Retiring Morgan State President Earl Richardson says his school has accomplished a great deal, but could do more with equitable support from the state.
When Dr. Earl S. Richardson came to Morgan State University in November 1984, the 3,000-student school had old residence halls and academic buildings in need of renovations. Today, the university on Baltimore’s east side has more than 7,000 students and has received about $500 million toward new construction and renovations that include a $54 million architecture school, a $40 million fine arts building and a $14 million expansion project at Hughes Stadium. After serving at the helm for nearly 25 years, Richardson is retiring as president at year’s end. The 65-year-old Air Force veteran spoke to Diverse about his legacy, MSU’s still-needed improvements and the fight to ensure Maryland’s historically Black institutions are respected.
DI: What are some of your accomplishments as the leader of Morgan State?
ER: I guess our vision has been to transform Morgan from a liberal arts institution to a doctoral research university. We had to increase our academic profile. Increase the uniqueness and academic program inventory. We lead the state in graduating African-Americans. We have made some great improvements to the facilities on campus: a new fine arts building; a new student union; a new engineering facility. We are now rejoicing over a new library in the center of campus, and the planning is now going on for a new business school. With all the accomplishments, we have yet to begin to scratch the surface of this university. This potential has somewhat been stymied by the pace our institution has been able to build. Many of the facilities that we talked about we proposed 25 years ago. Meanwhile, our competitors have continued to build at an already advantaged position.
DI: What are some of the challenges still facing Morgan State?
ER: The state has not given comparable support to us as it has with Morgan’s peers, such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County…and the bigger institutions like (University of) Maryland (College Park). That is a major issue facing Morgan State University. There is no other way of explaining the disparity there with the failure of the state to provide necessary support for Morgan. There has been little, if any, state support for the doctoral program at Morgan. We got federal funding. We got private funding. All of the successes and achievements we have had at Morgan is through our own ingenuity.
DI: Morgan State received $27.4 million from the state for the school’s Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies (school of architecture). If the state has committed that much money to that project, why say the school needs more money?
ER: That is going to be a $54 million project. The state this year approved half of the money and authorized actual construction. The state will provide (the other) half of the money next year. While we applaud the (funding), that means another project will be delayed. There are only two architectural schools in the state of Maryland: one at College Park and one at Morgan State. College Park had a dedicated facility for architecture for 30 to 40 years (and was able to get) a new building. I am simply saying we have had a building for 30 years and petitioned the state to provide a facility and here we are just getting a new building.
DI: What are some of the challenges at Maryland HBCUs that were detailed in the October 2008 Comparability and Competitiveness Report that called for increased funding and new capital projects at HBCUs?
ER: Let’s go back to the concept of comparability and competitiveness. Caught up in that phrase (are) many of the dilemmas that face historically Black colleges. Our Black institutions are no different than any other institutions. The challenge to our states and governments is to deliver us and live up to the challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and make our Black institutions whole. Make them competitive enough to graduate the best and brightest to make them comparable with the White institutions.
Put in support programs. When you do the two – make the Black institutions attractive with the best and brightest students and put in a support system for those students at the margin – you will have great historically Black institutions.
DI: The men’s basketball team won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament earlier this year and advanced to the NCAA tournament. What was that moment like for you?
ER: Another one of the great achievements of the university. We have never won the conference championship. While academics is our first passion, there is no question intercollegiate athletics is an integral part of our institution.
DI: A tribute will be held for you Sept. 12 at the Murphy Fine Arts Center. Are you excited, happy, sad? And do those feelings coincide with the $60-per-ticket price being raised for a scholarship fund in your name?
ER: That is the only way I would even be a part of an event of that nature. It will help people.
DI: With all that you have seen, done and promoted for Morgan State, what do you plan on doing Jan. 1?
ER: I will be on sabbatical and do some writing. I will return as a professor here and teach in the doctoral program. Serving as the president of Morgan State University has just been a pleasure…and my passion.