When Frank Tramble first stepped foot on Howard University’s campus, it wasn’t as the lead of communications that he is today. Rather, it was as a teenager touring the university eager to have a small taste of the Howard experience.
Though Tramble ultimately did not have the financial capability to attend Howard after graduating high school, years later, he would be scouted by the university to become Vice President & Chief Communications Officer.
“This place has always been something I felt like I wanted to be a part of,” Tramble said. “For me to be able to do it and to try to use the skill sets that I have to positively affect the student population, the faculty and the university as a whole – it’s always been a dream of mine.”
After nearly three years in his position, Tramble will leave Howard on July 1 to serve as the Vice President for Communications, Marketing and Public Affairs at Duke University. Tramble said that he is the first Black person to be appointed to this role in Duke’s history, and his mission is to “build a bridge” between the administration and the rest of the university.
Laura Brinn, director of marketing and communications at Duke, said in a press release that Tramble, “will be responsible for leading communications and marketing programs to advance Duke’s strategic priorities and promote the university’s reputation, including crisis communications and issues management.”
Tramble shared that while leaving Howard to work at Duke, a predominantly white institution in North Carolina, he sees it as an opportunity to strengthen Duke’s relationship with the 10 HBCUs in the state, including North Carolina A&T State University, Shaw University and North Carolina Central University.
“I’ve not seen many HBCU executives get elevated to any power five schools across the board, so I think that there’s a connection point of what I believe I can continue to do for the HBCU space,” he said. “I have an ability to connect, use the resources and skills to not only grow Duke, but also holistically build with everyone on what they need to do with their programs to be successful.”
He also added that, “there’s zero reason, honestly, of why I left Howard, for any Howard related reason. It had everything to do just with my family and what I believe was a good step for my own personal career.”
Tramble emphasized that this is exactly what he told his team, which includes Howard’s Director of Public Relations Misha Cornelius.
Cornelius has worked with Tramble for the entirety of his Howard career and has seen the ways in which his leadership has impacted the university.
“During his time at Howard, I’ve seen our department expand in ways that have truly made us think differently about how we share Howard’s stories and news with our community and the world,” Cornelius said. “When he led us to launch The Dig, Howard’s storytelling platform, it created a new pathway for Howard students, faculty, staff and alumni to share more of their stories, from their perspectives.”
While Cornelius expressed that she was sad to see Tramble go, she is excited for his new journey at Duke.
“VP Tramble is a testament to Howard’s ability to attract talented leaders with fresh perspective and new energy,” she said. “I’m confident in our team’s ability to continue building on what we’ve created together since he’s been at Howard, and I hope to continue to call him a friend for many years to come.”
Since April of last year, Tramble’s Duke announcement marks the fourth of Howard leaders who were said to retire from their roles.
Frederick informed the Howard community of his plans to retire from the presidency by 2024 in April 2022; this year in early February, School of Law Dean Danielle Holley was announced to start her new role as Mount Holyoke College College on July 1 and in late March, School of Divinity Dean Yolanda Pierce was named the next dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School, and she will start July 1.
Tramble believes, though, that it is purely a “coincidence” that four university leaders were announced to leave Howard in the past year.
“It’s more or less the fact that good opportunities have been presented to a few and I actually think it’s a testament to Howard in the overall brand and the type of opportunities that are coming to everyone,” Tramble said. “…it’s been much more of a coincidence than anything to do with the fact that Dr. Frederick announced his retiring.”
Over the past few years, there has been a growing list of university presidential departures in the U.S. In addition to President Frederick, whose announcement was made April 13, 2022, New York University President Andrew Hamilton made a similar announcement on that same day, and Columbia University President Lawrence Bacow shared his plan to step down on April 14 of last year.
Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow gave notice of his intent to step down in June of last year, and since, the presidents of Temple University, University of Minnesota and Michigan State University have announced that they will also retire from their positions in the coming years, amongst presidents of other colleges and universities.
According to Ithaka S+R, a research organization, research indicates that “many of our higher ed colleagues are looking for something new,” citing pandemic challenges as major reasons why.
It pointed to a May 2022 survey conducted by College and University Professional Association for Human Resources suggesting that about 35 percent of higher education employees were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to be looking for other employment within the next year.
Ithaka S+R believes that “losing employees makes it harder for colleges and universities to fulfill their missions in several key ways,” citing higher costs, negatively impacted student experience and difficulty in pursuing long term goals.
Nonetheless, Tramble conveyed that the prioritization of his wife and 3 year old son comes first, and the move to Duke is the right one for his family.
In reference to his time at Howard, Tramble said, “It has been an honor to have this job, and I truly mean that. This has probably been the honor of my life to hold this position…”
Tramble did not provide specific details about who might fill his position.
Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett