On July 1, Kimberly Ballard-Washington officially started her tenure as interim president at Savannah State University after the retirement of Cheryl Davenport Dozier. Tiger's Roar sat down with Ballard-Washington after the semester started to discuss her plans in this role and the future of Savannah State University.
Tiger's Roar: Tell us your backstory and what brought you to this point.
Ballard-Washington: “I’ve worked in the University System of Georgia for over 20 years and at the university office for the last 11-plus years now. I’m one of the legal advisors for the university system. My title is Associate Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, so I’ve had the pleasure of working with all our institutions and universities within the university system. I’ve worked on campuses prior to going to the University System Office. I’ve worked with the University of Georgia for about 10 years and also have worked at Valdosta State University. It’s very nice to be back on campus and with students.”
TR: What brought you to working within the University System of Georgia?
Ballard-Washington: “When I started my legal career working at the University of Georgia in legal affairs and from there, going to work with more of the institutions felt normal, like a natural lead of progression for me. Had I been in the business world, it would have been like going to the home office, so going to work at the system office so I could work with not just the University of Georgia but with all the other institutions made me feel as though that were something I would enjoy doing. I have really enjoyed getting to know all the universities and the different cultures within the system of Georgia, and I’m very happy to be here at Savannah State University.”
TR: Have you worked on the other HBCU campuses?
Ballard-Washington: “I have been to other HBCUs in my regular job as Associate Vice Chancellor; I worked with all other institutions and with all the institution’s presidents. A lot of our campuses have legal advisors and make large legal teams so my work with those institutions was not as hands on as it might have been for the institutions that didn’t have legal advisors. I’ve also worked with those campuses when they had vacancies, so I’ve been working very closely.
“Here you do have a legal advisor but you only have one person fulfilling that role so you need someone to talk to, bounce things off, who [has] worked on those fields, so I’ve served in that purpose with various institutions, particularly the institutions that have only one attorney.
“Our office served as a legal advisor for the institutions that didn’t have an advisor at all. Working with HBCUs, I’ve specifically worked with Albany State and Fort Valley State previously. [I] served as interim president at both of those institutions although it was for very short, finite times. When I went to those institutions, I knew the timeframe that I would be president on those campuses. It wasn’t an open-ended situation- we were waiting on a search to start and so forth.
“At Fort Valley State, I filled a gap between after the president was announced—he couldn’t arrive prior to the former president leaving—so I filled a small window of time. A similar situation occurred at Albany State. Here at Savannah State, I’ll be on campus while a search is being conducted. Right now, we don’t know who our next president will be of Savannah State University.“
TR: Are there any measures for safety right now that you’re focusing on?
Ballard-Washington: “This summer we put together a task force that doesn’t have a real name yet, but it was a group of people working toward safety initiatives. One of the things I recognized when I arrived on campus is that a lot of units were touching safety or safety concerns on this campus but weren’t really connecting. I wanted all those units to sit down and talk, and now every Monday, those units are getting together and making plans for what we can do differently, where the concerns are from different units, and so on.
“Safety is everyone’s job. Safety concerns have to be addressed by everyone on this campus. We often think public safety is it, but if our housing people are saying things, they need to know what the process is for them to share. If our parking people are saying things, then we need to share in that responsibility. What we did with this group was bring people to the table for all of the concerns to be able to be discussed openly, and I think that’s working.
“We now have a visitor’s center that will be starting that came from this particular group. The idea is that individuals coming onto campus will have the opportunity to not just come in, show their driver’s license, and go wherever they’re trying to go. One of the problems is back-up traffic; people that need to come in quickly—faculty and students—need to get on campus to get to their classes and what have you, and we’re slowing down that process and we don’t want to do that.
“What I understand that has happened in the past is that individuals were waving students in because the line is too long. We don’t want the line to get to long, but we want to focus on what we need to focus on and by having the visitor’s center, we will help our visitors get maps and be able to be shown exactly where they need to go. If they’re trying to go to the library, they’ll be told how to get to the library. If they need to visit a student, visitors will be told how to actually do that, get directions, etc.
“Our campus is very large so coming onto campus and knowing where you’re going isn’t enough. The visitor’s center is going to serve dual purposes, though; it’s going to be part of our security model and will also help with our customer service initiative in making sure our visitors are comfortable on campus, know where they’re going, and can get all the information that they need. If someone needs to a particular office that this person is trying to go to, then the visitor’s center can serve that purpose.“
TR: Do we know when the visitor’s center will open?
Ballard-Washington: “I’ve heard that it is ready. We need to get signage and things of that nature to really get it going, and I expect that to happen within the next few weeks. I am very excited about this and think that having a visitor’s center, aside from security, will be really helpful for the campus. Having our visitors get good information and giving locations where visitors are coming the heads up that an individual or group is on the way will help with our customer service initiative, with recruitment, and so forth. It’s amazing what can happen when we talk.”
TR: Students have heard rumors that Greek life may be impacted on campus by changes in leadership and financial issues. Are there any changes coming to the Greek experience on campus?
Ballard-Washington: “Greek life will stay the same as it always has been. I haven’t heard any concerns about Greek life from the students or of any that has been discussed with me. If there’s something we need to be doing differently, then individuals can absolutely get into contact with me.”
TR: What are your goals for Savannah State while you’re here serving as interim?
Ballard-Washington: “My goal is to focus on things that really matter to our students. For me, from my vantage point, it’s about customer service, and our customers are our students. We often here that the customer is always right, and although the customers aren’t always right, we need to treat our customers—our students—with dignity and respect, even if we have to tell them that they’re wrong. We have to be able to communicate in a positive manner. We want to have students here who will enjoy their experience with Savannah State.
“Life as a student should be a comfortable environment; the only hard thing you should have to deal with as a student is the classwork, you know? Academic matters should be hard; however, you shouldn’t have difficulties with what’s going on in the dining hall, with your food service, with your residence life, with your residence halls. Those issues shouldn’t be there, and your student experience should be comfortable for you. I want to work to make sure that all our students are comfortable, and that they have a comfortable environment in which we can live, work, and study.
“Students become alums, and I want them to be happy about the time they spent at the institution because then they’ll give back to help other students and this institution can continue to grow. That will grow our alumni base, grow our scholarship funding, and so forth.”
TR: Is there anything else you’d like to say to students?
Ballard-Washington: “We are all here to serve you, without the students, there is no Savannah State. We need you, and we need to hear from you. Our vice president for student affairs needs to hear your concerns; I need to hear when there are concerns. I don’t want our students feeling like they have to exist in a vacuum. If something isn’t working properly, then we need to get information. If something’s not right, let us know because we can’t fix what we don’t know. It’s a wonderful thing to be a Tiger. If you’re a new student, take pride in that. The Tiger Nation is alive and well, and I am excited to be a part of it!”