Alvin Hill, Student Government Association vice president at Morgan State University. (Photo L. Kasimu Harris)
It was just a month ago when the board of regents of Morgan State University, the historically Black school in Baltimore, voted not to renew the contract of its president, David Wilson. Wilson had served as president for two years and his three-year contract was set to expire in June of this year.
But then something unusual happened. The board’s decision unleashed a torrent of criticism by the school’s faculty, staff and, most notably, Morgan State’s students, who held protest rallies on behalf of retaining President Wilson.
Since then, the board announced something of a reversal, saying it was reconsidering its initial decision. It agreed to negotiate a new one-year contract covering the period from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. The terms of the one-year deal have yet to be negotiated.
The uproar over Wilson’s contract was particularly notable for the level of activism it drew from the students on the Baltimore campus, students who had planned meetings and protests all with the purpose of urging the trustees to keep the school’s president in his job.
“President Wilson was the man who is known for finding the money for students who had trouble paying their tuition,” said Alvin Hill, the vice president of Morgan State’s Student Government Association and a major architect of the move to keep Wilson.
“He was the one who always wanted to make sure that students were taken care of,” Hill said. “He was seen as someone who was committed to students. So, we decided to rally and protest the board’s decision.”
In a letter addressed to the “Morgan Community,” Wilson wrote: “I have committed no act of illegality, immorality, or malfeasance. I stand proudly on the body of work we have been able to achieve during my tenure. It is indeed unfortunate that half of the members of the board of regents and I do not see it the same way.”
Before becoming the 12th president of Morgan State University, Wilson served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. During a more than 30-year career in higher education, he has held administrative positions at Rutgers University,Kentucky State University, Auburn University and Tuskegee University, his alma mater. He received a doctorate from Harvard University.
Hill and other student leaders at Morgan State say they were further upset about the board’s initial decision about the school’s president because no rationale was offered for ending Wilson’s contract.
“They provided no reason for ending his contract,” said Hill, a junior majoring in sociology who serves as a student member of Maryland’s Board of Higher Education and is also an ordained Baptist minister.
“They didn’t give any explanation and that made it seem even more unfair. It seemed like his removal was more political. We were prepared to boycott classes. To be honest, we were prepared to go off.”
Although the effort to keep Wilson at Morgan State involved many constituencies on the campus, the student activism was seen as an important element.
“I think student activism is important,” Hill said. “It teaches students that they can make a difference.”