The Massey Legacy
A Living Legacy - Period.
By Vickie G. Hampton
In the end, my decision to accept the offer came
down to my conviction that Morehouse was
the right place, that the presidency was the right
job, and that I was the right person — the right leader at the right time— for
President Walter E. Massey '58
In 1995, Walter E. Massey ’58 had a tough decision to make. The physicist who once led two of the nation’s premier scientific organizations had reached a fork in the road. One prong led to a continuation of the career path he was already on as provost at the University of California with a probabilty of becoming the university’s president.
The second prong led back to the place where he started: his alma mater, Morehouse College. He credited the College for making him who he was. “I recognized that I would not have been able to enjoy the successful career I had had up to that point without the preparation I received at Morehouse.”
Happy with his career path to date — he was responsible for the University of California’s three national research laboratories — returning to Morehouse took a little persuasion. His son and two Morehouse classmates, Willie “Flash” Davis ’56 and Otis Moss Jr. ’56, impressed upon him that he was the right man for the job. “In the end, my decision to accept the offer came down to my conviction that Morehouse was the right place, that the presidency was the right job, and that I was the right person — the right leader at the right time — for Morehouse College.”
As a man who had served as the director of the Argonne National Laboratory and later the National Science Foundation, Massey’s first move was to do the research. He talked to trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni, supporters and parents. “And I listened to them,” he said, “to their visions and their dreams.” It’s little wonder, then, that the vision he announced during Opening Convocation in 1995 would resonate with the entire community and those who loved and respected Morehouse. The physicist had effectively synthesized all that he learned and encapsulated it into a vision statement that would become the catalyst for all that he would envision and achieve for the College: “It is my vision that Morehouse College will be among the very finest private, undergraduate liberal arts colleges in the nation — period.”
The vision led to a cultural change on the campus that was nothing less than sweeping and ushered in the concept for the “academic village,” a term that Massey coined. The pairing of academic — the pursuit of teaching, learning, exploration and discovery — with village — which speaks of community, unity, safe haven and shared values — spoke of the interconnectivity of all the elements needed for an excellent educational experience.
Realizing the Academic Village
Creating the academic village meant the need for the most ambitious fundraising effort in the College’s history, aptly named The Campaign for a New Century. The Campaign met its $105.7- million goal a full year before its culmination. In June 2006, the Campaign officially closed and the goal was exceeded by $13 million. Arguably, without Massey’s strong, inclusive leadership, the Campaign would not have come to such historical proportions. Experts in institutional fundraising all concur that it’s not the brickand- mortar laundry list of a school’s needs that inspires philanthropy — especially in difficult economic times — but the leader’s overarching vision to advance a worthy mission.
Yet, as successful as the Campaign was, it is not the crux of the Massey legacy. The Campaign was the means to realize the academic village —an environment that in all aspects advances the teaching/learning enterprise: from updating the core curriculum to enhancing faculty and staff development; from improving customer relations to cultivating flowerbeds.
The physical building of the academic village included construction of the 70,000-square-foot Leadership Center facility, poised to become the national epicenter of ethical leadership; the John H. Hopps Jr. Technology Tower; and the Otis Moss Jr. Residential Suites, a 375-bed apartment-style dormitory. Groundbreaking for the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center featuring a 575-seat concert hall is scheduled on May 18.
Constructing impressive facilities, however, did not supersede building community.
One of Massey’s first steps in building community was a personal choice he and first lady Shirley Massey made to live on campus—the first Morehouse president to do so in 30 years. Besides living and guest quarters, The Davidson House Center for Excellence includes four lower-level conference rooms.
"Davidson House is not just a president's residence, or even a place for meetings, but a place that makes a statement about Morehouse embracing the community," Massey said during the building’s dedication in 1998.
New Initatives, New Partnerships
In fact, under Massey’s leadership, several initiatives were launched to make sure that Morehouse, with its considerable intellectual and human resources, would become an active partner in helping to address issues that the wider community was grappling with. The Morehouse College Revitalization Task Force works closely with 10 neighborhood associations to develop specialized neighborhood revitalization plans. The College received an Economic Development Administration Grant to conduct a feasibility study on economic empowerment. And in 2002, Morehouse partnered with other Atlanta University Center schools to form University Community Academy, a charter school that has garnered several national distinctions.
The College Partners, Inc., a collaboration with Spelman College and Morehouse School of Medicine, was established to allow for land transfers between the schools and the Atlanta Housing Authority.
Closer to home, Massey turned his attention to developing a stronger sense of community on campus. The Institutional Values Project was introduced in 2001 to foster open discussions about nine shared values, including integrity, civility, trust and spirituality. Leadership 4.0 was initiated in 2005 to improve customer service skills and to “treat each other better.”
Under Massey’s watch, the College’s strongholds have grown stronger. The College has long been respected for its excellent liberal arts education. In 2003, The Wall Street Journal listed Morehouse as one of the top feeder schools to the most elite professional and graduate schools in the nation. The College is one of only two HBCUs to produce three Rhodes scholars. In major competitions across the disciplines, Morehouse students continue to bring home top placements, from its fourth championship in the Honda All-Star Challenge to capturing several top honors in the HBCU Newspaper Conference.
Producing World Citizens
The sense of community ingrained in Morehouse students is evident in the fact that, today, more than 75 percent of all students participate in community service. Massey, a world traveler, felt strongly, however, that the 21st-century scholar also should be a “world citizen” in an increasingly global community. He and Mrs. Massey embarked on a personal campaign to see that every Morehouse student has a passport. Their influence has led to more students studying and traveling to distant locals: from trips to South Africa to study the AIDS epidemic to Spanish students’ excursions to South America to immerse themselves in the language and culture.
President Massey leaves Morehouse College with the best kind of legacy—a living, evolving one with the suppleness to be molded by the hands of the future. After all, excellence is a pursuit—not really a destination. And Morehouse’s unfinished cathedral of excellence has grown both grander and homier because a favored son searched his heart and returned to the ‘House.