Higher Education Community Mourns Loss of Dr. James A. Hefner

Dr. James A. Hefner was a champion for education of the masses, focusing most particularly on Blacks and historically Black institutions, although not to the exclusion of others.
Dr. James A. Hefner was a champion for education of the masses, focusing most particularly on Blacks and historically Black institutions, although not to the exclusion of others.

Higher education administrators are mourning the loss of one of their veteran colleagues — Dr. James A. Hefner — who blazed an admirable trail in nearly half a century of service as provost of two institutions, president of two universities and adviser to scores of colleagues along the way.

Hefner, 76, who had most recently served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Clark Atlanta University, died August 27, of cancer, at his home in Nashville.

At Tennessee State University, where he served as president from 1991 to 2005, a memorial service for Dr. Hefner on the campus was set for Wednesday. Last week, Jackson State University, in Mississippi, at which Hefner was president from 1984 to 1991, had a ceremonial ringing of its Centennial Bell, lowered its flag and held a moment of silence for faculty, staff and students in honor of his service.

Morehouse College, where Hefner had served as Charles E. Merrill Professor of Economics and dean of its Department of Business and Economics from 1974 to 1981, issued a statement calling him one of the “stars” of the historic institution. It noted Dr. Hefner, who later served on the college’s Board of Trustees, has asked that scholarships be established in his name and be awarded to outstanding students attending Morehouse and Tennessee State.

Throughout his career, Hefner, a North Carolina native who earned his bachelor’s degree at North Carolina A&T University (then College), used his college training as an economist to focus on Blacks and the nation’s economy. He saw an education as a ticket out of limited opportunity and poverty and dedicated his life to helping other promising people get tickets.

With the support of his wife Edwina, whom he met while in graduate school at Atlanta University, he used his training as an economist to help students as a teacher at Prairie View A&M and Florida A&M universities, as an academic planner and administrator at Tuskegee University, Morehouse, Jackson State and Tennessee State and Clark Atlanta. As he took on one professional assignment after another, he helped raise three sons, wrote books and papers about Blacks and the economy, and worked as a research associate at Princeton and Harvard universities.

All along the way Hefner mentored and, sometimes too often, found accessible funds to turn into scholarships for the promising of the next generation who just needed a hand.

Clark Atlanta University President Ronald A. Johnson, who took office this summer, calls Hefner “a hero to many.” Johnson, who counts Hefner as a mentor, said the veteran educator possessed a “moral compass that motivated him to ‘find a way or make a way’ for so many others.”

Dr. Bettye Clark, acting provost at Clark Atlanta whom Dr. Hefner called out of retirement earlier this year to take on part of his work, echoed others in characterizing her colleague.

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Source: Diverse Education | Reginald Stuart

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