Morehouse Men On The Move…..Iconic college may face third presidential search in last five years.
Three years ago, HBCU presidents and executives around the country took bets on the over/under for newly appointed Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson. The man with whom many of them had worked during his tenure with the White House HBCU Initiative was regarded for many things; arrogance, a pessimistic view of HBCUs, and his peculiar relationship with the truth on the Obama Administration’s support of these schools. He has been a thorn in the side and pain in the behind since he has been president.
If you listened to people then, most had him not finishing his first contract with his alma mater. It was too big of a job; too complex for his strange mix of high intelligence and low insight on HBCU challenges, and too political for his eagerness to engage with few outside of his perceived ring of power brokers.
Most people got it wrong. John Wilson did finish his first contract. And now the longest running bet in the HBCU community appears set to conclude with its worst kept secret; the Morehouse Board of Trustees has notified Dr. Wilson that his contract will not be renewed.
The reasons are unknown but so open to Morehouse stakeholders and the people who listen to him. Several alumni and faculty members called for Dr. Wilson’s ouster last October, only for trustees and alumni association officials to affirm their support in his leadership two days later.
A year prior, Dr. Wilson had faced the prospect of being fired before trustees offered him the one-year extension. Dr. Wilson responded with a controversial Crown Forum appearance where he proclaimed that he would remain as Morehouse president until ‘God says otherwise.’
Well obviously God spoke on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday!
So two years after trustees initially wanted to separate themselves from Dr. Wilson, the Lord has finally moved in a way befitting of the Morehouse Mystique. The president finished his initial contract. The board gave him an extension and along with alumni, affirmed support for his leadership. They allowed him to publish a list of accomplishments, and typically answered all elements of discontent from inside the ‘House and beyond with words of support.
And now, all of that looks to have been a part of the strategy. The board, alumni officials and students could never communicate what Dr. Wilson was exceptional at doing. Beyond bringing President Obama to campus, which was more an execution of the White House than cajoling from Morehouse, there was no large-scale win for Wilson’s administration. The visit was highly criticized and many felt Obama’s speech was inappropriate and a put down to the graduating class.
The national headlines at Morehouse, in order, have been Obama delivering an underwhelming speech to her graduates, sexual assault involving Spelman College students, Dr. Wilson’s own embattled tenure, a record-breaking freshman class which turned out not to be, S.T.E.M. development, and recruitment efforts outside of Atlanta. It seems that Obama was Wilson’s only trump card and he played it early. Insiders say that now Obama is on his way out of office the board felt comfortable in ousting Wilson.
The millions he landed as an MIT development executive, and the federal ties he touted as a potential asset to Morehouse’s academic revenue streams — they never came to pass. And with the interpersonal controversies, layoffs and impatience of elite graduates, the president who had the ear of wealthy trustees has been apparently washed over by the discontent of its powerful network of alumni.
There are some candidates in the pipeline from within the ‘House and beyond. But the school first has to heal some serious wounds involving the trust of its student body and leadership, and questions about why a decision reached Friday lasted into the weekend and will be announced on the birthday of its most famous graduate.
Morehouse will persist and survive, but will her better days be revealed by another leader bred in the Mystique? Or will she find her next great leader from the ranks of non-MC graduates?
Wilson has a long list of alumni, faulty, staff, parents, and students that cannot stand him. One of the greatest examples of Wilson’s inability to be a good president was how he attempted to disinvite Rev. Kevin Johnson from preaching the baccalaureate the year Obama spoke at graduation.