Posted by Rodney Carmichae
Incoming Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. had a "frank" discussion with NPR's Michel Martin on "Tell Me More" about the need to re-evaluate the mission and effectiveness of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The segment, "Do We Still Need HBCUs?", focused largely on the financial challenges facing HBCUs in recent years, particularly as they pertain to turning graduates into donors. According to Dr. Wilson, who is the former executive director of President Obama's White House Initiative on HBCUs, the problem isn't that HBCUs lack the wealthy alumni pool that keeps other colleges and universities afloat, it's that proud graduates of black schools tend to donate to their alma mater at a much lower rate than other alumni because they don't trust their institutions' money-management skills.
WILSON JR.: You're pretty much spot on. I mean the office that has come up more than any other office is the financial aid office. Most graduates say, oh boy, they angered my parents. They lost my money, or in some cases I couldn't get my transcript back and that kind of thing. So it's a lack of operational excellence, so I'm going to go down to Morehouse and I'm going to - and I've already announced, we are going to be known for our operational excellence.
That lack of "operational excellence" has led to the downfall of several HBCUs, including Atlanta's Morris Brown College, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, after a decade of decline resulting from lost accreditation and the conviction of former Morris Brown President Delores Cross (1998-2002) for embezzling government funds intended to cover student tuition.
While Morehouse hasn't faced anything nearly as daunting, the college was forced to cut spending and furlough staff members last fall based on a decline in enrollment, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That announcement came on the heels of the Obama administration authorizing a $228 million grant to benefit struggling HBCUs.
Wilson, a Morehouse alum who begins his presidential tenure this month, has focused much of his academic career on collegiate finance research and fundraising at schools ranging from George Washington University to MIT. As Michel Martin suggests, Wilson is "part of a new trend of emphasis on administrative capability" among HBCU presidential hirings.
Another issue discussed during Wilson's NPR interview was the Morehouse ban on cross-dressing a couple of years ago that resulted in a 2010 Vibe magazine story titled "Mean Girls of Morehouse."
The school recently announced its first course on LGBT history, according to Martin, who asked Wilson to make sense of it all within the context of Morehouse's history as "an institution which is founded in part to offer a safe harbor to minority students" but through the cross-dressing ban seemed to be creating "a sense of hostility toward another minority."
Wilson called it "a sign of progress" that reaffirms Morehouse's tradition of welcoming students. But he also re-emphasized the school's primary focus, and talked about how the media sensation surrounding the issue muddied Morehouse's larger mission.
So I would say it is a sign of progress. The danger, and I would say the concern that many alums had, was here you had Morehouse College and, you know, with this great brand and there was something of concern that was conflicting with the brand.
We want to make it very clear as we move forward that at Morehouse we produce chemists, we produce biologists, we produce doctors and lawyers and that is our signal. Everything else is noise.
Sounds like the "Mean Girls of Morehouse" left a legacy of their own behind.
Posted By: Elynor Moss
Wednesday, January 30th 2013 at 12:38PM
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