The disagreements among leadership, professors and students at Morehouse College, which in part attracted the attention of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, stretches back for several years, according to a letter from consultants who were trying to help resolve the issues.
The disagreement bubbled to the surface in January when the Board of Trustees voted to not renew President John Silvanus Wilson’s contract, which led to some legal actions by students and a vote of no confidence in the Trustees chairman.
The consultants’ letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reveal views of the problems, ranging from a bloated board, to Wilson’s failure to communicate clearly, to meddling board members, and too many board members with their heads stuck in the past rather than looking to the future.
Here are some highlights pointed out by Rick Legon and Alvin Schexnider, who had a long academic career, including serving as Chancellor of Winston-Salem State University.
-Overall issues concerning board make up and board structure are a significant problem for Morehouse College-the board isn't well positioned to do the “thought partner' work that is required in today's environment of change.
-In addition, it is essential for any remnant of the previously scheduled regular conference calls for board officers and the president (as a means to closely monitor the presidents leadership) be terminated. They send precisely the wrong signals about presidential leadership and they are inconsistent with a board that should be focusing on policy and strategy.
-Boards must be careful not to mistake their own individual interests and priorities with their fiduciary responsibilities of putting the needs of the institution first. Resisting bold governance change at Morehouse can be construed as an abrogation of fiduciary responsibilities.
-Also, with a significant number of current board members having served over 10+ years on the board, it has created the need for new and fresh expertise, and to rethink the resetting of terms that is embedded in the bylaws....There can and should be a process of phasing longer standing board members off the board ...new times mandate fresh thinking and new expertise.
Board make-up-independent institutions tend to have over 50 percent of their trustees come from the ranks of alumni, neither surprising nor necessarily a bad thing. And yet, the overweighting of alumni trustees at Morehouse College strikes us an issue worthy of reconsideration, especially when coupled with the duration of their service. ...many alumni trustees display a fondness for what they remember from their days on campus. While not surprising, it might not be what is best for Morehouse College.
-Boards are mandated to look forward; alumni dominated boards often look out the rear view mirror.
-No Surprises and Full Transparency-- President Wilson must be more intentional about sharing information with all members of the board on a timely basis.
-But while the commitment to information and transparency is a must, the board must continue to respect the distinction between its policy oversight role and management's role; not every administrative matter rises to the level of board oversight.
SACS, which gives Morehouse its accreditation, essential to the health of the school, scheduled a visit Thursday. The issues with leadership attracted the agency to request the visit.
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