WASHINGTON — Howard University President Sidney Ribeau abruptly stepped down Tuesday after months of internal debate over the management and financial health of one of the nation’s premier historically black universities.
Mr. Ribeau, in office five years, announced his retirement “from our beloved institution” after a tense three-day Board of Trustees meeting at the Washington campus that ended Saturday. He said he would officially leave at the end of December.
A communications scholar, Mr. Ribeau served as the ninth president of Bowling Green State University from 1995 to 2008. During his tenure, he developed the President’s Leadership Academy, to encourage students to pursue leadership and community engagement opportunities. In 2009, the university renamed the program the Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy in honor of his service.
His departure from Howard follows two developments last month that many boosters found dispiriting: A drop in national ranking, and a credit downgrade. It also came a year after enrollment suddenly fell 5 percent.
Mr. Ribeau, 65, this summer signed a contract extension through June, 2015, but he said Tuesday he was not forced out.
“This is the time, this is the season, for me to retire from the presidency,” he told the Washington Post. He said the university had made progress on an ambitious agenda in a challenging economic time. “We’re focused, we’re back on track, and the momentum is building.”
He declined to say how much the university will pay to buy out his contract. He earned $759,340 in total compensation in the fiscal year ending in June, 2012, according to the university’s federal tax return.
The board appointed Wayne Frederick, 42, Howard’s provost, interim president. Dr. Frederick is a professor of surgery and a cancer specialist at Howard’s College of Medicine.
Last week, the university welcomed its second-largest freshman class in 15 years and said enrollment had risen 3 percent to more than 10,330, partially recovering from the previous plunge.
But the university’s image took a double blow in September.
First, its ranking on the U.S. News & World Report list of national universities continued a several-year slide, falling 22 places to 142nd. As recently as 2009-10, Howard stood at 96th.
Second, Howard’s credit rating was downgraded Sept. 24 from A3 to Baa1, in a pessimistic report from analysts. Moody’s Investors Service cited “weak” fund-raising, a university hospital with a “remarkably weak profile,” enrollment fluctuations, deep federal budget cuts and questions about whether management can follow through on plans to cut costs.