THE BLOG
02/04/2013 12:34 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

John Wilson Clouds Vision on 'Character Preeminence' for Morehouse

Dr. John S. Wilson Jr. has an outstanding resume. So much so that he was headhunted after a rigorous nationwide search to take on the role as president of Morehouse College.

That was the opening line to this week's theGrio.com feature on Morehouse College President John S. Wilson. While the story may have read like a press release on Dr. Wilson's first shot at the throne of Mother Morehouse on his second try at the gig, it was Dr. Wilson's signature comment in the story that draws attention about his focus and concern for Morehouse's future.

For the future, he plans to "vigorously pursue capital preeminence" such as state-of the-art infrastructure. He also wants to focus on "character preeminence," which he says is "not just educating smart people but educating and graduating good people as well."

Reading between the lines, the takeaway for 'capital preeminence' suggests that Dr. Wilson envisions a new campus physical plant to accommodate plans for higher research activity, academic rigor and student preparation for graduate school and professional achievement. But it is the second part of the statement - his focus on 'character preeminence' - that draws some peculiar attention and questions.

Morehouse is unlike most public HBCUs, and in some ways, stands out from many of the private HBCUs with selective enrollment standards. Impact elements of poverty and broken secondary school systems do not touch Morehouse in the way that they singe public HBCUs. Morehouse does not have to take any chances on students with known potential for shortcomings in academic performance or character.

Morehouse has its pick of black men worldwide who have earned the opportunity to study in its hallowed halls. Any brother not moved enough by that tradition to get in and stay in line, could easily be moved back into conformity and commitment through the College's élite faculty and alumni networks. Or they can get out.

So one can only imagine to what Dr. Wilson is referring when he intimates about the character of Morehouse Men and the school's ability in "educating and graduating good people." Has there been a rash of crime committed by Morehouse students? Are professional alums getting into moral or legal trouble in alarming numbers? Has there been an inquiry about the collective character of students at Morehouse?

Or is Dr. Wilson creating a new tone in the talk on Morehouse Men who are openly gay, transgendered, questioning, interested or allies?

Of the herd of elephants in the room on HBCU culture, Morehouse and its gay population stomps the loudest. Atlanta's emerging culture of LGBTQIA awareness and advocacy has been relatively lenient with Morehouse recently, and through a new course on LGBT awareness, there is new reason for optimism on the campus.

But that community won't remain supportive if LGBT students and issues aren't acknowledged and addressed compassionately. If Dr. Wilson is making a point or forming a position on the topic, he should feel empowered enough as a 'rigorously headhunted' president and alumnus to make a bold statement on the matter.

Undermining it in interviews on theGrio and NPR...

The danger, and I would say the concern that many alums had, was here you had Morehouse College and, you know, with this great brand and there was something of concern that was conflicting with the brand.

We want to make it very clear as we move forward that at Morehouse we produce chemists, we produce biologists, we produce doctors and lawyers and that is our signal. Everything else is noise.

...well, that's a pretty bad way to start the conversation.

Morehouse insiders insist that the LGBT question continues to divide the 'House, particularly in discussions among prominent alumni and benefactors. Privately, many feel that answering that question is critical to any substantive discussion on increasing enrollment, raising money and shaping public perception.

Dr. Wilson's hire was strategically approved to accomplish two primary goals - to raise big money and to take the negative perception of gay students as far away from the Morehouse brand as possible.

One of those things is possible, but not if the lead soloist of Morehouse's chorus on inclusion covertly signals that character is something to be considered outside of homosexuality.

Subscribe to the Queer Voices email.
Get all of the queer news that matters to you.