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  • Writer's picturePatricia Salkin

Approximately 20% of HBCU Presidents are Lawyers – Clarence Armbrister Announces Retirement

Updated: Feb 11, 2023



Clarence D. “Clay”Armbrister, currently a lawyer President of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSMU), an Historically Black College and University in Charlotte, North Carolina, announced plans to retire in June 2023. He became the 14th President of JCSMU on January 1, 2018 following a career in higher education that included senior vice president at Temple University and chief of staff and senior vice president at Johns Hopkins University. In announcing his appointment as President, the Board Chair noted, “We believe his varied back-ground in education, finance, government and law brings an exceptionally broad lens to the increasingly complex demands of the changing landscape in higher education today.”


Following graduation from the University of Michigan School of Law, he worked in the public finance department of Saul, Ewing, Remick & Saul where he moved up to partner. He left in 1994 to enter government, like other lawyer presidents, serving as Philadelphia city treasurer and chief of staff to the mayor. He was also the managing director of the Philadelphia School District. President Armbrister also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Beasely School of Law at Temple University (municipal finance). He was also president of Girard College, a unique college preparatory boarding school for students K-12.


During his time at JCSMU, Armbrister led the University to a more active role with the growth and development of the Historic West End, and he was able to increase support for JCSU from the corporate community. The first had to navigate the University out of accreditation hot water by getting the school off of probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which he did. For more information about his initiatives – including student/alumni employment and increasing the endowment, listen to an interview on the podcast On Life and Meaning.


Currently there are 101 HBCUs located in 21 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a split of 50 of these schools public and 51 private not-for-profit Between the 2000s and the 2010s, the number of lawyer presidents at HBCUs quadrupled. Today there are 21 lawyer presidents of HBCUs, representing 20% of the HBCU campus presidents. For more information about lawyer presidents of HBCUs and a brief history of HBCUs see, May it Please the Campus: Lawyers Leading Higher Education.

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