HBCU 'attributes' encourage high achievement

Many broad-minded people still hold implicit biases that assign excellence to the Harvards and Stanfords of the world, or to other elite, predominantly white institutions such as Rutgers, Auburn and the University of Wisconsin, where my career was shaped before coming to Morgan as its 10th president. I earned my first two degrees at Tuskegee University, so I am well aware of the transformational power of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Still, my experience at Morgan over the past nine years has deepened my respect for the teaching and research quality, accomplishments and potential at HBCUs and has given me greater awareness of cultural attributes from the HBCU tradition that make the high achievements of many Morganites possible.

Attribute 1: At Morgan, “family first” is not a trite phrase. We are a family that goes the extra mile every day to listen to each other, respect each other and give tough love – emphasis on love. I eat regularly in the on-campus dining halls, and I smile from ear to ear as I hear our food service colleagues utter, with a motherly or fatherly voice, phrases like “honey child,” “darling,” “baby,” “sweetheart” and “How are you doing today?” I heard those words often as I was growing up in rural Alabama, and they sent the same powerful message then that they send to our students, faculty, staff and alumni today: that the whole community really cares about them.

Attribute 2: Hugs and tears. Forget about making it through a Morgan commencement ceremony without crying with your students and their parents and other loved ones. The tears start the moment I bestow the degrees on the graduates, well before they actually reach the stage to shake my hand. By the time they get near me, after hugging every administrator in the receiving line, their tears are rolling down their chins, and, quite frankly, mine, too. I usually whisper some encouraging words of congratulations to them, acknowledge their struggles and reassure them that they’re ready to lead the world.

Attribute 3: Passion for teaching. The Morgan faculty — one of the best I’ve worked with in higher education — balances top-notch research and scholarship with a passion for educating students. They author articles in some of the top journals in their fields, publish books with some of the top publishing houses and teach as many as four courses each semester — the highest among research universities in Maryland. And they rarely complain out loud, a rarity indeed. Many of them choose to be at Morgan to carry on our mission of educating truly talented students, although a great majority of the faculty could be at almost any other institution in the nation. They receive intrinsic rewards from molding raw intellectual talent into some of the best minds in the state of Maryland and around the nation and world. We don’t appreciate them enough.

Attribute 4: Unconditional love of alma mater. The Morgan identity of our alumni is multifaceted, not just centered on our athletic teams but also on the academic environment and cultural rootedness Morgan provided them, the lifelong friends they made here, the sense of comfort in their own skin they gained, and their ability to not own the biases of others. They see Morgan as a part of their family, and they offer as much financial support as they can afford.

Attribute 5: Successful students. Morgan students are outstanding. Some of the best I’ve been around in my career. I beam with pride as I walk the campus each day and engage with them in substantive dialogue. They are confident, focused and determined to succeed. They are competing with students around the nation and are walking away with top honors. Three more of them won the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship this year, bringing our total to more than 144 — top among HBCUs nationally and, arguably, near the top among all universities in Maryland. A record number of our students are headed to the Ivies for graduate study this year, and scores are soaking up internships and jobs in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, at NASA, at the National Security Agency and elsewhere. The nation has finally figured out that Morgan is producing the top innovators in practically every field with alumni doing critical work, including developing high-tech tools to manage stormwater and reduce flooding and overseeing multi-billion dollar budgets at a large hospital system geared toward low-income patients.

Maryland is fortunate to have an impressive array of higher education institutions in its crown. Morgan sits near the top of that crown as one of its precious jewels.

David Wilson (david.wilson@morgan.edu) is president of Morgan State University.

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