Claflin University President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale and his wife, First Lady Alice Carson Tisdale, know what it takes make a difference. Under their visionary and transformative leadership in higher education for the last 20 years, Claflin is now recognized as one of the nation’s top liberal arts institutions.
For their contributions to Claflin University, the state and the surrounding communities, the Tisdales were honored with a resolution from the South Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday, April 8, at the State House in Columbia. The resolution was sponsored by state Sen. John W. Matthews Jr. of Orangeburg.
“I think people who make contributions to our community ought to be recognized, and clearly, when you look at his service to the Orangeburg community, Dr. Tisdale has made a difference,” Sen. Matthews said. “A lot of people don’t make a difference, but he and his wife have made a difference in the community.”
“The Times and Democrat recognized that,” when the Orangeburg newspaper named the Tisdales its 2013 People of the Year, “and I thought it was time that the state recognized the value of their service to this state and to this nation,” Matthews continued.
“If there was ever a couple who deserve this in Orangeburg, they do,” said State Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg. “Anywhere in Orangeburg where people gather to do good things, the Tisdales are there.”
Since arriving on the Claflin campus in 1994, Kingstree native Dr. Tisdale, a 1965 Claflin graduate and the University’s eighth president, and Mrs. Tisdale, a native of Montgomery, Alabama, and director of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College, have indelibly made their mark.
“We just believe in Claflin,” Dr. Tisdale said in addressing the dozens of Claflin board members, alumni, friends and supporters gathered at the State House to witness him and his wife being presented with the resolution.
“We came back to South Carolina because we believe in Claflin, a University with a great legacy, great history, great tradition, but we think an even brighter future,” he said.
Under Dr. Tisdale’s leadership, Claflin University has seen an increase in faculty with terminal degrees, federal funding for research, endowed scholarships, partnerships with other leading institutions, student enrollment and nationally accredited academic programs. The University has also enhanced student learning through its improved technological infrastructure.
Under his guidance, facilities across the Claflin campus have been added, improved or enhanced. To highlight a few, the new Student Residential Center, University Dining Center, Molecular Science Research Center, and the James and Dorothy Z. Elmore Chapel were built; Legacy Plaza and the Arthur Rose Museum were established; and the Tingley Memorial Hall, Lee Library and Ministers’ Hall buildings were restored.
In addition to his contributions to Claflin University, Dr. Tisdale has served as a member of the board of the United Negro College Fund and the American Council on Education Commission on Effective Leadership, and was a member of Gov. Nikki Haley’s Transition Team. He is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Under Mrs. Tisdale’s direction, the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College has been strengthened and expanded to reflect Claflin's commitment to cultivating academically outstanding students. Measures were taken to enhance the honors students’ experience on every level to prepare them for success in graduate and professional schools, and as leaders in their profession and society at large.
Mrs. Tisdale was appointed to serve on the Governor’s Mansion Commission, and serves as president of the Orangeburg County Salvation Army Board of Directors, as national secretary and treasurer of the National Association of African-American Honors Program and as a board member of the Orangeburg Community of Character initiative. She is the co-founder and director of Praise Kids, the children’s Christian theater at Trinity United Methodist Church in Orangeburg, where she and Dr. Tisdale are members.
“It’s nice to be appreciated for something you love doing,” Mrs. Tisdale said after receiving the resolution.
Dede Cook, president of the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce, said she was honored to be on hand to help celebrate the Tisdales’ achievements.
“They are great supporters, not only of Claflin University, but the Orangeburg community, as well,” she said. “We appreciate them and appreciate everything they do.”
Dr. Liz Zimmerman Keitt, immediate past president of the Claflin University International Alumni Association, said the Tisdales are “the most visionary people” she has ever met.
“Because of them being such visionaries, they are getting all of these alumni, trustees and friends to buy in to what Claflin is all about,” she said. “We love it, because we want to support everything they stand for.”
“They are wonderful visionary leaders,” said Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler, a Claflin alumnus. “They have brought Claflin a mighty long way.”
Further cementing their commitment to Claflin, Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale donated $250,000 to the University’s Capital Campaign in March 2013. The gift will fund an endowed professorship in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – disciplines, support the Alice Carson Tisdale Endowed Scholarship in Education and the Henry N. Tisdale Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics, and provide scholarship support for students in other disciplines and student athletes.
Claflin University continues to garner national recognition under Dr. Tisdale’s vision and leadership. Most recently, Washington Monthly ranked Claflin University the top liberal arts college in South Carolina. And U.S. News and World Report has consistently ranked Claflin as one of “America’s Best Colleges” for the past 15 years. In its 2013 edition, Claflin was again ranked a top national liberal arts college, and ranked seventh in the nation among HBCUs.
“I think Dr. and Mrs. Tisdale have been such a blessing to Claflin University,” said CUIAA President Natasha Carter, a 2006 Claflin graduate. “As a student, I was there to see everything they brought to the campus. We saw new buildings, new residence halls and a totally transformed campus while I was there.
“They also bring such a family feel to the University. We’ve always had Dr. Tisdale and Mrs. Tisdale. They’re like family to each and every one of us Claflinites. We’re just honored to see them being honored for their hard work over the years. We absolutely love them.”