Three prominent alumni of Morehouse College called on the board of trustees Tuesday to right the wrongs in an ongoing leadership struggle at the Atlanta school.
Morehouse, an iconic historically black college, is in the midst of a debate over the future of the 2,100-student school for men. The board voted in January not to renew the contract of John Silvanus Wilson Jr., who has been president of Morehouse since 2012. And last month, a quorum of faculty members voted no confidence in the chairman of the board of trustees, Robert C. Davidson Jr.
“Morehouse College is at present drowning in acrimony,” the letter from Jeh Johnson, Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson says.
“Student leaders feel they have no voice, and are compelled to take you to court. The faculty has voted no confidence in your Board Chair. Your decision to not renew President Wilson’s contract is inexplicable, and you must now search for the school’s third president in 10 years.
“All of us in the Morehouse family — students, faculty and alumni — hold you, the Trustees, responsible for this dismal state of affairs.”
Johnson, who was homeland security secretary under President Barack Obama, said he loves Morehouse and feels strongly about Morehouse and the direction it is taking. “The three of us, I think, capture the full breadth of what a Morehouse man is.” Lee is a famous filmmaker and Jackson an actor.
Aileen Dodd, a spokeswoman for Morehouse, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
The alumni letter includes an endorsement of a story in The Root, “The War at Morehouse,” which breaks down the conflict and its importance:
Morehouse has long served as the voice, soul, heart and conscience of not just the dark part of this country, but of America itself. As director of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson (Class of 1979) kept this nation safe. Lerone Bennett Jr.’s (Class of 1949) book Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America is the definitive history of black America. Martin Luther King Jr. (Class of 1948) unquestionably showed the world that “love is stronger hate” was more than just an overused aphorism. Black America needs Morehouse. America needs Morehouse.
But Morehouse is falling down.
The dispute comes at a tense time for historically black colleges, after outreach by the Trump administration and Republican leaders to HBCUs were welcomed by some and dismissed by others as a photo op not backed up with funding proposals.
After leaders of historically black colleges met with President Trump at the White House last month, Wilson expressed his disappointment with the substance of the meeting. He wrote a letter to the college community March 1, saying that “time will tell” how much true support the Trump administration gives HBCUs. Wilson also wrote that “the meetings were a troubling beginning to what must be a productive relationship.”
Dodd has said that reports in March that Wilson had been fired after he made those statements related to the White House meetings were “fake news.”
Morehouse’s board will meet this weekend.
Johnathan Hill, a senior who is president of the student government association and a political science major from Washington, said: “Morehouse College has taught us and the alumni of the college that it’s O.K. to be critical of yourselves and your people; we want to be better so no one else can judge us. … Right now, the power struggle or the conversation around the president and the chairman of the board is incidental to the common good.” He said the common goal is to reassure accreditors and others that the institution is strong.
Morehouse is a place that “can take young brothers and young men and change them in four years,” he said. “That transformation is something only Morehouse is able to do.”
He said he hoped Morehouse men, on the anniversary of the death of alumnus Martin Luther King Jr., would “say yes. Preach the gospel. Talk about how Morehouse can stand for another 150 years.”
Cast member Samuel L. Jackson poses at the premiere of “Kong: Skull Island” in Los Angeles on March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni