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Robert Franklin to Step Down as Morehouse College President

After five years as president of his alma mater, the Rev. Dr. Robert P. Franklin has announced plans to leave the top post at Morehouse College at the end of the academic year to join the faculty as a distinguished professor of social ethics.

“I have missed the teaching and scholarship, and I am longing to return to my first calling,” says Franklin, 57, in an interview with Diverse. “I feel at peace with the decision, but it was a difficult decision. I love the job.”

Franklin, who arrived at Morehouse in 2007 after holding the Presidential Distinguished Professorship of Social Ethics at the Chandler School of Theology at Emory University, will spend the 2012-13 academic year on sabbatical as a Scholar-in-Residence at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Institute. There he will work with King biographer Dr. Clayborne Carson on several projects, including using social media to bring King’s ideas and philosophy to a younger hip hop generation.

Franklin, who received graduate degrees from Harvard and the University of Chicago after graduating from Morehouse in 1975, has been credited with building upon the storied legacy left behind by his predecessor, Dr. Walter E. Massey, whom he considers a close friend. 

During his tenure as president, Franklin increased alumni giving from 17 to 36 percent and helped to secure millions of dollars in federal grants and contracts to support the college’s capital campaign at the 145-year-old historically Black liberal arts college for men. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaffirmed Morehouse’s accreditation in 2009, and college administrators have used social media, such as Facebook and twitter, to aggressively recruit some of the nation’s best students.

“Dr. Franklin has served an integral role leading the renaissance of Morehouse, and his dedication is greatly appreciated,” says Robert Davidson, chairman of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees. “In addition to his years of service, Robert led by example, dedicating a substantial portion of his time to community service that is one of the core values that Morehouse seeks to instill in each and every one of its students. We will miss him as the board endeavors to find a replacement who will help to usher the college into a new era.”

Becoming president of Morehouse was the “greatest privilege of my life,” says Franklin, who was first introduced to Morehouse College in 1968 while a high school sophomore living in his segregated hometown of Chicago.

In April of that year, he watched on television as the world mourned the tragic death of Morehouse’s most famous alumni, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. At the funeral, Dr. Benjamin Mays, who was president of Morehouse at the time, delivered the eulogy.

During the Democratic National Convention four months later, Franklin was impressed to learn that Julian Bond—another graduate of Morehouse College—had been proposed as a major-party candidate for vice president of the United States. Bond, who was only 28 years old at the time, declined, citing the constitutional requirement that one must be at least 35 years of age to serve in that office.

“I realized that Morehouse produced alumni that changed the world,” says Franklin, who was given a directive at the commencement ceremony in May 1975 by Dr. Hugh M. Gloster, the seventh president of Morehouse.

“He said, ‘Brother Franklin, I want you to go out and earn a Ph.D. and come back to Morehouse as president,’” Franklin recalls. “That really touched me and planted the seed for me to pursue graduate studies.”

Over the past year, Franklin launched new strategic priorities for the college that will be carried out by his successor, who has yet to be named.

By 2014, college officials hope to grow its student population from 2,400 to 2,600.

“The applications are already up dramatically,” says Franklin. “We are excited about being more selective in our admission process.”

Officials also are working on plans to retain students and graduate 50 percent in four years and 70 percent in six years. With an aging faculty—one-third are eligible to retire in the next few years—Franklin says Morehouse is positioning itself to lure the “best and brightest Ph.D.’s” to the Atlanta institution.

Several years ago, students enthusiastically embraced Franklin’s vision that Morehouse men adopt the following five characteristics to affirm themselves as renaissance men: Be well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-balanced. 

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