About Morehouse

Pride in the House

Dr. Walter E. Massey
President’s Crown Forum
November 2, 2006

Good morning, gentlemen. As Dr. Rome said, this is one of my President’s Crown Forums, which I hold once each semester, to speak with the student body about issues at the College. Today, I want to talk with you about some of the recent incidents that I know have been on all of our minds. I also want to talk with you about pride in the house – our house, Morehouse.

We have just had a wonderful Homecoming weekend. I have spoken with a few students walking across the campus over the past few days who seem to be still recovering from the festivities. I do hope that you all enjoyed yourselves, and that you all have recovered, by now.

As I said in my comments at the Homecoming Crown Forum last week, Homecoming is a special time in the life of an institution because it brings together faculty, staff and students, as well as alumni – our graduates. One of the nicest benefits of Homecoming is that you, our current students, have a chance to meet, see and get to know some of your student predecessors, who may now be role models for you as alumni.

By the way, you should know that the alumni I speak with are very impressed with you, our current students. Their wish is for you, as men of Morehouse, to do well while you are here, and to join them soon in the ranks of Morehouse men who are making a difference in the world. In fact, former President Benjamin Mays said, and I am paraphrasing, that, ultimately, any college or university will be measured by what its graduates do – how well its alumni succeed in various walks of life.

We have certainly had our share of prominent alumni. The arrival of the papers of Martin Luther King Jr. to the College a few weeks ago reminds us of our most prominent alumnus, a graduate who literally changed the course of history. Few institutions in the world of any size – or of any historical tradition – can lay claim to having produced such an important figure.

Whenever we speak of prominent alumni, we usually mention many of the names you have heard before: former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher; Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses; filmmaker Spike Lee; former Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis Sullivan; actor Samuel L. Jackson and others. But there are many more alumni of whom we are very proud, who have not yet reached their full potential, but who are on their way to making history. Some of them were here this past weekend for Homecoming. I am thinking of such people as:

Harold Martin ‘02 – the first senior class president to also graduate as the class valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Formally with McKinsey and Company, he is currently enrolled at Yale seeking an MBA. (Finance)

Bakari Sellers ‘05 – a former SGA president, and the youngest African American elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. He defeated a 20-year incumbent. (Political Science)

John David Washington ‘05 – He is now a professional with the NFL St. Louis Rams; he broke all rushing and receiving records at Morehouse. (Sociology)

Voltaire Sterling, ’02 – a Phi Beta Kappa Graduate and class marshal, currently at Harvard Law School, and an editor of the Harvard Law Review. (English)

Tope Folarin, ’04 – Phi Beta Kappa, Rhodes Scholar, attended Oxford University. (English)

F. Christopher Eaglin, ’04 – Phi Beta Kappa, Marshall Scholar, recently graduated from Oxford University. (English)

Brian C. Barnes, ‘02, class marshal, Phi Beta Kappa; attended Harvard School of Education and is now an assistant principal. (Mathematics)

Albert L. Sanders, ‘00 – finished in the top of his class at Penn and became president of the Law School Class at the University of Pennsylvania (Political Science)

Leland Ivy, ‘06 – Phi Beta Kappa graduate, studied abroad extensively in Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Portugal, and is now with Goldman Sachs as an investment banker. (Spanish/International Studies)

James Pendleton, ‘05 – Phi Beta Kappa graduate, now at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Scored a 32 on the MCAT. At the time, he was tied with Andre Eaddy ‘04 for the highest MCAT score in Morehouse history. (Biology)

Timothy Harris, ’00 – Phi Beta Kappa graduate, currently completing an M.D./Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins medical school. He was former class salutatorian, graduating with a 3.96 GPA. (Biology)

These young men – and they are still young – represent what Morehouse is and what it produces and you have every chance of being among these individuals.

I mention these Morehouse men, and the significance of what they have achieved, to remind you of what this institution is all about: producing leaders. I also mention them because I know that over the past several months, the College has received quite a bit of negative publicity in many parts of the press. This has been very unpleasant for me, as president of the institution, and I am sure for you, as students. No one likes to have his or her institution viewed in a less-than-favorable light. And it probably is even more distressing for us, at Morehouse, because we are so accustomed to positive publicity. But, in assessing the impact or the larger meaning of the events contributing to this negative publicity, one must think clearly about such events in the total context of the College’s activities.

Also, it is important to recognize that no college or university – no matter how successful – is totally immune from unfortunate events. Take, for example, accusations of gang rape at Duke; a student murder at New York University; a terrible brawl on the football field at Miami; a student accused of terrorism at Georgia Tech; and two former freshman accused of arson and murder at Seton Hall University.

The important thing is how an institution responds to such incidents. Does it try to understand the causes and circumstances leading to the events, and put in place corrective or preventative measures to minimize recurrence, while continuing to appreciate and feel proud of what it does well? Or does it become overwhelmed and demoralized by negative publicity to the point where it stops believing in itself and begins, inadvertently, to undermine all that is positive about the institution?

I can tell you which response I am taking about Morehouse. And I hope – in fact, I need – you to join me in this response. But first, let me just review these incidents, or alleged incidents, that have fueled the negative publicity.

First, there was the murder committed this summer, in which a young man who had been a recent Morehouse student was allegedly murdered in a very brutal manner by three men who also had matriculated at Morehouse. The trial has not taken place, so I use the word ‘allegedly.’ If these charges prove to be true, what does this mean about Morehouse, and what lessons are we to draw from the incident? Is there something that we should have recognized prior to admitting these young men to Morehouse by looking at their records, their applications, and their past experiences?

If there are such indictors, we are committed to trying to surface them and take appropriate actions. But the fact is that this tragic event was an isolated incident that in no way indicts all Morehouse students – just as the alleged murders at NYU and Seton Hall do not indict all of their students. Although there is always be room for improvement, we stand behind our recruitment and admissions process, a process that, every year, attracts some of the best and brightest students in the country to this institution – including those of you in this room today.

The second incident has to do with the biennial rankings by Black Enterprise magazine. I have spoken on this issue before, but let me repeat some things here. As you may or may not know, this magazine ranks colleges using various criteria. The rankings were started in 1999, and are published about every two years. However – and this is important – the data used for the rankings in any given year is from the prior two academic years.

The Black Enterprise rankings have been published four times. The first year, 1999, Morehouse was ranked second after Spelman. In the next two rankings, Morehouse was ranked No. 1. In the latest ranking, the fourth one, which came out a few months ago, as you know, Morehouse dropped from No. 1 to No. 45. Of course, this was shock to us and, quite frankly, boggles the mind. It somehow implied that in two years, something had changed drastically, in a less than positive manner, at the College. Not just slightly, but drastically. One might have been more understanding had we dropped from number 1 to number 3, or even 5 or 6 – but to 45?

The first question I am sure you would have is – and I would ask those of you who have been here since 2002 to ask yourselves – did your actual experience at Morehouse in terms of your classes and your out-of-classroom experiences change that dramatically in two years? I suspect not. I certainly, as president, have not seen such dramatic changes.

So, how could BE change the College’s ranking to such an extent? Well, according to the magazine, unlike in the past, this year they put increased emphasis on the size of the institution, and on one year’s graduation rate, the year 2004.

Morehouse, as you know, is not trying to grow in size. Our strategic plan calls for us to be below 3,000 students – in fact, to be between 2,800 and 2,900 students. So, if size is used as a criterion for the rankings, we, obviously, will not compare well to institutions that are larger and that are growing.

On the second factor, graduation rates, the year selected for the ranking was an anomalous year for Morehouse. In that year, our graduation rate dropped from a five-year average of about 55 percent to just about 50 percent. But, in the next year, 2005, our graduation rate was 61 percent. And in 2006, we graduated the largest class in the history of the school – 529 students – and our graduation rate for 2006 will be well above 61 percent.

I remind you that the average graduation rate nationally for African American males is about 33 percent – about one half of ours – and that we are an all-male, predominantly African American institution. In fact, we do well, compared to the great majority of institutions when it comes to educating and graduating African American males, which is what we do. Even in 2004, the year our graduation rate was the lowest it has been for the past five years, we still graduated 465 students – more African American males, we believe, than any other institution of higher education in the nation.

It is important, also, to note what Black Enterprise did not say about the 2004 academic year at Morehouse.

BE did not say that 2004 was the same year that we graduated our third Rhodes scholar, Mr. Tope Folarin; that 2004 was the same year we graduated our third Fulbright scholar during my administration, Mr. John Thomas; and that 2004 was the same year we graduated our third Center for the Presidency scholar during my administration, Mr. Christopher Carter.

BE did not say that 2004 was also the academic year that the Wall Street Journal ranked Morehouse as one of the top 30 feeder schools for the most prestigious law, medical and business school programs in the United States – the only HBCU in that group, and the only school in the top 30 in Georgia. And in 2004 – as it has every year for more than a decade – U.S. News and World Report listed Morehouse as one of only three historically black colleges among nationally ranked liberal arts colleges.

So, 2004 was not such a bad year after all.

So, now, let’s think about this. If BE uses the same criteria next time that it says it used for this year’s ranking, the magazine’s 2008 list of the top colleges for African Americans will be based on our 2006 graduation rate, which, as I said earlier, will be above 61 percent. That would mean that Morehouse should go back to the No. I position. I will be gone from Morehouse by then as president, but I certainly will be watching to see whether or not they change the criteria again.

The Black Enterprise ranking notwithstanding, we do know that we need to improve the rate at which our young men graduate. There are many reasons students do not graduate from college and from Morehouse within six years – some academic, some social, and, for many of our students, a big factor is financial.

As for the academic and social reasons that students do not graduate, we will begin to address that through the Morehouse Male Initiative, which you have heard me speak about before. This is a research-based, student assessment and program improvement model designed to help us better understand what factors influence student success in college. We believe that to the extent we understand what those success factors are, we can enhance our in-classroom and out-of-classroom experiences at Morehouse so that more students can and will earn their degrees. Dr. Bryant Marks, associate professor of psychology, has agreed to serve as interim director of the Morehouse Male Initiative, and will be working with other members of the faculty, staff and student body to design the research for the initiative.

As for the financial reasons students do not graduate, this is an issue the College has already begun to address during my administration, and one in which the Board of Trustees has taken a particular interest. In April 2005, the Board established and funded what is called the Opportunity Fund. Its sole purpose is to award grants to juniors and seniors in good standing who otherwise would not have sufficient money to complete their education. During the 2005-2006 academic year, the Opportunity Fund allowed the College to award nearly $213,000 to 68 students in this category – about half of them seniors who graduated last May. This made a significant impact on our graduation rate for that year, and helped us produce the largest graduating class in our history.

Because of the positive impact it had in just one year, we wanted to build on the success of the Opportunity Fund. So, we approached the Mellon Foundation for support. The foundation has granted the College a $2 million endowment – which our Trustees have committed to matching on a 1:1 basis – for a total endowment of $4 million to support the Opportunity Fund. We estimate that this gift and the match will enable us to help an additional 40-50 financially needy students graduate each year, who otherwise would not be able to do so.

So, between the Morehouse Male Initiative and the Opportunity Fund, we are working in several ways to improve graduation rates.

The third incident that has led to negative publicity is the allegations and rumors of rape and sexual abuse involving Morehouse and Spelman students. First, let me say, unequivocally, that sexual abuse and sexual violence are abhorrent activities that simply cannot – and will not – be tolerated at Morehouse. Even though it appears the alleged incident that received so much publicity may not fit in this category, there are rumors that other incidents, as yet officially unreported, may have taken place.Any man of Morehouse who commits such an act justifiably deserves the outrage of the entire community and, especially, of the students of Morehouse. Such acts not only degrade and demean the women involved, but also sully the reputation of the entire institution.

But, rather than just condemning these activities, we need to do all we can to prevent them. As you may have heard, I, along with President Beverly Tatum of Spelman, have established a task force on Gender Relations, Violence and Campus Safety to address these issues. Each school named seven members to the task force, including students, faculty and staff. Dr. Kevin Rome is co-chair of the task force along with his counterpart at Spelman, Dr. Sherry Turner.

Dr. Tatum and I charged the task force to develop programs to:

  • raise awareness and address issues associated with dysfunctional male-female relationships
  • define sexual violence
  • identify and address barriers associated with reporting cases of sexual violence
  • examine the impact of racism, sexism, and media/pop culture images on male-female relationships
  • develop educational programs and training to reduce or eliminate sexual and other forms of violence among students and
  • create a method to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of the work of the task force

In addition to the important charge the task force will be taking on, we need everyone in the Morehouse community – and especially you, our students – to do his or her part to help create an environment where both women and men are honored and respected. I know you will support me by doing just that.

So, those are the three incidents that have been featured in the news. I certainly hope not, but you should realize it is quite possible that before the school year is over, something else could also happen that could produce negative press.

So, how are we going to react to the negative publicity attendant to these and other such incidents? Will we cower in the shadows and lose our morale and begin to doubt ourselves? Or will be stand up and face the world like confident men of Morehouse and Morehouse men and say yes, these things did happen and we are addressing them.

And, will we also say, but let me tell you that while the press was reporting those incidents, there were other things going on at Morehouse. Will we say that we recently graduated the largest class in our history and still graduate more African American males than any other institution in the nation?

Will we say that we send more African American males abroad to study to plan to become citizens of the world than any other school in the nation, and that we have five students applying for the Rhodes scholarship this year – a record number of applicants for Morehouse?

Will we say that we have a college bowl team that has won the national Honda All-Stars Championship for four of the past five years, and that, last year, we won the DeLoitte and Touche accounting case competition – first winning the HBCU category, then going on to win the national competition and beating out majority institutions with the top accounting programs in the country, and that, this year, we started the John Hopps scholars program to attract top mathematics and science students in the nation?

On top of that, will we say when people ask us about what is going on at Morehouse, that we have moved up our place in history by securing the papers of Martin Luther King Jr., and that we have completed the Campaign for a New Century, the most ambitious capital campaign in the College’s history, raising $118 million, and that despite growing competition, we, once again, enrolled some of the most academically qualified students in the nation as members of this year’s freshman class – as evidenced by their mean SAT scores of 1097 and high school GPAs of 3.2?

I could go on with other examples, but I think you get my message. I hope that when you are asked about the negative incidents that are in the news – or when you think of them – you remind others and yourself of the many positive activities that are also news at Morehouse. And I hope that you remember – and that you are proud to tell others – that you contribute to Morehouse’s success by upholding the College’s values and standards.

Gentlemen, it is easy to be proud and confident when everything is going well, when you are showered with praise, when you can seemingly do no wrong. The real test of an individual, and of an institution, is to maintain your pride and confidence when the publicity is not all positive, and to be able to maintain that pride because you know who you are. And we know who we are at Morehouse.

I certainly do and I hope you do. I am a Morehouse man and proud of it.

Do not fall into the trap of becoming your own worst enemy. Yes, we should continue to evaluate and criticize ourselves and admit our weaknesses and our faults so that we can continue to work to improve ourselves and this institution. But do not, by your own behaviors, attitudes and reactions, dig the hole that others would bury us in.

We have a lot to be proud of – throughout our history, and today and every day.

As I close, I want to recognize just a few of our most recent Morehouse achievers:
First, the Morehouse College Maroon Tigers football team and their coach, Terry Beauford. Even though they did not have a winning season, these men gave their all in every game. I am proud of their achievements, and I know you are too. Will the members of the football team and their coaches please stand? Congratulations, gentlemen.

Next, I want to acknowledge the Morehouse Track and Cross County team and their coaches for an outstanding record. This year, our cross-country team won the SIAC championship – a title they have earned for the past 13 consecutive years. And, this year, coach Willie Hill was named SIAC coach of the year – a title he has earned for the past 13 consecutive years!

Most of the members of the team are on their way to the NCAA Southern Championship in Memphis. But, I think there are a few senior members of the team who are here. Will you please stand on behalf of your team and be recognized? Thank you, gentlemen.

The Office of Student Services recently sponsored an essay contest on Morehouse values. Three students submitted entries judged to be the best. Cedric Samuel, Brian Richardson and Stanley Onuoha will you please stand? Congratulations to you on your thoughtful expressions about what it means to be men of Morehouse.

Finally, will the members of the Student Government Association please join me on stage. Gentlemen, these are your leaders – leaders among leaders. Together we can – and I know we will – continue to do the work to keep pride in the house.

And now, will everyone please join me in singing Dear Old Morehouse.