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TSU Mourns Death of Former President Dr. James A. Hefner

TSU Mourns Death of Former President Dr. James A. Hefner
Dr. James A. Hefner

By E. Freeman/TSU

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee State University family is saddened to announce the death of Dr. James A. Hefner, the sixth president of the University. He died early Thursday morning, August 27, surrounded by family in his Brentwood home following a long illness. Dr. Hefner was 74. Hefner served TSU as president from 1991-2005.

In a statement on the passing of Dr. Hefner, Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover said:

“The Tennessee State University family sends its deepest condolences to the Hefner family. Dr. Hefner devoted his entire adult life to serving others and expanding educational opportunities to all. As educators, we have lost a visionary and one of the best leaders to ever serve this great institution. He loved inspiring students and challenging them.”

The university’s progress during Dr. Hefner’s tenure was unprecedented. While President of Tennessee State University, Dr. Hefner transformed TSU into a top-tier research university. He was deeply committed to TSU’s land-grant mission. He pursued programs and efforts that aligned the resources of the university with the needs of students. His legacy will serve the university, the nation and the world.

Under his leadership, Tennessee State University saw marked physical, infrastructural and academic improvement, including the implementation of a $112 million capital improvement plan. The improvement was part of the Geier agreement that attempted to end race-based disparity in higher education funding in Tennessee. Several new buildings were constructed, including the Floyd-Payne Student Campus Center, the Ned McWherter Administration Building and the Performing Arts Center.

He was viewed as the students’ president and enrollment reached an all-time high of 9,100 students, an achievement that has only been recently achieved during the 2014-2015 academic school year. The TSU endowment also experienced remarkable growth from $500,000 to more than $25 million (through fund-raising and settling a Federal Consent Decree). He positioned Tennessee State University as a premier institution of higher learning.  TSU was listed in U.S. News & Worlds Report’s “Guide to America’s Best Colleges” for 11 consecutive years (1994-2005).

Dr. Hefner occupied the Thomas and Patricia Frisk Chair of excellence in entrepreneurship, a $2.3 million endowed chair at Tennessee State University.  He also established two other endowed chairs of excellence at Tennessee State. An advocate and proponent of African American intellectual achievement throughout his career, Dr. Hefner established two of the nation’s top honor societies, Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi, at Tennessee State University and Clark Atlanta University.

After retiring as president of Tennessee State University in 2005, Dr. Hefner was a non-resident fellow at Harvard University in the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research; Visiting Distinguished Professor of Economics and Presidential Leadership at Texas Southern University; and most recently as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Clark Atlanta University, where he worked diligently as he fought cancer up until the very end.

When recently asked how he wanted to be remembers, Dr. Hefner said: “As an educator who cared about black higher education and the welfare of students.”

He earned his undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T University, his master’s degree in economics from Atlanta University, and his doctorate in economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“My father lived a life of service to historically black colleges and universities and the students who attend them,” said Dr. David Hefner, the youngest son of Dr. Hefner and a 1993 graduate of Morehouse College. “He was an intellectual disciple of W.E.B. DuBois – a Fisk University graduate – in that he believed in the liberation that academic excellence promised to those who lived a life of service to the African American community, to truth and to humanity. So his legacy is a living one because there is still much work to do. And my father serves as an example of what service to HBCUs looks like, and we celebrate his life and legacy.”

Dr. James A. Hefner lied in state Wednesday, September 2, 2015 on TSU’s campus inside the Walter S. Davis Humanities Building, Poag Auditorium and was followed with a memorial service. A reception was held immediately following the service at TSU’s Ferrell-Westbrook Building (The Barn). A funeral service was held Thursday, September 3, 2015 at Christ Church Cathedral at 900 Broadway.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting memorial gifts be made to the Dr. James A. Hefner Scholarship Foundation in his honor to the Tennessee State University or Morehouse College Development Offices. You may reach the TSU Foundation at 615-963-5481, for Morehouse 404-215-2660.

During Dr. James A. Hefner’s 14-year tenure as president of Tennessee State University he oversaw the implementation of a $112 million capital improvements plan, secured by former TSU President Otis Floyd and as part of the Geier Consent Decree, ending more than 30 years of federal court litigation addressing race-based disparities in higher education spending in Tennessee. Several new buildings were built on TSU’s campus, including a campus center, an administration building and a Performing Arts Center. Under his leadership, enrollment reached an all-time high of 9,100 students.

Graduate Degree Program Highlights Under President Hefner

• 1991 The School of Graduate Studies and Research celebrated 50 years of  Graduate Education.

• 1994 The Master of Science in Nursing Degree was initiated.

• 1996 The Psychology doctoral program degree designation changed from Ed.D. to Ph.D.

• 1997 The Master of Science in Computer, Information, and System Engineering (CISE) was initiated.

• 1998 The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Biological Sciences was initiated.

• 1999 The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Computer and Information Systems Engineering was approved.

• 2004 The School of Allied Professions was changed to the College of Health Sciences

• 2006 The Doctor of Physical Therapy Program was initiated.

• 2006 The Master of Occupational Therapy was approved.

Sources: Tennessee State University, 2015; Tennessee Board of Regents; former Tennessee higher education officials.
Courtesy of The Tennessee Tribune

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