What Took Tuskegee So Long to Name Charlotte Morris as President?

The winding road to Charlotte Morris finally being named as Tuskegee University’s permanent president reached its destination today, as the long-serving executive will finally steer the Machine with a formal executive’s title, salary, and expectations.

Her credentials as a key part of the university’s academic enterprise for the better part of 30 years affirm her as the right choice for the job.

For over three decades, Dr. Morris has served in several roles at Tuskegee University including Chief of Staff to the 5th President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees. As Chief of Staff, she assisted in the development and implementation of a successful $169 million capital campaign in 2005. Most recently during her tenure, Dr. Morris also served as the Director of the University’s Title III Program and has acted as Interim and Associate Dean in the Brimmer College of Business and Information Science. Through Dr. Morris’ leadership, she has strengthened the University’s strategic partnerships with corporations such as Google and Cargill to generate $6 million in gifts and donations to strengthen career readiness initiatives and invest in the next generation of STEM leaders. In addition to the many honors and awards Dr. Morris has received, she was given the Distinguished Administrative Staff Achievement Award at Tuskegee University. Dr. Charlotte Morris has always been held in high regard by her peers and superiors while meeting and exceeding expectations.

What was omitted from the write-up is that she has four times served as acting or interim president of the university, following the retirement of Benjamin Payton, and the resignation or removal of Gilbert Rochon, Brian Johnson, and Lily McNair.

Along with the joy and respect that the TU community must have over Morris’ appointment, the community should also ask the obvious; why is she good enough now when she hadn’t been good enough in the last decade of executive turmoil? Why is the table now set for Morris, who has always had her hands in grantmaking, fundraising, and federal collaboration on behalf of Tuskegee, when it wasn’t appropriate to do so after each of her test drives in the preceding years?

Tuskegee has only had nine presidents in 140 years, and five of them, including Morris, will have been appointed since 2010.

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Something is wrong there and the board is either flailing to fix it or working hard to find the person who can best hide it. Perhaps in Morris, given her institutional knowledge and her familiarity in the campus community, they have found the one who can address both needs at the same time.

Her leadership saga is almost a mirror image of Larry Robinson’s journey at Florida A&M University, who also found the presidential promised land after several turns at leadership in the wilderness of interim status.

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But Morris didn’t need to be found. She wasn’t even hiding in plain sight. They have long known that she could lead because they put her in charge to do so. Whether she is in the seat for a good time or a long time remains to be seen; chances are it is the former, because she’s already worked hard for 30 years waiting on this moment.

No matter how good she is in either case, the university seemingly subtracted five to seven years away from the difference she could’ve made with other searches to finally get her where she clearly always deserved to belong.

Tuskegee finally got the “who” right, now the board just needs to clarify and support the “why” behind it.