Clarence Newsome '72, M.Div. '75, Ph.D. '82

June 1, 2003
Clarence Newsome '72, M.Div. '75, Ph.D. '82

On a rainy Mother's Day in 1972, Clarence Newsome became the first black student to give Duke's commencement address, sharing the stage with keynote speaker Walter Cronkite. More than three decades later, Newsome finds himself once again preparing to take the stage at a college graduation--not as a student this time, but as a university president. In February, Newsome, a Baptist preacher and former dean of Howard University's divinity school, became president of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Newsome has an ambitious vision for the future of Shaw, the South's oldest historically black university. He hopes to build upon the school's academic reputation and revamp recruitment efforts, while also working to improve the lives of current students and increase the endowment. Although this is his first time heading a university, Newsome has spent most of his life in academe.

He entered Duke in 1968, becoming involved with the Chapel Committee and the Afro-American Society, and he developed a friendship with president Terry Sanford, for whom he would later occasionally write speeches. He also met his wife, Lynne Platt '73, M.Ed. '75, here. But his primary extracurricular activity was football, a sport he says helped prepare him for his job at Shaw. Playing football "helped me develop discipline, and learn how to accept a challenge," he says.

After graduating, Newsome spent a year as acting dean of black affairs at Duke, before earning his master's and his doctorate. As acting dean, Newsome worked to help strengthen the still-young Black Studies program, recruit more African-American undergraduates and faculty members, and build up a summer program designed to give rising black freshmen an academic leg-up before they entered Duke in the fall. After earning his doctorate, he taught for eight years at Duke's divinity school. He is now a Duke trustee.

In 1986, Newsome left for Howard University, where he was assistant dean of the divinity school. In 1992, he was named dean, a position he held until becoming president of Shaw.

While his students and colleagues at Howard will remember Newsome for many accomplishments, perhaps his greatest achievement, they say, was increasing enrollment in the divinity school by 59 percent. Newsome attributes the large increase to the reputation of the school and a beefed-up recruitment effort. "I worked the churches, wrote to them," he says. "I tried to get the alumni to get active. And I preached every Sunday."

Shaw's trustees say they hope that Newsome can create vast enrollment increases there, too--from the current 2,700 to 10,000. He says he'll interpret the board's "10,000 figure" as more of a call to increase recruitment efforts than a realistic short-term goal.

In addition to increasing enrollment, one of his major priorities is taking care of current students and "finding ways to do more to support them." Newsome also plans on revamping Shaw's advising system and raising what he says is the already high standard of instruction.

" One of the distinct things about Shaw is that it provides an opportunity for students who might not have been able to attend college otherwise," he says. He's proud of that, but he's not satisfied. Amherst College, one of the country's top liberal-arts colleges, is a model for what he'd like to achieve at Shaw. "I want that to be said of Shaw without hesitation--that we are one of the very, very best liberal-arts schools in the nation."