This past week, the board of regents of Morgan State University decided not to renew David Wilson’s contract as president of the Baltimore-based school. In my educated opinion, this decision is a grave mistake.
Wilson is an exceptional leader. When I look across the landscape of university presidents for an example of an individual who is ethical, personable, forward-thinking, brave, data driven, charismatic, scholarly and committed to student-centered education, I think of Wilson.
My perspective comes from many years of research in higher education: I have written extensively about historically black college and university presidents since 1997. I have penned long, peer-reviewed historical articles; written books on black leadership; and, most recently, authored several opinion pieces on the topic. I think I have a fairly good grasp on what constitutes excellent presidential leadership overall and especially within the HBCU context.
Unlike many of its peers, Morgan State is thriving under Wilson’s leadership. The institution had a solid foundation, provided by former president Earl Richardson, and it was primed to move ahead rapidly under Wilson’s leadership.
Wilson’s stewardship has resulted in vast improvements, with the greatest accomplishments in grant procurement (including a $30 million federal grant), alumni giving, national exposure for its academic programs and retention rates. In addition to these, he has accomplished many more successes in his short tenure; they are listed in a letter he sent to the Morgan family Monday. By all measurable indicators, Wilson is a first-rate president.
I have had many interactions with Wilson at national conferences and on the Morgan campus, and I have always been impressed by his energy, enthusiasm, intellect, drive and love for Morgan State. He makes no excuses and is fiercely committed to improving the school. I cannot imagine a better president for this time at the institution.
The shunning of Wilson by the board leads me to ask: Why? With all of his accomplishments and strong leadership, why would it want to let him go? I can think of no reason. What I do know is that over and over again, boards of trustees and boards of regents across the country have been making shortsighted decisions about presidential hires and contract renewals. All too often, they let petty politics get in the way of much needed leadership and the needs of students and university constituents. Some boards have had to reverse decisions after disgruntled faculty, students and alumni called their actions into question, even launching social media campaigns in an effort to reverse the decisions.
In the case of Wilson, I hope the Morgan community rises up and supports its president. He is a president worth keeping, and Morgan needs him.
Marybeth Gasman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of “Fundraising at HBCUs: An All Campus Approach” (Routledge, 2011) and “Understanding Minority-Serving Institutions” (State University of New York Press, 2008).
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