Eight Things I’ve Learned During 2020
Dear Morgan Family:
The past decade has been one of historic transformation at Morgan. From record graduation and retention rates, to enrollment growth, historic alumni giving and annual fund giving, to the elevation of our national research standing, there is great momentum happening at Morgan. We are also in the midst of a more than $800 million facilities and capital growth period and have spun off several companies from our research enterprise. Additionally, we have the largest number of patents in our history and have also seen record numbers of doctoral degrees conferred. All of the abovementioned progress, and more, has been compiled and documented for posterity in a comprehensive publication examining the last 10 years of growth and evolution. Over the break, I commend you to review Growing the Future, Leading the World: A Decade of Morgan Momentum, Innovation and Transformation to learn more about where we’ve come from, as well as where we’re headed as a University.
Yes, as we get ready to say goodbye to 2020 and welcome in 2021, even those with perfect 20/20 vision or those who don rose-colored glasses, would have a hard time looking back on 2020 fondly and finding a lot of positives to speak of. On the contrary, this past year challenged us in ways that we have not been challenged as a university, a nation and a world in the contemporary era. Many within our personal and university families fell ill to COVID-19; some lost their battle. But through it all, we stuck together, we supported each other, we showed kindness, we instilled hope and we stayed strong. Along the way, as your president, I learned a few things about leadership—which I’ll briefly share with you.
- When in a pandemic, follow the science and listen to the experts around you. We are fortunate at Morgan to have some of the top public health professionals in our state who are our colleagues within the School of Community Health and Policy (SCHP). From day one, I charged the school’s dean, Dr. Kim Sydnor, with the responsibility of co-creating a COVID-19 Plan for our campus that would be science-based. She, along with our Associate Vice President for Facilities, Design and Construction Management, Kim McCalla, Dr. Anita Hawkins, associate dean for SCHP, and scores of other colleagues, answered the call and produced a very comprehensive plan that we have followed over the last nine months. The updated plan will remain with us as we prepare to open for Spring 2021. The plan has served us very well.
- People are our most important resource at Morgan! Our faculty and staff are some of the most committed and dedicated professionals in higher education. And our students are some of the most talented and resilient you’ll find on any college campus in the nation. Even in the most difficult times of financial stress, we endeavored to treat all of our colleagues fairly and humanely, and to always make decisions that would land everyone in the “softest of the hardest places.” This has been our goal here at Morgan and will remain so as we plow ahead.
- Institutions are resilient if they are built on strong foundations, embrace innovative thinking, and are nimble enough to make sharp pivots— even when they are not provided ample warning of the treacherous clouds ahead. From its founding in 1867 by a group of visionary leaders, Morgan has been that type of institution. This University has been built brick-by-brick and stone-by- stone on a solid foundation that has withstood all kinds of challenges for 153 years. It has met each challenge with the resolve to not only weather it but to emerge on the other side with greater immunity to future threats. Every era at Morgan has been defined as building on the foundation of the previous era, while simultaneously shifting our focus based on external threats and circumstances. The result has been a resilient institution determined to “take what we have to make what we need.”
- Leadership demands constant communication and transparency as tough decisions are being made, especially during a pandemic. In good times, and not so good times, leaders must communicate frequently and clearly to people. Facts should not be tampered with. People must be told the truth—even when it is not pleasant or what they want to hear—if you want to build trust with them. And all corners of the University must feel that they have had a role in the ultimate decisions made. Normally, my President’s Cabinet consists of approximately 15-20 people, but this year, I consciously expanded it to nearly sixty colleagues. Decisions are vetted within this group and opinions are heard. In the end, as we made decisions, although there might not have been unanimity in agreement, based on the feedback I’ve received along the way, I believe the entire University community—faculty, staff, students and alumni—all felt that their views were valued.
- The American Democracy is very fragile. On many occasions this year, beyond the challenges posed by COVID-19, I had to constantly remind myself that American democracy is still an experiment (less than 250 years old), and without imbuing our citizens with an understanding of the democratic ideals embodied in the Constitution, so many citizens can become easily misled. I was, and still am, struck by how easy this has happened and how often it has occurred over the past year. That is why it is critically important that we, at Morgan, must continually expose our students to a clear understanding of how government works. Failure to do so might end the various freedoms we now enjoy as a society. Quite simply, Morgan must double its commitment to “Growing the Future, Leading the World.”
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) must go beyond fancy words in an organization’s vision statement. This year, COVID-19, coupled with the continued killing of innocent Black men and women by law enforcement, has shown us in stark ways the immense educational, economic and social inequality in our society, as well as the deep-seated racism that permeates almost every aspect of our communities and neighborhoods. At Morgan, we have sought to lead with our values: leadership, innovation, integrity, diversity, excellence and respect, every day, and to have those values reflected in our decision-making and in our culture.
- Do the right thing and benevolence will find you. Every day at Morgan, we aim to bring our “A-Game” to our community. We are committed to imbuing our students with everything they need, and more, to make the larger society a better place for all. Oftentimes, we as an institution never get the recognition we deserve. But MacKenzie Scott was paying attention to noble work and invested $40 million in Morgan to enable us to continue building on our mission and serving our communities. I have invested nearly all of her gift in our endowment—meaning the annual interest will be available to the University in perpetuity to fund student financial aid, or other strategic initiatives aimed to move Morgan forward.
- Self-care is essential. I had to be reminded several times by many of my colleagues to make sure that I took some time to disconnect for a spell from the stressors of leadership. I took their advice and started taking long morning walks, as well as a few treks through some of the nature trails in our city. As the door opens for 2021, I urge you to find a safe place where you can escape to breathe some fresh air and take care of yourself. It’s important!
In closing, the year 2020 has been one that we will never forget. As the hours wind down on the past 366 days, I am encouraged by what lies ahead given the numerous vaccines that have been approved or are on their way toward approval. Let’s stay the course and continue to wear our mask, observe social distancing, avoid large crowds, and wash our hands frequently, until we reach herd immunity in this country.
Happy New Year, Morgan Family!
With respect and appreciation,