Another HBCU is facing turnover at its helm as Morehouse College’s board this month decided not to renew President John Wilson’s contract.

Pres John Wilson2

Morehouse College President John Wilson. (Twitter Photo)

Wilson, who graduated from the elite Georgia institution in 1979 and became its 11th president in November 2012, will serve out the end of his contract in June.

While the Board of Trustees failed to offer a reason for their decision, Chairman Robert Davidson praised Wilson for his contributions, saying he “turned around Morehouse in a number of ways.”

“He and his team were champions for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) initiatives for our students and significantly increased the College’s private gifts, grants and contracts,” Davidson added in a statement. “In addition, Dr. Wilson played a pivotal role in bringing President Barack Obama to Morehouse as the commencement speaker in 2013, and hosting Vice President Biden in 2015.”

Despite the chairman’s accolades, Wilson’s presidency—and his departure—have stirred controversy.

In October, for example, alumni posted a well-publicized petition on Change. Org, urging the board to “purge” Wilson from the college.

“With limited transparency and even less access, the Wilson administration has strategically manipulated the narratives of their success,” the petition read in part.

The letter went on to criticize the university’s lowered Moody credit rating, national rankings, program cuts, alleged lack of fundraising, and fallen enrollment numbers under Wilson’s leadership.

According to federal statistics, undergraduate enrollment at the all-male college was 2,167 in 2015—the latest information available. That figure was down from 2,900 in 2007, reflecting similar falling shrinking enrollments at HBCUs across the nation.

In 2013, Wilson also announced 75 staff and faculty jobs would have to be cut due to a financial crisis that would force the university to cuts its operating budget by $2.5 million, a decision alumni criticized, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Alumni and others also decried Wilson’s controversial decision requiring students to stay in on-campus residences for three years, saying it was an attempt to make more money off of students. The mandate would add $13,000 in additional room and board on top of tuition for sophomores and juniors, according to Inside Higher Ed.

“We understand this measure as reallocating the school’s financial burdens onto the backs of parents and students to be unethical,” the alumni petition stated.

Meanwhile, both faculty and students are questioning the manner in which Wilson’s ouster was handled, saying they were not involved in the decision-making.

“We, the faculty of Morehouse College, strongly object to the decision by the Board of Trustees not to renew the contract of President John S. Wilson without explanation and without the inclusion of faculty and student trustees in the discussion and decision,” read a statement from Faculty Council Chair Derrick Bryan, chair of the college’s sociology department, as cited by Inside Higher Ed. 

Three student trustees— Student Government Association President Johnathan Hill, Johntavis Williams and Moses Washington—also filed a lawsuit against board chair Robert Davidson over the matter in Fulton County Superior Court.

“Our problem, and all the students’ problem right now, is that we were not afforded the opportunity to say whether we were in favor of Wilson or not,” Washington told Inside Higher Ed. “We’re here 24-7. When the Board of Trustees leaves, you have to realize who’s at the school. You have the students. You have the faculty.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO