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John Silvanus Wilson Jr. ’79 Chosen to Head White House Initiative on HBCUs


John Silvanus Wilson Jr. '75
A Morehouse Man will lead President Barack Obama’s efforts on behalf of the nation’s 105 historically black colleges and universities.

The U.S. Department of Education announced that John Silvanus Wilson Jr. ’79 has been appointed executive director of the White House’s Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), a post that makes Wilson the President’s main liaison between the administration and the nation’s HBCUs.

“We’re delighted to have someone with the breadth and quality of experience that Dr. Wilson brings to address the challenges our HBCUs face,” President Obama said. “His expertise and insight will be invaluable to the Department.”

Wilson, a Philadephia native, also graduated from the Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He has been an associate professor of higher education at George Washington University and has been executive dean of GWU’s Virginia campus. He spent 16 years as director of foundation relations and assistant provost at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has been a longtime advocate and advisor for efforts by the Kresge Foundation, the Mott Foundation and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to improve black colleges.

“It is an honor,” said Wilson. “It is an opportunity to have a positive impact on the nation’s HBCU’s. It is also an honor because it puts me on the team of his very strong presidential administration. I really have had high respect for President Barack Obama and the change he’s trying to bring to the nation. It’s an honor to be part of the team convened to make that change.”

The move comes at a critical juncture for HBCUs.

Some, like Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, Knoxville College in East Tennessee and most recently Paul Quinn College in Dallas, are fighting to survive after losing regional accreditation. Others suffer from dwindling resources, endowment and enrollments – situations made even tougher during the nation’s current economic downturn.

Wilson said he wants to focus on helping HBCUs to enhance their capacity and increasing federal funding for the institutions.

“I want to put this office in the context of the agenda of the President of the United States,” Wilson said. “He has said America cannot lead unless we have the best educationally- competitive workforce in the world and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Black colleges have to be a part of that...We need to figure out the best way to invest in black colleges to insure they are core of that effort to achieve the goals that the President has set.”

UNCF executive director Michael Lomax ’68 said Wilson is the perfect man for the post.

“Morehouse has been at the forefront of leadership at HBCUs for nearly a century and a half. We’re producing extraordinary leaders.

“It’s a superb appointment,” Lomax added. “As a graduate of Morehouse College, John Wilson knows well the contributions, strengths and heritage of our nation’s HBCUs. In this position, he can now play a central role in ensuring that these institutions are strengthened in their set – that America will regain its position as the number one nation in the world in producing college graduates.”

President Robert M. Franklin Jr. ’75 praised Obama’s decision.

“The Morehouse College community could not be more pleased by President Obama’s appointment of Dr. John Wilson as the executive director of the White House Office on Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” he said. “Alumnus Wilson is both a distinguished educator who understands the specific needs of the American educational system and a fundraising expert who will provide strategic leadership for the 105 HBCUs in America.”

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