A 50-year-old tradition at Atlanta’s Morehouse College came to end Sunday when the Board of Trustees selected Dr. David A. Thomas as president of the 150-year-old institution. Thomas is the first non-Morehouse graduate to serve as president of the historically black institution in 50 years.
Thomas currently serves as the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the former Dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Thomas was selected after a six-month national search that included 100 candidates including several sitting college presidents.
Thomas rose to the top of the pack based on his visionary leadership at as a business school administrator and his track record in fundraising, which includes a capital campaign that raised more than $130 million in five years for Georgetown McDonough, according to board chair Willie Woods, a 1985 Morehouse alumnus.
“(Thomas) is a nationally respected business educator and visionary leader with a support network that will bring transformative change to Morehouse College,” Woods said. “Having (Thomas) at Morehouse will raise the profile of our world-class institution and lead to partnerships that will allow Morehouse to be more competitive for top students, expand our academic programs, improve our facilities, and provide more signature opportunities for leadership that make Morehouse Men among the most sought-after graduates in the country.”
And that is pretty much the new president’s marching orders from the board, Thomas confirmed during a conference call with reporters Monday.
“We know we need to enhance the resources of the school,” he said. “That is a shared priority of mine and the trustees. The college is under-endowed. You can look for us to launch a major capital campaign in the next 18 to 24 months.”
One of his goals, Thomas said by the time he leaves the institution, he wants the endowment to be between $500 million to $1 billion. This would provide sufficient funding to allow young men to follow their dreams and attend Morehouse College, he said.
While the current student population is around 2,200, Thomas said he wants to raise the enrollment to no less than 2,500 students.
“Morehouse was actually where I wanted to go to college from the time I was 10,” Thomas said. “I got into Morehouse, but I didn’t receive any financial aid.
“My second-choice school did offer a scholarship, so I enrolled there, but always with a yearning to be at Morehouse,” he continued. “As the son of working-class parents who did not attend college, I understand the transformative power of higher education for people of color.”
The additional funds would also be used to enhance the staff and faculty positions. “The market for faculty talent is quite competitive,” Thomas pointed out.
“I also understand what it means to be a black male in America, and the determination and strength of character that it takes to be successful,” he added. “I will work tirelessly to help raise the scholarship funds necessary so that no deserving student who wants a Morehouse education is left behind.”
Thomas also plans to focus on making Morehouse a premier institution for research on the black experience and has said he will work to expand the college’s international outreach, including in its student recruitment and hiring practices.
Another priority is to expand Morehouse’s development of future leaders who are intellectual, spiritually-minded, and capable of creating change that makes the world more just, Thomas said.
As far as being the first non-Morehouse man to assume the president’s chair in five decades, Thomas said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to succeed in that position despite following in the footsteps of a string of distinguished alums who served as president.
“(Benjamin E. Mays), the longest-serving president was not a Morehouse alum. I don’t really see a potential problem with the fact that I’m not a Morehouse alum,” he said. “But as of today, I consider myself a ‘Morehouse Man’.”
“I think the entire Morehouse family will be very excited about the appointment of President-Elect Thomas,” said President-Emeritus Robert M. Franklin. “David is deeply committed to educating African American men and to innovative approaches to higher education.”
“We were searching for the right leader to set the stage for another 150 years of success at Morehouse,” said Dale Jones, a 1982 alumnus, and trustee. “We vetted many candidates, including outstanding women. What we found in Dr. Thomas was a commitment to excellence and invaluable experience. He’s an exceptional leader and the right individual to lead Morehouse into the future.”