A Book Review
Dr. Neari Francois Warner served as acting president for three years at Grambling State University. And in those three years, she accomplished the impossible. She restored the school’s accreditation and set them back on track as one of the great HBCUs in the south. Her book, published in March, could have been titled, ‘I Came, I Saw, I Conquered’ as she and her team did just that. She has now been inducted into the GSU Hall of Fame and a million-dollar endowed scholarship has been established in her name.
by Willmarine Hurst
Dr. Neari Francois Warner had a philosophy that she has lived by. It was the same philosophy that she imparted to her only son and to all of her nieces and nephews. That philosophy, passed down from her parents, was “always do your best; mind your own business, and good things will come to you.”
And as Warner points out, “I was minding my own business, and now I am a university president, albeit acting.”
Warner served as acting president of Grambling State University from 2001 to 2004, making history as the first woman to lead the historically Black university. She also served GSU as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Vice President for Development and University Relations and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs. Prior to that, she spent 26 years at Southern University at New Orleans, where she served as Dean of the Junior Division, Director of the Upward Bound Program and Coordinator of TRIO programs.
The day before her appointment, Warner was approached by Bobby Jindal, who was then the president of the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, along with the Board Chairman Andre Coudrain. They informed her that the current president of the university would not be in that position much longer; and she had been selected to fill in as acting president.
In Honoring the Call: Odyssey of an Acting University President, Warner chronicles her journey at GSU along with some other eventful challenges in her professional and personal life. She weaves her story in a very methodical manner, and, she leaves no stone unturned in telling her own adventure with ‘eyes wide open.’ She had no illusions of the task that she was about to undertake.
First published in March 2016 and available on amazon.com in hardcover, paperback and Kindle, publisher Xlibris US heralds Honoring the Call as a record of the “hard work, dedicated service, and committed spirit that the Grambling State University constituencies demonstrated to ensure that the University remained an outstanding academic institution, attracting students from throughout the United States and many foreign countries and that it continued to be the place ‘where everybody is somebody’ ”.
Although everyone at the January 5, 2001 board meeting congratulated her and pledged their support, she knew the problems facing GSU.
In the book, she writes: “While all of their words of encouragement and support were genuine and sincere, everybody tipped around that proverbial ‘white elephant’, the infamous symbol which represents an unwanted burdensome situation.” That elephant, which she renamed as the “big white tiger” (representing the school’s mascot) was the possible loss of the university’s accreditation.
David and Goliath
Warner is a small, diminutive lady, maybe not quite five feet. But she stood tall as she rose to the challenge and, like David, she slew her Goliath, the “white tiger” that loomed heavy over the university. This was no easy feat. The university was going through a crisis of biblical proportion. And it would take more than a few stones to bring this “giant” down.
So, after first meeting with her office staff and executive cabinet, Warner assembled her team of dedicated professionals. Though she worked tirelessly to restore the Grambling image, fix the financial crisis and keep the university open, there was still some skepticism by the naysayers, the BLTs. (BLTs, no not Warner’s favorite sandwich, but the Backstabbers, Liars, and Tattlers that she had to deal with in the process of restoring the university’s accreditation).
However, that did not deter her. In Honoring the Call, Warner outlines all of the events of her tenure with a recall that makes note of all of those who played a part in who she is and what she accomplished.
In the book, she recounts events, names and places with a keen sense of accuracy. She also used her ability to remember to help her with many of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) academic accreditations.
While serving as provost and vice present for academic affairs, Warner was intricately involved in and partially responsible for the accreditation of many of the academic programs at GSU, such as the Speech and Theatre department in 1998, where she was once a student; the Mass Communication program, where she worked on a summer edition of the campus publication; and the department of Public
Administration in 1999. By 2000, there were four new accreditations achieved.
“As such, I took these accreditations personally,” Warner tells in Honoring the Call.
Warner tells her own story her own way. She knew that the university had problems. She didn’t back down from the challenge. Even though she was the “acting” president, she rose to the occasion and she honored the call.
“It was my desire to illustrate that the word “acting” had no effect on my commitment, dedication, or performance,” she says. The school received its accreditation averting the closure of the college. Their financial audits were clear. The “big white tiger” that had been lurking throughout the campus had been slain. The black and gold tiger that symbolized the spirit of GSU was now free to roam the campus.
Student enrollment increased under her tenure. In the three years that Warner was president of GSU, she was a part of the renovation and construction of new sites and buildings. She writes, “… my tenure marked the beginning of millions of dollars in construction and renovations to the campus buildings and structures.”
Some of the facilities and buildings included new women’s and men’s gymnasiums; the renovation of the baseball field with new seating and lighting for night games; the administrative buildings; and the much-needed renovation of residential facilities. There were also technological upgrades of the telephone system and rural internet services to provide internet access to several surrounding parishes.