Lee, Joe A. 1946(?)–

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Joe A. Lee 1946(?)


A Life of Education

Accepts ASU Challenge


Joe A. Lee was just a schoolboy when the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education. The courts 1954 decision ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional and forever changed the face of education in the United States. However, in the Deep South, Lees native home, desegregation was slow to come. Throughout the fifties and into the sixties, brave children would fight to attend public schools throughout the South. In Virginia one county would close all its schools. Federal troops would be called into Alabama. The image of a white woman spitting on a young black school girl would shock the nation. As the battle unfolded and merged into the Civil Rights Movement, a series of colleges and universities around the country were busy providing higher education to black Americans. Many of these historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) were founded in the 1800s with the intent of educating African Americans to the standards provided by the countrys white universities. Though Lee attended schools under the banner of separate but equal, the reality was that black schools were anything but equal. Fortunately Lee found in the HBCU community not only an exemplary education but a career. After graduating from an HBCU, Lee went on to top positions at two more before finally becoming president of Alabama State University, one of the oldest and largest historically black universities in the country.

A Life of Education

Born in the mid-1940s in the tiny southern town of Brewton, Alabama, Lee attended Southern Normal High School. Normal in the title indicated a school dedicated to training future teachers. After graduating, Lee headed off to Talladega College in nearby Talladega, Alabama and earned a bachelors of science in biology in 1968. He promptly returned to his hometown and Southern Normal and taught biology, chemistry, and physics. He also oversaw the schools fundraising activities as the director of development and student recruitment. In 1971 Lee retraced his steps back to Talladega where he left teaching and moved to the administrative side of education. He began working in the historically black colleges fund raising and public relations departments and eventually moved up to the role of director of development in charge of all fundraising activities for the school.

Lee took a sabbatical from Talladega to solidify his career in higher education by earning a masters in educational administration from Ohios prestigious Miami University in 1982. Two years later he was appointed Talladegas dean of student services. He took a second sabbatical from the school to return to Miami University for a doctorate in 1990, also in educational administration. At Miami, Lee also served as the doctoral associate for minority affairs. After returning to Alabama, Lee was promoted to provost and vice president for academic affairs for Talladega in 1992.

In June of 1995, Lee left Talladega to become the twelfth president of Tougaloo College located near Jackson, Mississippi. At Tougaloo Lee faced the tough problems that seem to plague historically black colleges. He described them to Black Issues in Higher Education as fundraising in a very tight marketplace;

At a Glance

Born in the mid-19405, in Brewton, AL; married, Margie Ludgood; children: Joseph Martinique, Education: Tatladega College, BS, biology, 1968; Miami University, OH, MA, educational administration, 1982; PhD, educational administration, 1990; Harvard University, certification in educational management.

Career; Southern Normal High School, Brewton, AL, teacher, director of development, 1968-71; Talladega College, Talladega, AL, fundraising, 1971-84, dean of students services, 1984-92, provost and vice president for academic affairs, 1992-95; Tougaloo College, Tougabo, MS, president, 1995-2001; Alabama State University, Montgomery, president, 2001-.

Selected memberships; Alabama World Affairs Council, board member; American Missionary Association, chairman; National Advisory Board of the Family and Community Violence Prevention Program, secretary; National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, board member; United Negro College Funds National Alumni Council, former president.

Selected awards; Exemplary Service Award, Talladega College National Alumni Association, 1996; Ellease R. Colston Award, Council of National Alumni Associations, 1996; Educator of the Year, Sylacauga/Talladega Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; Order of Merit for Individual Excellence Award, National Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund; Presidential Citation, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education,

Addresses: Office Alabama State University, Office of the President, 915 South Jackson Street, Montgomery, AL 36104.

restoring aging campus infrastructures; and maintaining the visibility of the historically Black college in the twilight of affirmative action. Lees extensive background in fundraising helped him successfully manage the schools finances. He was able to balance the $6 million budget while also overseeing major upgrades to the 132-year-old campus. During his six year tenure at Tougaloo, Lee inaugurated a $6 million, 48,000-square-foot health and wellness center as well as a multi-million dollar dormitory building. Renovations to several campus facilities, including an historic on-campus chapel, were also launched under his watch.

While at Tougaloo Lee worked hard to enhance the colleges standing in the community. Along the way he participated in several civic and community groups. He was a member of the 1996-1997 Leadership Jackson Class and joined its board after graduating. Lee also belonged to 100 Black Men of Jackson, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society. He served on the boards of the Andrew Jackson Council, the Jackson Area American Red Cross, the Mississippi International Cultural Exchange Commission, and the United Way of Jackson. In addition Lee has been very active in educational organizations, particularly those aimed at minority issues, since launching his career in education. He has served on the board of directors of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education as well as the United Negro College Fund.

Accepts ASU Challenge

In 2001 Lee was asked to become the president of Alabama State University (ASU) in Montgomery. With a student body of over 5,000 and over 50 degrees offered, ASU is one of the largest historically black universities in the nation. It is also one of the oldest, having been founded in 1867. The school had been without a president for nearly a year when Lee said on the steps of the university, The answer is yes, as noted in ASU Today. With that succinct acceptance, Lee became the eleventh president in the schools history. He also pledged to put students first. I believe that the university was established to serve students and to educate them, ASU Today quoted Lee as saying. I will work to educate the students at Alabama State University, understanding that we dont have to define our clientswe know who our clients are.

Though he hoped to make his main priority the students, Lee inherited several problems at ASU that demanded his attention. The schools accreditation status was in jeopardy due to accounting problems. Funding from state and private sources was on the decline. Teachers and other staff were dissatisfied with their salaries. There is a dark cloud that hangs over ASU, and Im sick of people asking me if I really want to be here, Lee acknowledged in his acceptance speech quoted in ASU Today. We must change the attitudes surrounding this institution. He continued, pleading for cooperation from ASU staff and faculty. Im coming to ASU with a vision, but it wont be cast in concrete. I need to know your perceptions of ASUs weaknesses, where you want to see ASU in the next five years and what you have to offer this institution. He concluded, I want you to know and believe that together were going to take ASU to new heights. Believe in this great institution and watch it move forward.

As of 2004, Lees predictions were proving true. He had successfully averted a loss of accreditation in 2003 and overseen a revamping of the accounting procedures to meet accreditation guidelines in the future. He oversaw the dedication of a new $15 million academic building for health sciences and a $4.2 million renovation of one of the schools athletic centers. On the educational front ASU introduced its first doctoral program, a Ph.D. in educational leadership. Because of a historically black college, Lee became the leader in education that he is today. Now, coming full circleand over a century after the first HBCU was establishedASUs doctorate in education promises to continue the tradition of creating African-American educators prepared to teach the next generation of studentsstudents who thankfully will never know what it means to be barred from university doors or spat upon simply for wanting to learn.



Black Issues in Higher Education, June 21, 2001. August 16, 2001, August 29, 2002.

Jet, August 6, 2001.


2003 Royal Feast Keynote Speaker, Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association, www.mamga.com/UpcomingEvents.html (April 30, 2004).

Dr. Joe A. Lee Becomes ASUs 11th President ASU Today, www.alasu.edu/asutoday/summer3/summer%20index.htm (April 30, 2004).

Candace LaBalle