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Getting to Know: Dr. Robert Franklin Jr.

He hasn’t been on the job officially 100 days yet, but Morehouse President Robert M. Franklin Jr. is already making a few noticeable changes.

First, he got new sports coats for freshmen to wear to class. “The coat of mystique,” he calls it. Then he told freshmen and upperclassmen alike that they could no longer wear saggy jeans and baseball caps to class. He’s also not tolerating student use of profanity in the public square.

Next on his agenda, Franklin says he wants to take the classic “More – house mystique” to the streets of Atlanta. That’s no easy task, considering that the school has been associated in recent years with negative news involving murder, gay bashing and rape allegations. But the biggest hurdle Franklin may have to overcome is the invisible wall that has for years kept Morehouse, as well as its sister institutions, largely isolated from the mostly impoverished community that surrounds the campus.

“I want to reposition and restore the balance of intellect and morality in the service of community,” Franklin told Diverse. To that end, Franklin says Morehouse students will be expected to engage with their surrounding community by tutoring young boys in Atlanta schools and at children’s homes. For Franklin, 53, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Morhouse in 1975, there is no greater moral dilemma in society than the educational crisis facing Black boys, he says.

“With Morehouse here, public schools that share our zip code ought to be at the top of the grade in terms of academic performance,” he says. “We can’t wait for parents to knock on our door and ask for help with their struggling children. We ought to knock on their doors. We ought to make sure these parents and children regard a college campus as friendly and accessible, not as intimidating.” Franklin earned a master’s in Christian social ethics and pastoral care from Harvard’s Divinity School and a doctorate in ethics and society, and religion and the social sciences from the University of Chicago.

This background includes more theology than college administration, but that’s part of the reason the trustees hired him. Many students, campus officials and trustees had expressed a desire for Morehouse’s next president to not only have good leadership skills, but also be someone who exuded good moral character. Willie J. Davis, chairman of Morehouse’s board of trustees, first met Franklin in the 1970s at Harvard.

“Morality has always been a consideration when we select a president of Morehouse. Bob Franklin, I think, is a man of good moral standards. Everything that he does reflects this,” says Davis. “In interviewing and checking out candidates this time, Franklin came closest to meeting that standard. It’s a very high standard, but Franklin has all the attributes that we were looking for. Secretly, in my mind, Dr. Franklin came closest to being the epitome of Dr. [Benjamin] Mays than anyone else that we saw.”

The school’s image and that of many of its students — more commonly referenced as the “Morehouse mystique” — is too often “viewed as arrogant, and its students are perceived as thinking that they are better than others,” Franklin says, especially by residents who live in surrounding neighborhoods.

Franklin says he wants to change that perception. “I like to define the Morehouse man as a renaissance man with a social conscience,” he says. “It’s personified in the image of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This was a man who led a movement of social change in America. He was widely traveled and well read, all in the service of uplifting the least advantaged in the community. This is what Morehouse means to me.

“I want to make the Morehouse brand so attractive that students will beat down the door to get in,” Franklin says.

— By Tracie Powell

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