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Thursday, April 15, 2021

There’s no middle ground with Algeania Freeman

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There are some people in this world who others rarely place in a gray or in-between area; either you love them or you hate them.

Algeania Freeman appears to be one such person.

During the three years she has been president of Martin University, I’ve encountered people who have very strong feelings about her – either they feel an overwhelming affinity for her, or overwhelming disdain. I’ve met people who sing her praises and others who constantly complain about her off-putting persona. People have been very hot or cold with her … rarely warm.

Much like the varied perceptions of Freeman as an individual, so, too, has been her tenure at Martin University. She’s done a lot of great things for the predominately Black school, but she has also ruffled her fair share of feathers.

Let’s start with the feather ruffling.

Soon after she was hired, Freeman gained her first detractor base when she implemented her restructuring plan and fired various personnel, one of whom was a popular professor. Students publically protested the professor’s firing by demonstrating near the campus. In addition to the personnel changes, seven members of Martin’s Board of Trustees resigned the first year of Freeman’s tenure.

I’ve spoken to various staff as well as former and current board members who explained to me instances of Freeman’s countless tirades. These outbursts allegedly included cursing, berating individuals and other forms of emotional and psychological abuse. These people often told me if you were on Freeman’s good list, then life was good for you; however, if you were on the bad list, things would be incredibly challenging.

One former board member told me that Freeman had a very “extreme personality. Depending on whom you were, her personality was all good or all bad – very little middle ground. She either loved you or she hated you.”

Despite what people thought of Freeman, she was able to deliver. It’s no secret that Martin University was in desperate need of fundraising efforts to help sustain itself. Within Freeman’s first six months at the school, she was able eliminate a $653,000 deficit by $450,000 from donations and personnel cuts. Since then, she has been able to generate even more funds. People can say what they want to about her, but one thing they can’t take away from Freeman is her ability to raise money. Undoubtedly, she helped a once financially-strapped university gain a sense of financial freedom.

In addition to generating funds, Freeman was also successful at positioning Martin for opportunities and initiatives it had never before seen. One such opportunity was the implementation of a NASA science and math academy housed on the campus. The idea of the state-of-the-art academy is to have “K-12 students use the lab to increase their interest and knowledge in science, engineering and math.”

Freeman also formed great partnerships within the community, including a noted one with the Indianapolis Colts.

It seems that what Martin University got from Freeman is exactly what other schools she has worked for received: a great fundraiser with tremendous vision, yet someone who lacked people skills. The three-five year timeframe at various schools is also a customary trait of Freeman’s.

Freeman’s time at Martin was riddled with controversy, divisiveness and polarizations. And there’s also that long list of people that she alienated, including alumni, staff and members of the board. But, she also did a slew of good things. She’s a very creative and innovative person. It’s a shame that someone with such talent lacked the necessary interpersonal skills to be even more successful. Nonetheless, Freeman’s “resignation” is effective Dec. 31 and things must proceed.

Martin University has a long road ahead … hopefully, the interim president, Charlotte Westerhaus, and whomever fills the vacancy permanently are up to the task.

You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at shannonw@indyrecorder.com.

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