Leadership & Governance

Morgan State U. President Is Abruptly Ousted After 3 Years

December 11, 2012

Just three years after David Wilson was named president of Morgan State University, the Maryland institution's Board of Regents voted last week not to renew his contract.

The announcement came as a surprise to many on and off the Baltimore campus who supported Mr. Wilson as an outspoken advocate for the historically black institution, within the state and nationally.

"I follow these presidents pretty closely, and David Wilson is a shining star," said Marybeth Gasman, who studies historically black colleges as a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania. (She is also a Chronicle blogger.)

In a letter to the university on Monday, Mr. Wilson, who was previously chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and Extension, wrote that he had donated $100,000 of his salary for student scholarships at Morgan State and that alumni giving had increased by about 60 percent during his tenure. In addition, the university has expanded its receipt of federal research awards, including a $30-million contract, according to the letter. Student retention rose above 70 percent for two consecutive years—the highest level in more than a decade.

"By any objective standard, my tenure at Morgan has been marked by measurable increases in practically every dimension at the university," he said in the letter. Mr. Wilson could not be reached for further comment.

Concerns Over Campus Crime

The university's board has not publicly disclosed the reasons for its decision.

But the regents' vote came amid concerns by some students and faculty members that Mr. Wilson, named Morgan State's president in December 2009, was not responding adequately to crime and violence at the university. Two shootings have occurred on the campus in recent months, and a growing chorus of students has complained that the administration has not worked hard enough to squelch drug use there. The most recent shooting, of a football player by someone not affiliated with the university, happened just three days after the president played host to a town-hall meeting where several students brought up the issue of campus crime.

Chinedu Nwokeafor, a junior at Morgan State, said he had met individually with Mr. Wilson on several occasions to alert him to the extensive drug use in the dormitories.

"He wasn't good for our university," Mr. Nwokeafor said.

Other scandals have dogged Mr. Wilson during his tenure, including federal fraud charges against a professor at Morgan State; an awkward attempt to fire a football coach in November; and a three-game suspension of the men's basketball coach in January.

And despite Mr. Wilson's focus on bringing in money for scholarships and research, the president had a strained relationship with some faculty members, who said he had added new administrators at the expense of academic units.

Faculty members were hoping that their teaching load would be reduced to match Morgan State's peer institutions, said Max Hilaire, chairman of the political-science department. Instead, the president hired a new vice president for research and economic development, a community-liaison officer, and more staff for the fund-raising team, Mr. Hilaire said.

There were other missteps as well. Adele S. Newson-Horst, who was appointed dean of liberal arts in July 2011, was forced to step down less than a year later, after department heads in the College of Liberal Arts gave her a vote of no confidence, Mr. Hilaire said.

"Over all the biggest disappointment was that faculty did not feel their concerns were being addressed," Mr. Hilaire said, "and they did not see any improvement in the academic culture."