Morehouse’s New President to Focus on Creating ‘Cutting Edge Institution’

Dr. John S. Wilson is the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.Dr. John S. Wilson is the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

After an extensive search, the Morehouse College Board of Trustees officially announced on Monday the selection of Dr. John S. Wilson, the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, as the school’s 11th president.

In a letter addressed to the Morehouse community, Robert C. Davidson Jr., chairman of the trustees, wrote, “Dr. Wilson has the vision, experience and passion to continue to lead our College in its mission to provide an excellent and relevant academic experience for young men and to further our proud tradition of producing leaders for a global community.”

The current president of Morehouse, Dr. Robert M. Franklin, announced in January that he would be stepping down at the end of the 2012 academic year to take a sabbatical as a Scholar in Residence at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Institute. With the help of Heidrick and Struggles, an executive search firm, the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee chose Wilson, a Morehouse alumnus (class of ’79).

As an alumnus, Wilson brings a unique perspective on the needs of the college and in planning for its future.

“In particular, I would bring a sense of urgency both in the learning environment, in the living environment and in the working environment of our campus. That’s what I especially want to bring to Morehouse College to make sure we are a cutting edge institution,” Wilson commented.

In his role on the HBCUs initiative, he worked under an administration that raised over $400 million of Pell Grant funding, which was exclusively dispersed among students at HBCUs. In addition, working under both President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he has first-hand experience in witnessing an administration that raised over $1 billion toward student loan funding for HBCU students. From that experience, Wilson has already conceived several plans to maintain college affordability at the HBCU level and in particular at Morehouse College.  

“What I’m going to emphasize is the kind of institutional resources that we need to have available to ensure that our students graduate with less debt so that their graduate school options can still be real,” remarked Wilson in response to his plans as the newly appointed college president.

Not only has Wilson been involved in the operations of raising funds for colleges at the federal level, but also, he brings more than 25 years of experience at the higher education level in general. For 16 years of his career, he worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the director of Foundation Relations and assistant provost. In that role, he helped to generate annual revenue of over $50 million, which accounted for more than double of the office’s productivity prior to his leadership.

Years after his career at MIT, Wilson reunited with the efforts of his own alma mater when he served as president of the Greater Boston Morehouse College Alumni Association. In leading a campaign toward scholarships and community outreach for his alumni chapter, Wilson helped raise over $1 million. As a result, Morehouse awarded him the Benjamin Elijah Mays Leadership Award during the school’s 1998 “A Candle in the Dark” gala.

In maintaining close proximity to the efforts of Morehouse College, Wilson took on a position to assist with the neighboring school, Spelman College, where he served as an advisor to Spelman’s Board of Trustees. After witnessing the varying leadership styles coupled with the financial requirements of HBCUs, Wilson has identified his own leadership style as a “collegial style,” which he plans to utilize in his presidency at Morehouse College.

“I know the only style that really works in higher education is a collegial style. That’s my nature. In my career, I’ve been used to surrounding myself with really, really intelligent people, and when you do that, you can delegate a lot of authority and can rely on them to use their intelligence to help advance the institution.”

Wilson officially will step into his role as president of Morehouse College at the end of the inauguration period of President Obama in January 2013.