Wingate University

05/30/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/30/2024 07:44

Alums Matthews and Booker to lead Board of Trustees

By Luanne Williams

When Wingate Board of Trustees Chair Bill Crowder hands over the reins to Carolyn Matthews this weekend, he'll do so with the utmost confidence, not just in the abilities of Matthews and new Vice Chair Russell Booker, but in the recently implemented processes and procedures of the board itself - a transformation that began five years ago with the Committee to Reimagine Trusteeship.

"The primary responsibility of the Board of Trustees is to hire the right president, then to be a good advisor to the president and to anyone else he chooses us to be a good advisor to," Crowder says. "You have to know something about the world of higher education. And we realized that we didn't know nearly enough. We needed more education."

With its new leaders, the board is getting two people who certainly know a thing or two about education - at all levels. Not only do they have a combined 25+ years of experience serving on the Board of Trustees, but they're both career educators to boot. Matthews, Booker and the new secretary, Ron Hinson, take office on Saturday. A trustee since 2018, Hinson served as chair of the Resources Committee this past year. He replaces Jim Mason as secretary.

Matthews, the first woman to serve as chair of the University Board of Trustees, spent her career in education. Beginning as a social studies teacher, she found her passion as a school counselor. Even after retiring from the public schools, she worked as a counselor and mentor for students in the Crosby Scholars Program, focusing primarily on college readiness.

"I am a champion for students," says Matthews, a 1969 Wingate graduate who has been a board member since 2018. "I see myself that way. I especially have a heart for students who need an extra boost."

One of her goals as chair will be to help strengthen Wingate's faith heritage.

"Any student who comes to Wingate should feel comfortable expressing, practicing and growing in their faith," she says. "One of our goals will be to hire a University chaplain."

Booker, who has served on the board since 2005 and is the first African-American elected as an officer, says he sometimes felt like a fish out of water in his early years.

"The board from 20 years ago and today's board are very different," he says. "The board has evolved and is now more diverse in terms of age, geography, race and ethnicity, profession, politics, gender, etc. My goal is to lead in such a way that every member of the board recognizes that they have a voice, bring value, and are important thought partners."

Having served on the BOT's Academic Affairs and Mission & Purpose committees, among other roles, Booker, a 1991 Wingate grad, looks forward to leading the Executive Committee and working alongside Matthews.

"We are both educators and bring a deep passion for Wingate University - not just the institution, but also the students, faculty, and staff who are its heartbeat," Booker says. "We are both grounded in Wingate's core principles of faith, knowledge and service. Our values are aligned, and we will bring complementary perspectives to our future roles."

Chief executive officer of the Spartanburg Academic Movement in Spartanburg, S.C., Booker retired as superintendent of Spartanburg County School District Seven, after nearly three decades in education. He was named the South Carolina Superintendent of the Year in 2015 and received the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor, in 2020.

As CEO of the SAM, Booker leads a comprehensive economic-mobility strategy that has garnered national attention. Central to the group's plan is a focus on postsecondary-degree attainment.

"As communities grapple with keeping the value of higher education at the forefront, it will be crucial for Wingate University to continue to innovate and demonstrate higher education as a key to upward mobility and economic vitality," Booker says. "It will be more important than ever for our trustees to understand this and articulate it to our various constituencies. I hope to bring my learnings from 29 years in K-12 coupled with my current work in the postsecondary and workforce space to my new role."

Matthews says she and Booker will have a great supporting cast as others on the executive committee offer up their backgrounds and skills.

"We like to learn, and we're used to collaborating and sharing ideas," she says.

Those characteristics will fit in nicely with a board that has been undergoing some changes the past few years.

Procedural changes

Crowder says the board needed more diverse talent and easier ways for all members to get engaged, so, under the mentorship of then-chair Joe Patterson and Wingate University President Rhett Brown, Crowder chose six fellow trustees to help figure out how the board could be more informed, operate more efficiently and put more of the talents of its members to use.

"We started our work in 2020, which obviously coincided with Covid, so not only did we have ideas about how to do things differently but we were forced to do things differently," Crowder says. The group met every other week on Zoom to hash out how they had traditionally done business and what needed to change.

Trustees used to gather for two days three times a year. Mornings were for committees, afternoons for a business meeting typically followed by dinner and a speaker.

"We recognized that when you have committee meetings in the morning, the report from the committee chair that goes to the board is really a report as to what happened four months ago, not that morning," Crowder says.

They also realized that having all the committees meet at once kept trustees from broadening their knowledge or influence because they could only attend one meeting. To address those issues, they rescheduled committee meetings a month in advance of board meetings (of which there are now four instead of three per year)\ and made them all on separate days and accessible via Zoom.

"Now any board member can attend any committee meeting and every committee meeting if they want," Crowder says. "And typically we have at least 75 percent of members who will sit in on a committee other than the one they are assigned to. We have learned so much about the business of the university by doing that."

Since 2021, the board has undergone a program of intentional education, holding full-day sessions on higher ed topics with experts in the field.

"The trusteeship committee is thinking six months to nine months in advance, coming up with ideas and bringing in outside experts," Crowder said. He worked with the University's legal counsel, Ben Sidbury, to rewrite bylaws to reflect new processes and to better define the roles of the Board's four committees: Trusteeship, Mission & Purpose, Resources, and Audit & Compliance.

Matthews appreciates the efforts of Crowder and others to make the board more diverse.

"I think the board should reflect our students, so we need to continually be aware of the make-up on our campus and try to have people on the board that reflect that," Matthews says. "The fact that I am the first female is not lost on me. I hope I can be an effective leader who happens to be female. I am old enough to remember when women did not have leadership opportunities like this. So I don't take it for granted."

Matthews says the new structure gives her confidence as she steps into the role of chair.

"The way we have reorganized helps us be more engaged with the tasks we want to accomplish," she says. "Before that, it was fulfilling, but I was still trying to understand how best to engage and contribute. The way the committee structure is set up, it is easier to get connected to the committees you have the most to contribute to. The point is more engagement, knowing more about what is going on and knowing better how to contribute and how to help."

May 30, 2024