Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“Mrs. Logan: For some time I have had in mind having some one come to Tuskegee with a view of looking thoroughly through our class room work and reporting on its condition. I have not however up to the present, arranged with any outside person to do this. It occurs to me that perhaps you might be able to take a week or ten days in making this investigation. At the outset I am trying to say that it is very difficult to find person to do such work for the reason that there are such few persons who can entirely separate themselves from the individual whose work she is looking into, such an examination means nothing unless the examiner is strong enough, I might add has a heart hard enough to shut her eyes against everything except facts…I want to know just whether or not we are doing the best work, and the only way to know is to have it thoroughly looked into by an outside person once in a while.”-“March 7, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

It is often difficult to receive objective and impartial facts regarding functions within a vast organization the size of Tuskegee Institute (University). For all too often-feelings, not facts and functions-are the paramount concern for administrators and employees alike who might not reveal or disclose areas of non-strength within the current institutional environment. All the same, its founding principal and president, Booker T. Washington, employed then in the late 19th century, what is now a common practice in higher education. He brought in an external consultant. Now, external consultants are in abundance, and they hover around institutions seeking to secure contracts for their services. Many of these add immediate value while others not so much. Yet, Mr. Washington did not simply want another consultant seeking proverbial “bread” or salary. Instead, he desired someone who would help him to ascertain in no uncertain terms “just whether or not we are doing the best work…” And such a person would need to be both “strong enough” and “heart hard enough” to provide such an examination without regard to intimate associations with employees within an organization. (How can any external examiner impartially and objectively assess an institution’s on the basis of personal relationships, and feelings as opposed to functions?) Here again, it is the function not the feeling when administering organizational change management, and external reviewers are often used for such purposes. For these external men and women help ensure institutional integrity. And “integrity” is the greatest 9-letter word.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“I would not be doing my duty to the school did I permit the present state of things to exist, especially in view of the fact that I am compelled to be away from the school a large part of the year and I am compelled to perform my work almost wholly through the members of the Executive Council and there must be only such persons as I have my complete confidence in and share my desires as to the policy and work of the institution.” “March 26, 1895,”-Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

Of the many important decisions leaders of large organizations must make, deciding upon one’s senior leadership team is perhaps the most important. For these men and women become extensions of a leader so that he or she might be in many places at once. And this is the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University’s idea when he writes the following: “…I am compelled to be away from the school a large part of the year and I am compelled to perform my work almost wholly through the members of the Executive Council and there must be only such persons as I have my complete confidence in and share my desires as to the policy and work of the institution.” First, Booker T. Washington’s travel often took him away from the home front so that he might represent the interests of the institution both near and abroad. No leader can ever feel comfortable when absent from the organization unless he or she is most certain that affairs will be conducted in a manner that reflects his or her management when they are present. Second, the broadest and widest tents have more than one pole. It is a poor leader who seeks to be the sole source or “pole” of leadership within an organization or unit. (How shall a tent become enlarged with only one pole?) The more poles, the larger the tent, and the selection of many poles enable a leader to expand and “work almost wholly through the members” of his or her “Executive Council.” Third, Mr. Washington suggested, “there must be only such persons as I have my complete confidence in and share my desires as to the policy and work of the institution.” Note, competence is good but character plus competence is better. (Here again, integrity is the greatest 9-letter word.) Men and women who work with integrity will perform their work in view of the organization’s mission and vision, its tradition and trajectory without regard to the presence or absence of the leader. Moreover, these men and women must possess the confidence of the leader. (How can a quarterback call plays in a huddle of teammates only to discover that the teammates are giving the plays to the opponent?) Much rather, teammates are selected on the basis of their commitment to a common goal, and a leader’s selection of teammates suggests much about who he or she has “complete confidence in,” and who “share[s] [his or her] desires.” For it is “the policy and work of the institution”-not the individual leader or team member-that makes for a highly functional and highly successful organization like Tuskegee Institute (University) during the 34-year tenure of Booker T. Washington.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“Mr. N.B. Young: Please send into my office by the 16th of Dec. a report showing what progress has been made in dovetailing the academic work into the industrial in the manner that I suggested to you and Mr. J.H. Washington sometime ago.”- “December 4, 1895,” -Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Among the many other documented and demonstrated leadership qualities he possessed, Booker T. Washington, founding principal and president of Tuskegee University, was consistent, communicative and collaborative. Apparently, Mr. Washington had offered a suggestion or idea in the direction of “dovetailing the academic work into the industrial.” Mr. Washington’s consistency amongst his constituency-great or small, brother or stranger-enabled him to routinely make request of others for he was without respect of those within his charge. Moreover, great leaders do not only make requests but also offer suggestions about how one might carry out such a request. It was clear that he provided guidance about how Mr. Young might proceed. Besides this, great leaders inspect what they expect. One of the cardinal mistakes leaders can make is to make assignments without any regard to checking the progress of completing such assignments. (This was not the case of Booker T. Washington.) For this man would not permit anyone to remark, “I did not know what you expected of me.” Rather, he committed to writing his expectations, and most importantly he communicated a deadline. Lastly, he was collaborative. What some employees consider “extra work,” other employees consider “opportunity.” When a supervisor gives an employee an opportunity to demonstrate his or her value to the organization, it is an opportunity to take heed to. For it provides a documentable opportunity to “let your light shine.” For lights are not designed to nor ever can be hidden. And Booker T. Washington was such a light during his 34-year long tenure at Tuskegee Institute (University), and he had a great many other lights to come along to assist him.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“My position in respect to the students and the public is peculiar, and I must see that everyone does the highest service in benefitting the students, and must get rid of any obstacle that prevents this result.” “March 26, 1895,” -Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

There is no clearer statement that ought to mark both the mission and vision, the tradition and trajectory, of any institution of higher learning-especially as evidenced here from the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University)-than one that has its first and foremost focus upon STUDENTS. Student success, student engagement, (parent)-student satisfaction within a university environment is akin to a business’s focus being squarely upon its customers. (Who would offer a different focus for where an institution of higher learning’s resources should be otherwise directed?) Any alternative suggestion flies squarely in the face of the work and function of a university and reveals far more about the individual who offers an alternative suggestion as opposed to the mission and vision of an institution. At many American institutions-except for the most exceptionally endowed ones-the institution’s primary revenue stream derives from the net tuition revenue received from its students. To be sure, faculty research and philanthropic giving also provide additional streams of revenue, but even here these opportunities are largely premised upon the business of educating students in a living-learning environment. For where there are no students, there is no university, and where there is no university there is no purpose. A university’s mission is to educate her students, and Mother Tuskegee is committed to educating her students-the sons and daughters of Booker.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“Dear Mr. Logan: I am very sorry about the loss of the barn and especially the cows and feed. We have needed for some time a larger and better barn and now I hope we shall get it. I leave matters regarding the barn to your judgment. I am going to have the loss published in all the papers and I hope there will be gifts to make up the loss. Will write more fully later. Yours truly.” -“November 24, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

One can either confront challenging situations with a sense of despondency and despair or with a sense of unbridled hope and optimism, and the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University) chose the latter in the incident of “the loss of the barn.” Without question, the loss of a barn in the late 19th century was a significant financial loss. Mr. Logan, Mr. Washington’s treasurer-a modern-day chief financial officer-had indicated to him in a prior communication that the “insurance” loss was totaled at “fifteen hundred.” All the same, note Mr. Washington’s response to his CFO. First, he empathized with his colleague over the loss. He knew that Mr. Logan was both faithful and loyal to the university, and that had probably taken the loss personally. He recognized this in Mr. Logan but did not dwell upon the darkness; he proceeded to the decision. Second, Mr. Washington took action. Creatively, he turned a negative incident and made it positive. He went to the papers to publicize the loss. One’s supporters-true supporters in both words and works-are often anxious to provide support if they are able to understand what the difficulties are. Lastly, he possessed hope that the loss might be leveraged into gain. He hoped that “there will be gifts to make up the loss.” Here again, the “Wizard of Tuskegee” was not merely a manager of the micro matters confronting the institution. Behind the curtains, indeed, he was a wizard at communications via the media to leverage a negative into a positive, which is the attribute of every successful leader of any successful organization.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“In the early days of freedom, when education was a new thing, the boy who went away to school had a very natural human ambition to be able to come back home in order to delight and astonish the old folks with the new and strange things that he had learned. If he could speak a few words in some strange tongue that his parents had never heard before, or read a few sentences out of a book with strange and mysterious characters, he was able to make them very proud and happy. There was a constant temptation therefore for schools and teachers to keep everything connected with education in a sort of twilight realm of the mysterious and supernatural. Quite unconsciously they created in the minds of their pupils the impression that a boy or a girl who had passed through certain educational forms and ceremonies had been initiated into some sort of secret knowledge that was inaccessible to the rest of the world. Connected with this was the notion that because a man had passed through these educational forms and ceremonies he had somehow become a sort of superior being set apart from the rest of the world [...]“-Booker T. Washington, _My Larger Education__(1911)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

While the term “esoteric” is not entirely pejorative-it can mean that members within a certain profession or group understand and converse sharing many of the same assumptions or terminology-it is sometimes used to denote exclusivity meaning that information and knowledge is understood by a chosen few. In the present passage, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University speaks to this latter formulation. Here he laments that often education-the act of teaching and learning-resembles the closing off of knowledge from others as opposed to its wide dissemination among many. Mr. Washington’s idea is that such knowledge ought to have relevancy and application for others beyond the sole possessor of this knowledge. Imagine that. The idea of education should not be exclusive to a limited few but should enlighten and have impact upon others in beneficial ways. Thus, not only are the recipients all the better for having received this knowledge but also the giver of this knowledge is made better. For this man or woman has completed the complete cycle of education. First you learn, master and apply for yourself. (It is is a poor teacher whose words do not resemble his or her works.) Then you proceed to teach others. And such an education can be found at many institutions of higher learning including Tuskegee Institute (University).

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“When I left school at the end of my first year, I owed the institution sixteen dollars that I had not been able to work it out. It was my greatest ambition during the summer to save money enough with which to pay this debt. I felt that this was a debt of honour, and that I could hardly bring myself to the point of even trying to enter school again till it was paid. I economized in every way that I could think of-did my own washing, and went without necessary garments-but still I found my summer vacation ending and I did not have the sixteen dollars”- Booker T. Washington _Up from Slavery_ (1901)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

One not only finds lessons in Mr. Washington’s management of a university, his stewardship and cultivation of transformative gifts and donations, his passion as an educator or his affectionate love for his wife and children, one also learns from his life as a student. And here is one lesson that students can learn from the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University): “It was my greatest ambition during the summer to save money enough with which to pay this debt. I felt that this was a debt of honour, and that I could hardly bring myself to the point of even trying to enter school again till it was paid” To be sure, the price of a university education-particularly an education received from an university as eminent as Tuskegee-is costly. Yet, it is equally costly to have no such education. All the same, Mr. Washington knew what all graduates of post-baccalaureate and graduate institutions either know or comes quickly to know: Education costs and paying for your education is a responsibility for all who desires one. We learn the following from his own experiences at Hampton Institute. First, “I owed the institution sixteen dollars that I had not been able to work it out.” Much like a creditor, an institution is not always able to “work it out” for students. When it does so largely though discounting the tuition bill it does so to its own detriment and opens itself to other criticisms from many of the same students as to why the institution is often unable to provide other services. Second, “It was my greatest ambition during the summer to save money enough with which to pay this debt.” He knew that a tuition bill would be there when he returned to school in fall. In spite of his obvious poverty as a formerly enslaved person, he did not expect that he would be able to “work it out”. Rather, he worked and “saved”. Whether an internship, summer research program or any other noteworthy summer endeavor, each student should bear in mind that fall is coming and any unpaid tuition bill will await them. Third, “I felt that this was a debt of honour, and that I could hardly bring myself to the point of even trying to enter school again till it was paid.” Honor is nothing but integrity. Hear again: “Integrity is the greatest 9-Letter word.” Mr. Washington would not allow his words to be inconsistent with his works for he had received an education at the expense of the institution that paid the salaries of the professors who educated him. This was a transaction. He received the education and in turn he owed the institution its money so that it might continue to pay his professors to educate others. Last, he “economized in every way that I could think of.” The founding principal and president did not frivolously spend his summer monies knowing full well he owed on his tuition bill. Rather he “economized.” He counted the cost and did his best to make it right. In the end, Mr. Washington did secure sufficient monies. He did not give up. He was resourceful, and he went on to not only graduate from Hampton Institute but to go on to lead from 1881 to 1915 what remains one of the finest institutions in the nation-Tuskegee University-“the pride of the swift growing south.’

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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