January 17, 2017, Atlanta: Morehouse College President John S. Wilson holds a meeting to discuss his impending departure from the college on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.co
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.co

Morehouse president ‘disappointed’ by board’s decision to replace him

Morehouse College president John S. Wilson believed his team had done good work during his four year tenure and hoped to do more.

The Atlanta-based college’s board of trustees, however, voted late last week not to renew his contract when it expires in June.

Wilson, who graduated from the college in 1979, said Tuesday he was disappointed by the decision.

“If I had my way, I’d be serving another 20 years,” Wilson told reporters. “I would have wanted it to be a different way.”

Trustee leaders were unavailable for comment Tuesday. Some students said alumni were displeased with Wilson, disapproving of his goals and vision for the college. Wilson focused on raising money from alumni, raising graduation rates and its endowment. Wilson noted graduation rates rose by four percentage points during his tenure and alumni giving doubled, which he considered among his biggest accomplishments.

Nonetheless, Morehouse, the historically-black college for men near downtown Atlanta, by this fall will have its third president in five years. Wilson noted a time when Morehouse presidents regularly served two or more decades.

Marybeth Gasman, an expert on historically black colleges, said alumni at Morehouse and other HBCUs are micromanaging college presidents, resulting in shorter tenures and more vacancies. About one in six of the nation’s 105 HBCUs have vacancies.

“Rather than do its job of setting larger institutional policy, raising money and promoting the college, the board of trustees spends too much time micromanaging the president,” said Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, at the University of Pennsylvania.

The decision surprised many students, some who were returning to campus Tuesday after the Christmas break.

Junior Kivon Taylor was chatting with some friends on campus Tuesday, unaware of the change. Taylor, an Atlanta native, said Wilson persuaded him to enroll at Morehouse, where Taylor’s now a member of the football and basketball teams.

“He told me what it means to be a Morehouse man,” said Taylor, 21. “He helped influence my decision to come here.”

Wilson told reporters he was unsure what his next move would be. Wilson referred questions about the board’s decision to the board members.

“I recognize fully that any president serves at the will of the trustees, and that’s just a plain fact,” he said. “They made a decision and the best thing about it is it gives me the opportunity to be president for the next six months and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Wilson, who noted several times Tuesday he’s a Morehouse Man, said he’ll work in his last few months toward what he believes are long-term needs for the school, such as increasing student aid and faculty salaries.

Morehouse has not discussed the selection process for Wilson’s replacement. Some have suggested on social media their ideal future president: Barack Obama.

“A boy can dream,” one person tweeted.

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