Should Hampton Fire William Harvey, and Morgan State Releases Fall Re-Opening Plan

Petition Calling for Removal of Hampton President Surfaces Online

A petition calling for the resignation of long-serving Hampton University President William R. Harvey has collected thousands of signatures in recent days and dozens of comments on perceptions of the university’s politics and policies under his tenure.

For far too long, our school has operated on the principle of keeping Hampton’s issues out of the public eye. We share this petition to garner the support of our fellow classmates, alumni, families, and friends. Once we have gained enough signatures to reflect the majority of the current student body, a formal letter will be sent to the Hampton University administration and board of trustees.

Most of the petition’s grievances are the garden variety complaints typically heard from students who feel unheard, or faculty or staff members who believed they’ve been slighted in some way. Maybe this petition is built on the dissatisfaction of both groups, mingled with alumni who want to see someone new because of disenchantment sparked years ago.

Attitudes and action rarely see eye to eye, and Hampton, a rare source for this kind of public outcry, is experiencing a clashing of the two at the worst possible time and with incomplete charges levied against the wrong person.

First, it should be extremely difficult to make a political argument against Harvey, whose bipartisan tenure has landed him an audience with democratic and republican presidents dating back more than 40 years. The Hampton University that petitioners say they are trying to preserve exists largely because of Harvey’s willingness to leverage the school’s value within the parameters of the political capital of state and federal lawmakers, governors and U.S. presidents.

Not many presidents now, or in history, have held the kind of influence that can attract George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama to share a common title — Hampton University commencement keynote speaker. And yet, the leadership that has given Hampton that bipartisan appeal and reaped the financial and cultural benefits of the relationships forged as a result, is lost on some Hamptonians as a willingness to pander to “the wrong side” simply because of the times in which we now live.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence won’t always occupy the White House, but Hampton should always have a path to the offices they currently occupy because of Harvey’s influence. We’ve seen this kind of controversy before with leaders at Talladega College, Howard University, and even 80 presidents participating in a historic Oval Office meeting, and the truth remains the same as it has for more than 150 years of historically black higher education.

If a president isn’t working with unpopular white men to get money for his HBCU, he isn’t working.

Second, it would appear that the petitioners’ issues with the university are misplaced, because even a cursory view of the complaints about construction, academic realignment, athletic management, policy coordination, and even Harvey’s length of tenure are total reflections of the board’s decision making.

While Harvey may take executive privilege to more closely oversee operations than the typical president, that presence has translated into HBCU folk legend with the number of faculty members and managers who have left Hampton to lead their own departments as directors and deans, and several who have ascended to shepherd their own campuses as HBCU presidents and chancellors.

Any problems with actual merit outlined by petitioners fall at the feet of the Hampton board and its prerogatives for expanding or constricting the campus, based on industry trends; not a far-reaching idea that Harvey suddenly forgot how to be a successful president. If people are saying that Harvey is a failure, and there are no metrics to legitimately suggest this as true, then the translation is that the Hampton board is knowingly and intentionally retaining a failing president, in which case the names of its members should be attached to the masthead, not Harvey’s.

Finally, we look to a hypothetical scenario for the most important aspect of the timing and tenor of this petition. If we were to imagine that all of these things are absolutely true about Harvey and that he should be immediately removed, who would be willing to step into a role to be preceded by a 46-year icon with a matching track record, at the outset of some of the nation’s most tense moments of racial animosity in the last 50 years and in the middle of a global health crisis?

There is a reason that Hampton, by most definitions is a small, historically black liberal arts institution looming large on a Virginia peninsula, is regarded at the top of the list with some of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive public and private black colleges and universities. It has that many programs, that many distinguished graduates, that much athletic success, welcomes that many stellar students, and has that kind of brand — mostly because of one man over a nearly 50-year career.

If you think someone new should take the keys to the Ferrari while the car is moving, good luck finding someone with the experience to drive that fast around the potholes, floodwaters, and cops hiding behind billboards just up ahead.

If angry students, disgruntled faculty, staff, and alumni are looking to take out a long-term leader who has helped to articulate what makes Hampton great, this method is 100 percent guaranteed to fail because the board will never follow its demands and won’t take seriously any protest people would mount while more pressing issues like criminal justice reform are front and center.

If they are looking to foster dialog about real concerns they may have, this method is significantly less likely to earn the cooperation of an executive team willing to listen and to act quickly to address issues, because who could they earnestly trust from a coalition of disrupters?

About the only thing this petition will serve to do is to unfairly tarnish a legacy, distract from real issues the campus community should confront to become an even greater asset to the city and to the HBCU sector and reduce Hampton as a sector leader in showcasing the best of what an HBCU and a seasoned president can do.

And no one, not Harvey, not the students and alumni, not the faculty or the sector, deserves that kind of hit at a moment like this.

Morgan State Unveils Hybrid Fall Re-Opening Plan

Morgan State University will offer online and in-person classes for students returning to campus this fall, along with several changes to academic and residential facilities to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic response.

The reopening plan published yesterday offers a choice for students to take courses online or on-campus at their discretion, with outfitted classrooms to protect students and faculty with health vulnerabilities from possible virus exposure, along with provided masks and hand sanitizer.

The hybrid classes will begin on Sept. 9 and in-person will construction will conclude on Nov. 25. Following Thanksgiving break, all remaining instruction and/or assessment will be conducted remotely until the end of the semester on Dec. 15.

Residential occupancy will be reduced by 31 percent, and the university will secure alternative off-campus housing to accommodate demand. Rooms with more than one student may be outfitted with dividers.

Student-athletes, faculty, and staff will return to campus in phases, which the plan did not detail with dates beyond the initial phase:

  • Phase One will commence on Monday, June 8, with the start of the return of MSU’s Physical Plant staff (their return will be phased), who will begin the process of getting the campus prepared for reopening;

  • Phase Two will involve the return of our student-athletes;

  • Phase Three will be the return of some regular staff;

  • Phase Four will include the return of our faculty; and

  • Phase Five will culminate with the return of the general student population.

“I understand that this may be a lot of important information to process, but I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these key decisions that have been made for the fall semester,” said Morgan State President David Wilson. “Just as the committees did not devise their recommendations for our plans overnight, I do not expect everyone to digest the full breadth of changes at one time.”

Morgan State follows Florida A&M University as the second historically black public flagship institution to announce plans for fall reopening, but unlike FAMU, Morgan officials did not provide details on a strategy for dealing with confirmed infections on campus and did not provide guidance on quarantine mandates for students coming to campus from geographic areas with high rates of infection.