He Couldn’t Afford Morehouse. Now He’ll Be Its President And Help Fundraise For Scholarships

Written by Dana Sanchez

David A. Thomas has a track record as an excellent fundraiser for academic institutions, and he’ll bring that skill to his next job as president of the only historically black college for men in the U.S. — Atlanta’s Morehouse College.

A professor at Harvard University and a former dean at Georgetown University, Thomas’s selection as Morehouse president was announced Monday by school officials after a tumultuous year in Morehouse leadership:

The board voted in January not to renew the contract of John Silvanus Wilson Jr., who had been president of the college for men in Atlanta since 2012, Washington Post reported. In March, a quorum of faculty members voted no confidence in the chairman of the board of trustees, Robert C. Davidson Jr. In April, William Taggart was named interim president. He died in June. The school’s interim president, Harold Martin Jr., will continue to lead the school until January, when Thomas will take office.

Thomas admired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was a child and wanted to attend Morehouse, where King earned his undergraduate degree in 1948, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

His childhood dream didn’t come true. He gained admission to Morehouse but did not receive financial aid. Instead, Thomas attended Yale College on a scholarship.

Most historically black colleges are facing challenges including competition from other schools for top students and faculty. Thomas said Sunday that his short-term goals include increasing enrollment from 2,200 to 2,500 students, boosting graduation rates (six-year graduation rate at Morehouse is 51 percent, higher than most HBCUs, but lower than the 60 percent national average) and strengthening the alumni network to help recruit students.

He wants to improve outcomes for African-American men and find ways for every student to study abroad during their academic careers.

Long-term, Thomas said the school must build financial support to fund scholarships and help attract top students and faculty. Experiential learning is increasingly important, Thomas said, and that requires investment in buildings, labs and classrooms.

While he was dean of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, Thomas led a fundraising campaign that exceeded its $100-million goal by $30 million during his five-year tenure, according to Washington Post.

Thomas wants to provide more scholarships to help students like he was, who want to attend Morehouse, but can’t afford the tuition.

“I want to leave Morehouse in a position where there will never be another David Thomas,” he said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “A young man who knows Morehouse is the right place for him and the only thing that separates him is the ability to pay.”

From 2011 to 2016 on Thomas’ watch, Georgetown increased the percentage of women and minority students. Thomas was a professor and administrator at Harvard and co-authored two books, both focused on minority achievement.

He is the first non-alumnus Morehouse president since Dr. Benjamin Mays, Morehouse’s sixth president, who mentored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A nationally respected business educator and visionary leader, Thomas will raise Morehouse’s profile, said Willie Woods, chairman of the board of trustees, in a written statement. Woods said he expects Thomas to create 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.”

“David is deeply committed to educating African American men and to innovative approaches to higher education,” said Robert M. Franklin, president emeritus.

Some students, faculty and alumni would prefer a Morehouse graduate to be president, said student government association President Kamren Rollins in an Atlanta Journal report. Thomas’ work at Georgetown and his academic background suggest he’s up to the job.

“We just want a great president, regardless of whether he’s an alum,” said Rollins, a senior English major.

“Thomas said he has heard a strong message from alumni about why they chose to attend Morehouse. One graduate told him it was a place that, as a young black man, he could come and just ‘be.'”