Tennessee State University Mourns Death of Former President James A. Hefner

“We have lost a visionary and one of the best leaders to serve this great institution.” – President Glenda Glover

NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The Tennessee State University family is saddened to announce the death of Dr. James A. Hefner, the sixth president of the University. He died early Thursday morning surrounded by family in his Brentwood home following a long illness. Dr. Hefner was 76. Hefner served TSU as president from 1991-2005.

In a statement on the passing of Dr. Hefner, Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover said:

“The Tennessee State University family sends its deepest condolences to the Hefner family. Dr. Hefner devoted his entire adult life to serving others and expanding educational opportunities to all. As educators, we have lost a visionary and one of the best leaders to ever serve this great institution. He loved inspiring students and challenging them.”

The university’s progress during Dr. Hefner’s tenure was unprecedented. While President of Tennessee State University, Dr. Hefner transformed TSU into a top-tier research university. He was deeply committed to TSU’s land-grant mission. He pursued programs and efforts that aligned the resources of the university with the needs of students. His legacy will serve the university, the nation and the world.

Under his leadership, Tennessee State University saw marked physical, infrastructural and academic improvement, including the implementation of a $112 million capital improvement plan. The improvement was part of the Geier agreement that attempted to end race-based disparity in higher education funding in Tennessee. Several new buildings were constructed, including the Floyd-Payne Student Campus Center, the Ned McWherter Administration Building and the Performing Arts Center.

He was viewed as the students’ president and enrollment reached an all-time high of 9,100 students, an achievement that has only been recently achieved during the 2014-2015 academic school year. The TSU endowment also experienced remarkable growth from $500,000 to more than $25 million (through fund-raising and settling a Federal Consent Decree). He positioned Tennessee State University as a premier institution of higher learning.  TSU was listed in U.S. News & Worlds Report’s “Guide to America’s Best Colleges” for 11 consecutive years (1994-2005).

Dr. Hefner occupied the Thomas and Patricia Frist Chair of excellence in entrepreneurship, a $2.3 million endowed chair at Tennessee State University.  He also established two other endowed chairs of excellence at Tennessee State. An advocate and proponent of African American intellectual achievement throughout his career, Dr. Hefner established two of the nation’s top honor societies, Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi, at Tennessee State University and Clark Atlanta University.

After retiring as president of Tennessee State University in 2005, Dr. Hefner was a non-resident fellow at Harvard University in the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research; Visiting Distinguished Professor of Economics and Presidential Leadership at Texas Southern University; and most recently as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Clark Atlanta University, where he worked diligently as he fought cancer up until the very end.

When recently asked how he wanted to be remembered, Dr. Hefner said: “As an educator who cared about black higher education and the welfare of students.”

He earned his undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T University, his master’s degree in economics from Atlanta University, and his doctorate in economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“My father lived a life of service to historically black colleges and universities and the students who attend them,” said Dr. David Hefner, the youngest son of Dr. Hefner and a 1993 graduate of Morehouse College. “He was an intellectual disciple of W.E.B. DuBois – a Fisk University graduate – in that he believed in the liberation that academic excellence promised to those who lived a life of service to the African American community, to truth and to humanity. So his legacy is a living one because there is still much work to do. And my father serves as an example of what service to HBCUs looks like, and we celebrate his life and legacy.”

TSU will be the site of a memorial service on Wednesday, September 2, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in Poag Auditorium of the Davis Humanities Building. A reception will follow immediately afterwards in the Ferrell-Westbrook Building (the Barn). The funeral service will take place on Thursday, September 3, at 1 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway, downtown Nashville.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting memorial gifts be made to the Dr. James A. Hefner Scholarship Foundation in his honor to the Tennessee State University or Morehouse College Development Offices. You may reach the TSU Foundation at 615-963-5481, for Morehouse 404-215-2660.

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.