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Saint Augustine's University fires President Christine McPhail

Courtesy of Saint Augustine’s University

Updated Dec. 5, 2023 at 3:47 p.m.

Saint Augustine's University has fired its President Christine McPhail.

McPhail’s attorney, David Tracey, said the university’s Board of Trustees voted to oust McPhail on Nov. 13 but only notified her of her termination on Sunday.

Tracey said the original vote was a week after McPhail sent Saint Augustine’s a letter stating that she was filing a gender discrimination and retaliation suit against the university.

“(The vote was) mere days after our firm notified the university,” Tracey said. “... and mere weeks after Dr. McPhail had filed an internal complaint alleging certain conduct created a hostile environment.”

The Board of Trustees named Leslie Rodriguez-McClellon as acting president. She has severed as the university's vice president of community relations and government affairs.

McPhail’s initial complaint was filed on Oct. 9, four days after an allegedly hostile university board meeting.

Tracey said the board’s behavior wasn’t a single incident, but instead an ongoing pattern of mistreatment. McPhail alleges that some of the trustees have yelled at her and made demeaning comments based on her gender.

“She has alleged that male members of the Board of Trustees disregarded her opinions and recommendations, while favoring those of male employees,” Tracey said.

Tracey said after the complaint was filed, McPhail was pressured by the board to take it back.

“Following McPhail’s Oct. 9 internal complaint, the members of the Board of Trustees threatened her job and there was a certain pressure to recant,” Tracey said.

In a press release, Saint Augustine’s Board of Trustees said that McPhail’s allegations are false.

"The Board denies the unfounded allegations Dr. McPhail has made against the University... and the Board is prepared to defend itself and the institution,” the press release reads."

The Board of Trustee’s decision to fire McPhail comes as Saint Augustine’s University is in the midst of fighting for its accreditation.

On Dec. 4, 2022, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges placed the university on probation.

According to a commission report, Saint Augustine’s failed to comply with several of its accreditation principles, including being able to show the university has “sound financial resources.” They were given a year to make changes.

Universities that are not accredited can’t receive federal funding, including student financial aid.

In the press release, the Board said it is working to restore the university’s standing and will do so under new leadership.

“The university's accreditation is critical to the university's ability to continue as one of the predominant HBCUs in this state,” the release reads. “This critical mission will remain our central focus as we continue to support the faculty, staff, alumni, and, most importantly, the students of Saint Augustine's University.”

McPhail was the 13th president of Saint Augustine's University. She replaced her late husband Irving McPhail in 2021. Her contract with the university was supposed to continue until February 2025, according to Tracey.

Saint Augustine's is a private Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Raleigh. It was founded in 1867.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.
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