Johnson C. Smith University, which has faced public scrutiny over its finances, has hired a new leader who brings experience as a Philadelphia city treasurer, chief of staff and university administrator.
Clarence “Clay” Armbrister will become the 14th president of the historically black school effective Jan. 1, JCSU announced Wednesday. He succeeds Ron Carter, who will step down after leading the 150-year-old university for nine years.
Armbrister is president of Philadelphia’s Girard College, an independent college preparatory school for students from economically disadvantaged families.
He’s likely to have an impact even for residents with no connection to JCSU. Carter has been one of Charlotte’s most ambitious public figures.
Shirley Hughes, chair of JCSU’s Presidential Search Committee, said Armbrister’s experience across several sectors helped him stand out among the candidates. “His varied background in education, finance, government and law brings an exceptionally broad lens to the increasingly complex demands of...higher education today,” Hughes said in a statement.
Armbrister’s leadership experience includes time in the School District of Philadelphia and senior administrative positions at Temple University and Johns Hopkins University.
JCSU has struggled financially in recent years, including accusations that the school had a significant cash-flow problem. In 2015, a former trustee petitioned to have Carter removed as president, raising questions about his business savvy and leadership skills.
Documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service showed a $7.5 million deficit for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2014, and a $10 million deficit for the year ending on June 30, 2013. That stood in contrast to a $29 million surplus for the year ending on June 30, 2012.
The public scrutiny came eight months after the U.S. Department of Education placed the university on its “heightened cash monitoring” list of more than 550 colleges and universities.
JCSU was under federal order to pay back $1.8 million in student aid that auditors said the university received in violation of government regulations, Carter confirmed to the Observer last year. A report filed in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education detailed “significant areas of noncompliance.”
Carter said last year that the financial aid department made mistakes during a period of transition several years ago and changes have been made to ensure they don’t happen again.
Finance, education background
Armbrister brings with him an expertise in finances, including tenure as executive vice president and chief operating officer at Temple University. There, he was responsible for $400 million in capital projects on several campuses.
In addition to his experience in elementary and secondary education at Girard College, Armbrister served as managing director for the School District of Philadelphia from 1996 to 1998. It was then the fourth largest school district in the United States with more than 215,000 students.
He also served as Philadelphia’s city treasurer from 1994 to 1996, and was chief of staff for former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter.
A native of Miami, Armbrister received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School.
Armbrister’s wife, Denise, is a senior vice president with Wells Fargo Corp. and executive director of the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and the Wells Fargo Regional Community Development Corp.
He and his wife have five children, including a daughter who is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta and a son who is a senior at North Carolina Central University.