Dr. Henry N. Tisdale was named Claflin University’s eighth president in 1994, culminating a national yearlong search by the Board of Trustees. Tisdale, a 1965 honor graduate of the University, returned with the pledge that his alma mater “will enter the 21st century with an eye to becoming a premier liberal arts institution,” and that the Christian tradition on which it was founded would remain a part of the University. He also found it important to “create a sound fiscal system, a dynamic strategic planning process, a link between the budget and planning process, an enrollment plan, and an academic plan for excellence.” He wasted little time to deliver on his promise.
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, the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics was implemented to increase the number of minorities receiving bachelor’s degrees in science, engineering and mathematics, thus incorporating a strategy to reverse the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines.
Also in 1994, the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College was established.. With higher entry requirements, the 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.
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 Leadership Development Center was established.
Also in 1997, the University kicked off its most ambitious Capital Campaign in Claflin’s history at the time - 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.
One of the crown jewels of the facilities enhancement 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. 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 1999, with support 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, a Claflin graduate. That same year, the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution to restore the institution to its original historic name, Claflin University. Another event that year was the naming of the Arthur E. Rose Museum in honor of the distinguished graduate and professor.
In 2003, the University restored Tingley Memorial Hall 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.
By 2008, the student population of 1994 had 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 80 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 nation.
Many more developments have occurred since 2008. Claflin consistently has been ranked as a “Best Buy” and a national liberal arts institution by U. S. News and World Report. The University’s Molecular Research Center has been designated a core research facility by the South Carolina Research Authority and, the University is in the final phase of a $100 million Capital Campaign. Additionally, the University has launched fully online undergraduate and graduate programs and constructed a $12.5 million residential facility for men and women with amenities for health and wellness and a revised strategic initiative that drives the University’s desired goals during the early part of the 21st Century. Under Tisdale’s administration, alumni support has soared to a high of 52.2 percent, which led all historically black colleges and universities.
Throughout his career, Dr. Tisdale has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors in recognition of his exceptional and transformative leadership. He is the recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian award and the Higher Education Leadership Foundation Award. In September 2008, the town of Kingstree, in recognition of the extraordinary achievements of their native son, erected a lasting tribute, six highway markers proclaiming Kingstree, South Carolina the “Home of Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, The Eighth President of Claflin University.” Dr. Tisdale’s other recent honors include the 2008 CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) District III Chief Executive Leadership Award, the 2007 Milliken Medal of Quality Award, 2007 BellSouth Honoree, the I. DeQuincey Newman Humanitarian Award, the NAFEO (National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education) Distinguished Alumni Award, Who’s Who Among Black Americans and the NAACP Educator of the Year Award. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Hofstra University and South Carolina State University.
Over the years, Dr. Tisdale also has served on many committees, councils, boards and task forces at both the state and national levels. He is a member of the Board of Directors of UNCF, American Council on Education Commission on Effective Leadership, UNCF Special Programs Board of Directors, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges Council of Presidents, the HBCU-ETS Steering Committee and a member of Governor Nikki Haley’s Transition Team. He is a member of the Claflin University National Alumni Association, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the Orangeburg Rotary Club and Trinity United Methodist Church.
Claflin continues to grow and change under Tisdale's leadership. This year, 2016, marks his 22nd anniversary at the University. Dr. Tisdale and his wife, Alice Carson Tisdale, have two children, Danica Camille Tisdale Fisher and Brandon Keith Tisdale and a grandson, Asa Toure Fisher.