Dr. Henry N. Tisdale
After a yearlong search, the board announced that Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, a 1965 graduate of Claflin, would be the college’s eighth president. Tisdale had many plans for the college, predicting that Claflin College “will enter the 21st century with an eye to becoming a premier liberal arts institution,” and that the Christian tradition and individual attention to students that the institution was known for would remain a part of Claflin. He found it important to “create a sound fiscal system at the college, a dynamic strategic planning process, a link between the budget and planning process, an enrollment plan, and an academic plan for excellence.”
Four months after his arrival, Tisdale announced the establishment of the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy totaling nearly $2 million, Tisdale identified three areas of concentration: strengthening academic programs in science, engineering and mathematics; renovating the James S. Thomas Science Center; and upgrading the Summer Science Camp for middle-school students. In addition to strengthening Claflin’s academic programs, Tisdale’s Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics aims to significantly increase the number of minorities receiving bachelor’s degrees in science, engineering and mathematics, thus incorporating a strategy to reverse the decline in the number of minorities who enter graduate and professional schools in these disciplines.
In 1994, the honors program was restructured by the president and Mrs. Alice Carson Tisdale and renamed the Claflin Honors College. With higher entry standards, the Honors College - now known as the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College - works to prepare students for graduate and professional schools and leadership roles in their profession and society at large through learning experiences, academic advising, cultural enrichment and community service, enhancing the honors students’ experience on every level.
President Tisdale’s priorities for Claflin also include its presentation of and appreciation for arts and cultural programs. Tisdale led the college toward a new cultural awareness and rekindled pride in the talents and artistic traditions prominent in Claflin’s history.
In 1995, Tisdale presided over the homecoming celebrations, which culminated a yearlong series of events and activities in commemoration of Claflin’s 125th anniversary. Homecoming weekend had among its highlights the first annual Presidential Scholarship Gala, which raised more than $65,000 for Presidential Scholarships.
Committed to the vision of making Claflin a premier liberal arts college, Dr. Tisdale implemented several programs. Claflin's state-of-the-art television production studio began producing local shows through a collaboration with Time Warner Cable. The award-winning Freshman College was established in 1996 to ease the transition into college life, and the Professional and Continuing Studies Center became a reality in 1997 after years of planning. Also in 1997, Claflin's Academic Plan for Excellence was implemented, and the Claflin College Leadership Development Center was established.
In 1996, a survey was completed that became a road map for the physical plant improvements that are so obvious on the campus today. In addition to the restoration of several of the campus buildings, Asbury, Dunton and Corson Residence Halls for women were air-conditioned, and the HVAC system in the High-Rise was replaced. In 1995, the University developed its first fully functional bookstore, and in 1996, the Orange and Maroon Club became a faculty and staff dining room.
One of the crown jewels of the facilities effort was the completion in 1998 of the three-building Living and Learning Center. Named for Peter and Eleanor Kleist, the complex includes a four-story residence hall configured in suites with computer laboratories and study rooms, a leadership development center and a campus center.
With assistance provided by a grant from the National Park Service, historic Ministers’ Hall underwent major restoration and now serves as a performing arts facility. In 1999, the interior of the building was named the Ernest A. Finney Jr. Auditorium, in honor of South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney.
To complement the Living and Learning Center, give better access to the campus and create a more appealing appearance, a new entrance was completed and won the statewide Outstanding Downtown Revitalization Award. In 2000, three new parking lots were developed and a new Goff Street entrance was added.
In 1997, the University kicked off its most ambitious Capital Campaign in Claflin’s history to date - a five-year, $20 million campaign. The Peter and Eleanor A. Kleist Foundation made a $1 million gift to the University in support of the campaign, specifically the Living and Learning Center; a $1 million challenge grant was received from the Bush Foundation; a $1 million challenge grant was awarded from the Lilly Endowment; a $1 million gift was received from an anonymous donor; and gifts of $50,000 and $250,000 were given from Dr. and Mrs. James and Dorothy Z. Elmore. The $20 million goal was surpassed in three years and reached more than $30 million in 2002.
In 1999, Tisdale and the Claflin College Board of Trustees adopted a resolution to restore the institution to its original historic name, Claflin University. That same year, the Arthur E. Rose Museum was established in honor of the distinguished graduate and professor.
In 2003, the University held a ribbon-cutting for the Russell Street Campus and opened its Visitor Center. Claflin also restored Tingley Memorial Hall and Lee Library - home of the Arthur Rose Museum - and renovated the H.V. Manning Library. In 2004, the University constructed the $15 million Student Residential Center comprised of four residential facilities and the new University Dining Center for students and faculty. The new $2 million Music Center was also constructed to house the nationally accredited music program. In 2005, Claflin broke ground for its new $3 million chapel to replace the T. Willard Lewis Chapel, which had been demolished in 1968 to make room for the W.V. Middleton Fine Arts Center. That same year, the University earned the S.C. Preservation Honors Award for the restoration of Ministers’ Hall, Tingley Memorial Hall and Lee Library, and Claflin launched its second graduate program, a Master of Science in Biotechnology.
In 2006, the University did a complete makeover of the Mary E. Dunton Residential Hall for women. In early 2007, the newly built chapel was consecrated and named the James and Dorothy Z. Elmore Chapel in honor of the husband and wife whose $250,000 challenge grant inspired more than 2,000 supporters to contribute to the $3 million building. A permanent marker was erected at the site of the old chapel.
Tisdale was awarded the 2007 Milliken Medal of Quality in recognition of his demonstrated leadership, innovation, achievement and vision. No other leader of a higher education institution in South Carolina had ever won this award. Tisdale was also recognized by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education with the 2008 CASE District III Chief Executive Leadership Award. During this time, Claflin University’s School of Natural Science and Mathematics, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, opened the Molecular Virology Laboratory on Claflin’s campus. The school also graduated its first Master of Science in Biotechnology class and awarded its first Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Engineering. The School of Education graduated its first Master of Education in Educational Studies class, and the Center for Professional and Continuing Studies launched a degree program at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia and at Fort Jackson. In advancing its mission of community outreach, Claflin University, in partnership with the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, established a forensic laboratory at DPS headquarters on Middleton Street.
By 2008, the student population of 1994 had almost doubled. Students came from 26 states and 15 countries, and the pool of applicants was more than 3,000. The campus had also doubled in size, undergoing more than $50 million in renovations and improvements. The student/faculty ratio was 12:1, and 74 percent of faculty held terminal degrees in their fields. That same year, Claflin was ranked the top HBCU in the country by Forbes.com and listed in the top four percent of all colleges and universities in the country. Claflin University is now recognized as one of the premier liberal arts institutions in the nation.
Claflin continues to grow and change under Tisdale's leadership. This year, 2016, marks his 22nd anniversary at the University.