Last month, the board voted in a surprise move not to renew Mr. Wilson's three-year contract when it expires at the end of June. The decision was unexpected given Mr. Wilson's claim that he recently received a favorable performance evaluation and because the board declined to give any reason for his dismissal. Many in the Morgan community expressed concern that the president's departure under such circumstances not only was unfair to him personally but could also make the task of recruiting a successor more difficult.
Mr. Wilson reportedly now will be offered a new one-year contract, to run through the end of June 2014. That gives him and the board approximately 18 months to work out whatever differences they have while maintaining a sense of continuity for students, faculty and alumni. While it's unclear exactly what caused the rift between the president and his board, it appears there were failures of communication on both sides and that many of the issues that sparked the crisis remain unresolved.
Obviously, a leader in Mr. Wilson's position must have the backing of his board to get anything done. The one-year contract he is being offered reportedly includes a number of confidence-building measures requiring board members and the president to consult closely on how they should proceed. The president should have an intimate working knowledge of what his board members expect, and Mr. Wilson must be prepared to work hard nurturing those relationships, even if he has to ask for help in moving the process along.
The fundamental issue for Morgan, as for many historically black colleges and universities, is how to improve graduation and retention rates for students now that these schools are no longer the automatic choice of the most academically gifted African-American applicants. Many of Morgan's students today are less well prepared for college-level work than previous generations, and it and other HBCUs have to refocus their missions to meet the changing need.
Morgan aspires to be a major urban research institution, but it cannot hope to achieve that goal as long as so many of its undergraduates drop out before graduation. Among Maryland's four HBCUs, only
The one-year arrangement Mr. Wilson and his board have worked out isn't a perfect solution because it still leaves in doubt the question of Morgan's long-term leadership and the continuity the school needs to move ahead. But it's at least a step in the right direction. The guiding principle must always be what's best for Morgan's students — particularly its undergraduates — and on what the president, the board, alumni groups and donors, working together, can do to ensure that more of them graduate with the skills they need to compete successfully in today's global economy. That's the conversation Mr. Wilson and his board need to be having right now, and it cannot begin a moment too soon.