It’s been a tumultuous year for leadership at Atlanta’s Morehouse College. One year ago, the board of trustees let former President John Wilson go before his contract ended. Some alumni, students and trustees blamed Wilson for declining enrollment and lackluster fundraising. Now, Morehouse has a new president, David Thomas. At a press conference Friday, Thomas said he has big plans for the school.
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Growing up, Thomas said he had his heart set on attending Morehouse. As a high school senior, he applied to two schools: Morehouse and Yale.
“[Yale] gave me a full scholarship, and I didn’t get a scholarship for Morehouse,” Thomas said. “My father sent me a note and said, ‘You can add,’ and off I went to that other school, but Morehouse always was in my sights.”
Thomas also earned his Ph.D. at Yale. He stayed in academia and became a Harvard professor and dean at Georgetown’s business school.
Thomas comes to Morehouse at a time of transition.
Wilson’s tenure was marked by tension between him and the board of trustees, alumni and students. The college replaced some trustees after Wilson left. The school tapped businessman William Taggart as interim president in April, but he passed away suddenly in June.
Morehouse is one of the country’s leading historically black colleges. But experts say making sure the school has strong leadership is not just about securing the college’s legacy.
“Institutions like Morehouse continue to be of major importance,” said Raymond Pierce, president and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation. “Not only because of what they’ve done in the past, but because of their particular and refined focus of the preparation of African-American men for leadership in this country.”
Although Thomas has worked in college administrations, he’s never led a historically black college. That responsibility is not lost on him.
“I wake up every day and I walk outside my house and I see young ‘me’s,” Thomas said. “I see young David Thomases. Already, I have young men who stop me on the street and they’ve read my story, and they tell me ways in which it reminds them of their stories.”
To make sure those younger versions of himself have a good experience at Morehouse, Thomas says he’s intent on developing strong relationships with trustees, alumni, faculty and students.
“My own approach and assumption is that relationship is aided by transparency,” he said. “So, I am committed to being as transparent as possible with each of the constituencies of the school.”
One of Thomas’s priorities is launching a capital fundraising campaign. He expects to raise between $250 million and $500 million, which would be the largest fundraising effort in the school’s history. Thomas says the money would be used to expand Morehouse’s resources, including new technology and faculty hires. Most of all, Thomas said, he wants to create scholarships for kids like him, who dream of going to Morehouse one day.