He will forever be known as “the man who saved Shaw University.”
Dr. Talbert Oscall Shaw, the 12th president of Shaw University, died last week in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 89.
Dr. Shaw served as president for 15 crucial years in the school’s history – from 1987 to 2002. During that time, he literally save “the oldest historically Black university in the South” from closing due to fraud and fiscal mismanagement; dramatically increased the endowment; doubled the enrollment; renovated various buildings on campus; and constructed the Talbert O. Shaw Living Learning Center.
Per the curriculum, Dr. Shaw, an ordained minister in his native Jamaica prior to coming to the United States in the late 1950’s, implemented an ethics and values course that was hailed as trailblazing.
In a Dec. 2002 interview with the Black Press, shortly before he retired, Dr. Shaw, then 74, said he never dreamed of becoming the president of a distinguished HBCU. He had earned his M.A. and Ph. D. in Ethics from the University of Chicago, going on to become the interim Dean of Howard University Divinity School and tenured Dean of Arts and Sciences at Morgan State University (where he said he was “quite comfortable”) when he was approached in the late 1980s by a member of the Shaw University Search Committee.
Shaw said “no” at first but later relented. However, he had no idea just how large the challenge would be, given the dire financial condition the school was in.
“Yes, Shaw was in dire need when I got here,” the then outgoing president confirmed, “dangling on the [edge] of extinction, but I came with a vision and courage.”
The IRS had filed two liens against the school because of $750,000 owed in unpaid withholding taxes, interest and penalties. There was no endowment. Employees weren’t being paid. Over $1.2 million in federal loans was in default, and the university was drowning in over $5 million of red ink.
Slowly but surely, under Dr. Shaw’s leadership, faculty, staff and students embraced his school credo, “Strides to Excellence. Why Not The Best and it wasn’t long before the Shaw University was on solid footing again. Funding was raised, debts were paid off or restructured, and the business community began investing.
Even the major White newspaper in Raleigh, The News and Observer, which had been publishing stories on why Shaw University needed to be closed, switched gears after Dr. Shaw confronted publisher, Frank Daniels Jr., who then gave the school a $100,000 donation.
Shaw alumni from all over North Carolina and the nation reacted to the news of Dr. Shaw’s death with sadness, but also with pride that they attended the school during his tenure.
“He planted the seed of becoming a college president in me when I was 19 years-old,” says former Shaw University President Tashni-Ann Dubroy. “He is someone I respected, loved, cherished and endeared, she continued. “Rest in peace, Uncle Talley. The Shaw family was blessed to have you as our president.”
“This institution has a purpose,” Dr. Shaw said before stepping down in 2003. “It is deeply rooted in the Christian faith.”
There will be a public viewing from 6 to 8 p. m. at The Gardens of Boca Raton in Boca Raton, Fl. for President Emeritus Talbert O. Shaw on Saturday. The funeral service will be held Sunday at 12 noon at the Deerfield Beach SDA Church in Deerfield Beach, Florida.