05/09/2013 12:31 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

You Can Go Home Again

Since retiring as chancellor of North Carolina Central University in August 2012, I have had the opportunity to address audiences on three continents. The most recent opportunity, and certainly one of the most important, was addressing the students, faculty, staff and alumni at my alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. When invited to serve as the keynote speaker for the 140th Founders' Celebration, I accepted without hesitation. In the 45 years since my graduation, I have spoken to the University community on numerous occasions; served as a consultant in areas related to student retention, faculty development and accreditation and contributed thousands of dollars toward student scholarships. In fact, in honor of our parents and other family members, my spouse and I have established scholarship endowments at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and North Carolina Central University, both HBCUs, and at Indiana University East and the University of Michigan at Flint, both PWIs. Because of our unswerving personal commitment and the generosity of our colleagues and friends, foundations and corporations, more than a dozen students are current recipients of Charlie & Jeanetta Nelms Scholarships. Our endowments at these four institutions exceed $500,000.

The above referenced information is shared not as a means of bragging, but to make the point that we all have the opportunity and the obligation to support the institution (s) that helped to make us the successful professionals that we have become.

Returning to the UAPB Founders' Day celebration, in my remarks I sought to make five simple points:

1.The future of UAPB, indeed all HBCUs, will be determined by its contemporary relevance, competitiveness and responsiveness, not in the recitation of rhetoric about the university's historic legacy. While the University's history is important and must be preserved, the social landscape that gave birth to the university has changed and so must the university.

2. The University must raise the expectations it has for members of its executive leadership team, faculty, staff, students and alumni. I implored the University's leaders to lead, its faculty to teach rather than simply lecture and students to learn rather than simply show up for class expecting to be entertained.

3. The University must recruit non-black students with the same level of energy and effectiveness that white universities recruit black students. Not doing so will result in the university enrolling increasingly fewer students, many of whom are not academically prepared to do college level work. This does not mean the abandonment of the University's mission but the realization that the community college may be a better starting point for many students.

4. The University must offer high quality, competitive academic programs to which all prospective students are attracted irrespective of race, gender or socio-economic status.

5. Alumni must invest more of their time, talent and resources in the University if they are truly committed to helping the University fulfill its mission in a contemporary society. We cannot talk scholarships, for example, into existence; we must donate funds to make them a reality. While we cannot all be philanthropists at the same level, we can be philanthropists in the context of our capacity to do so.

For this HBCU alumnus, going home for Founders' Day was great, but being a 45 year investor in the success of the University and its students felt even better. With the recent appointment of a new chancellor, it is my hope that all alumni will embrace the University with renewed energy, enthusiasm and passion not for what it has been, but for what it can become through our individual and collective efforts.