year in high school - Norm Sloan at N.C. State and Dean Smith at UNC either lost my phone number or had no use for the 11th man on a 12-man high school team- my uncle called his buddy, a professor at St. Aug's., and asked if he could help me get in.
He did, although I only stayed about long enough to eat lunch: when head basketball coach Harvey Heartless cut me during tryouts, I transferred to another college. When I got cut from the team there - I transferred to another college. When I got cut from that school's team - that's when I decided I'd better find something else to do.
(I also think 45 states passed laws prohibiting me from trying out for teams there.)
So yeah, I went to several colleges, but none holds the place of honor in my heart that St. Aug's does.
Your first is always special, right?
Taylor Hall, the building Dean Twitty fought so hard to save from the wrecking ball, was built in 1898. It is now the Taylor Wellness Center.
Robinson interrupted his career in corporate America to work in Student Affairs and as assistant baseball coach at his alma mater because of his love for the school. The word he used to describe St. Aug's when he was a student there is "nurturing."
That's the kind of person the school needs to shepherd it into the future - preferably an alum and someone with an academic background, but mainly someone who can appreciate the school's history, appreciate what it means.
Ward has led St. Augustine's since 2014 and brought it back from the precipice of extinction after the school was placed on probation by its accreditation agency.
The next step would have been the one too many historically black colleges and universities have taken or are facing - the dirt nap, the eternal slumber, a school destined to exist only in its alumni's cherished memories.
Of course, if they cherished it the right way - by contributing moolah and expertise - the black colleges wouldn't find themselves perched on the precipice of extinction in the first place.
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