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The Midwest Newsroom is a partnership between NPR and member stations to provide investigative journalism and in-depth reporting with a focus on Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Lincoln University, a Missouri HBCU, faces reckoning after suicide of a senior leader

Dr. Antoinette "Bonnie" Candia-Bailey joined Lincoln University as vice president for student affairs in April 2023.
Lincoln University
Dr. Antoinette "Bonnie" Candia-Bailey joined Lincoln University as vice president for student affairs in April 2023.

Lincoln University’s online statement about the death of Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey is three sentences long.

It describes the school’s former vice president for student affairs as “a gifted colleague and always a passionate advocate for Lincoln University, HBCUs and other causes in which she believed.”

The brief remarks include no mention of the circumstances that may have contributed to her death or how it has roiled the community around Lincoln, one of two historically Black universities in Missouri.

The online outlet HBCU Buzz reported last week that Candia-Bailey had experienced bullying and severe mistreatment in her leadership role, often at the hands of university President John B. Moseley.

Her family members have confirmed the 49-year-old died by suicide on Jan.8.

Her mother and husband told NBC News on Friday that Moseley fired Candia-Bailey on Jan. 3. The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained a copy of her termination letter, in which Moseley wrote Candia-Bailey was being fired “due to your continued failure to appropriately supervise your staff and continued failure to properly supervise the area of student affairs at Lincoln University.”

Jefferson City television station KRCG-TV reported Candia-Bailey, a graduate of Lincoln, asking for support from the university’s Board of Curators, only to be turned away. Her emails and communications with friends and family revealed depression and despair.

“Our institution is heavy-laden with despair, discontent and disappointment regarding the loss of the precious life of Dr. Antoinette ‘Bonnie’ Candia-Bailey,” wrote Lincoln Alumni Association President Sherman Bonds in a letter to Board of Curators President Victor Pasley, obtained by HBCU Buzz. Bonds goes on to call for an immediate change in the university presidency.

“What occurs on one’s watch is one’s responsibility — and one must be held accountable, good or bad,” Bonds wrote.

Lincoln University’s Board of Curators released a statement announcing Moseley had voluntarily taken a paid leave of absence. “We are committed to make certain the mental health of Lincoln University employees is a priority and that every employee is always treated with dignity and respect,” the statement said.

The board’s message includes its intention to “engage a third-party expert to fully review potential personnel issues and concerns recently raised regarding compliance with the University’s established policies and procedures.”

Lincoln University students have been protesting and seeking answers since they learned of Candia-Bailey’s death. According to KRCG, many of them waited outside a closed-door Board of Curators meeting on Friday, hoping to question leaders about the university’s response and plans.

"We were just trying to have a conversation just to get some type of answers or just to be heard," Lincoln’s Student Government Association President Kenlyn Washington told KRCG. "When they said, 'OK, we're having a closed meeting now,' it was very frustrating."

Alumni and students have taken to social media to call for Moseley’s removal as president, using the hashtag #FireMoseley.

Lincoln alumnus and Atlanta City Council member Antonio Lewis shared news of Candia-Bailey’s death in council chambers.

“I truly wish I was wrong about the dangers of Dr. Moseley,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Another X user asked followers to contact the university and Board of Curators in an effort to remove Moseley from his post.

Candia-Bailey’s death is another blow to Lincoln University, which has struggled with funding shortfalls and declining enrollment. In 2023, federal officials estimated Missouri had underfunded Lincoln by almost $361.6 million over the past 30 years.

The Missouri Independent reported in October that a bipartisan group of lawmakers requested a state study of the disparity so damage to Lincoln’s programming and infrastructure can be repaired.

Lincoln’s former vice president of administration and finance shared her frustrationswith St. Louis Public Radio in 2019.

“We've been struggling with the state to provide equal matching funds for Lincoln University, and we have not been entirely successful,” said Sandra Koetting, who is now retired. “So when you talk about funding inequities, that's one of them.”

Koetting pointed to other challenges facing Lincoln and Missouri’s other HBCU, Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis.

“Our endowments are not as large as some predominantly white institutions,” Koetting said. “The resources available for scholarships have an impact on recruitment efforts, and you are at a disadvantage because you don't have the same level of resources as many of the other, larger institutions.”

Moseley, who is white, has served as Lincoln University president since 2022. His biography on the Lincoln website says he has more than 20 years of higher education experience, including 14 years on HBCU campuses. It also touts the securing of much-needed state support: “For the first time since it was federally mandated in 2000, the University received nearly $10 million, the full state match for its federal land grant funding, in May 2022 and maintained the full funding following the 2023 legislative session.”

Candia-Bailey joined Lincoln University in April 2023, less than a year before her death. Her hiring announcement described her as having “extensive experience in advocating for social justice and change. She is passionate about examining self-esteem and identity development, particularly in African American women, and enhancing DEI efforts.”

“I believe diversity work is like a puzzle,” Candia-Bailey is quoted in the announcement. “I strive to help individuals find their pieces in the puzzle.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Visit 988lifeline.org for crisis chat services or for more information.

This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including St. Louis Public Radio, Iowa Public RadioKCUR 89.3Nebraska Public Media News and NPR.

Holly Edgell is the managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, a public radio collaboration among NPR member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.