Morgan State University's Board of Regents voted to extend the contract of the university's president for an additional year during a lengthy meeting Friday — reversing a contentious decision to seek a new president at the close of the academic year.
Board members did not offer an explanation for their reversal, nor did they detail the reasons they had previously sought to end President David J. Wilson's tenure after less than three years at the helm of the Northeast Baltimore campus.
Board president Dallas R. Evans, who cast the only vote against the measure, said that the board would negotiate a new contract with Wilson by the end of January for the 2013-2014 school year.
"We look forward to going through this healing process," said Evans.
In brief remarks, Wilson attributed the tension between himself and the board to communication problems.
"In order for a university to operate in a shipshape manner, it requires the president and the board to have open communication," Wilson said after the board's decision. "As president of the university, I have not done as effective of a job as I should have done in maintaining communication."
Wilson declined to elaborate on the communication issues in an interview after the meeting, saying that there were "three or four things" he had "not been clear about" with the regents. Evans did not respond to a request for additional comment.
Earlier this month, the board had voted 8-7 to not renew Wilson's contract when it expired in June.
Many of the nearly 100 students, staff and alumni who waited for hours as the board met behind closed doors Friday said they were not satisfied with the board's decision to offer Wilson only a one-year extension — or its explanation.
"The whole thing is ridiculous," said biology professor Gabrielle McLemore, chair of the University Council. "After all of this, we still don't know why. I don't understand how you can have a person who has done all that he has done for the university and not bring him back."
Wilson's supporters said they feared that he would be considered a "lame duck" for the next year and a half.
"It's a death sentence," said Jeannette Rufus, a Morgan alumna and head of a campus employees' union. She said she thought the additional year was a "smoke screen" erected by the regents to deflect criticism from the campus community.
Wilson, who holds a doctorate from Harvard University, was chosen by the regents to lead Morgan 21/2 years ago. Since then, he has pushed to expand the university's reputation as a top-tier research institution and led the creation of a master plan that emphasizes improving the neighborhoods near campus.
The regents met in a conference room in a library named for Wilson's predecessor, Earl S. Richardson, who headed the university for a quarter-century and maintains an office near the conference room.
About two dozen alumni, staff members, students and community leaders spoke on Wilson's behalf during a public portion of Friday's meeting.
National alumni association president Jacqueline Lawson said that alumni were "stunned and dismayed" by the board's decision and some had threatened to rescind major donations unless Wilson was reinstated.
"This threatens our recruitment efforts. It threatens our funding efforts," she said. "Alumni have told me they will not continue giving to Morgan if this situation isn't settled positively."
Faculty members said that Wilson had improved the campus climate during his brief tenure. "Since Dr. Wilson has been here, the atmosphere has changed," said Carl White, an engineering professor for more than 25 years. "It's time for this university to go to the next level."
Public health professor Yvonne Bronner said she was frustrated that the board had yet to explain the rationale for its surprise vote earlier this month to not renew Wilson's contract. "We came here today to get some understanding of their reasoning, and we still don't have any," she said.
Alumnus John B. Ferron Sr. questioned the board's motivation in seeking to end Wilson's tenure, calling their actions "typical of Maryland politics."
"Is the board seeking a president who will be more pliable to its views?" he said. "If Dr. Wilson was guilty of any serious infractions, it would have been spread throughout the community by now."
Community leaders, including City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Councilman Robert W. Curran, praised Wilson's efforts to work with — and improve — neighborhoods near campus.
"Dr. Wilson has been extraordinarily hands-on and effective," said Clarke. "He has won the support of many neighborhoods I represent."
Curran noted that the university's 1997 strategic plan made no mention of the surrounding community, in sharp contrast to Wilson's efforts to improve nearby neighborhoods, including constructing academic buildings near the long-troubled Northwood Plaza shopping center.
The regents — who include several members who have served on the board for two or three decades — closed the meeting to the public after less than an hour of testimony. They met with Wilson for more than three hours behind closed doors while alumni, faculty and students waited outside.
After the board announced its decision, several alumni — joined by Wilson and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a regent — broke into Morgan's alma mater.
Supporters hugged Wilson, clasped his hands and asked him how they should feel about the board's decision.
"I think we're on a good road toward healing what damage has possibly been inflicted," Wilson said.
An earlier version misstated the board's vote tally. The Sun regrets the error.