Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“Mr. J.B. Washington: You have been connected with the office now five or six years, and should know how to perform, at least common duties around the office. If you do not know it is your own fault. I entrusted to you the mailing of the Advertisers which were purchased at quite an outlay, and I find that the whole expenses, and work in connection with this work, are to a large extent, thrown away by reason of the fact that the papers were not properly wrapped. I did not suppose it was necessary to go into each detail and tell you how to wrap these papers. They have been wrapped, I find, with no idea of making the marked article conspicuous, and at least half of the person whom the papers will go will not see the article owing to your carelessness. It seems to me just that a part of the expense connected with purchasing these papers should be charged to your personal account.” – “February 27, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

It is amazing to continuously read the administrative and management philosophy that Mr. Booker T. Washington demonstrated in his correspondence and writings from 1881-1915-his 34-year long tenure as founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). For this man’s philosophy was truly without respect for persons and such persons included his very own brother-his younger adopted brother-Mr. James B. Washington.  Washington Baseball Field at Tuskegee University was named after James B. Washington who came to Tuskegee from Hampton Institute in 1890. He is affectionately referred to as the “Father of Athletics at Tuskegee.” Washington, the adopted brother of Booker T. Washington, organized the first Tuskegee baseball team in 1892. In the present communiqué, Mr. Washington’s remonstrations directed towards this employee, his very own brother were premised upon the following: “You have been connected with the office now five or six years, and should know how to perform, at least common duties around the office.” If an employee has been at an institution for less than a year, one year or possibly two, one may readily concede a person’s relative unfamiliarity about the unit they have been given the charge over or have inherited from a predecessor. (The very best leaders do not rely upon such concessions for they immediately assume the charge over their unit and/or organization without regard to their longevity in the post.) All the same, Mr. James B. Washington had now possessed the charge of the unit he was leading for a full “five or six years,” and the expertise required for leading his unit ought to have been either been acquired by diligent acquisition or pursuit, or he might have relinquished his post and simply acknowledged before his employer-his older brother-Booker T. Washington that he did not possess the requisite talent, skillset or ability to do what the institution needed from him in his present capacity. (If it were a matter of lack of institutional support for what he had needed, he might have communicated this as well.) Notwithstanding, it is not an admission of weakness or non-strength to concede that one cannot do what is expected of him or her. Rather, such admission is the surest sign of both professional maturity and vocational integrity, and might possibly lead such an employee to a better position, within the institution or otherwise, more properly aligned to his or her skill sets and capabilities. We know that Mr. James B. Washington ably served alongside his brother Booker, and well after the passing of the university’s first president. Nevertheless, for the post he held in the capacity described above, Mr. James B. Washington’s efforts did not meet with the expectations of his employer-his older brother, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), 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. J.H. Washington, Supt. of Ind. Not later than this week I wish you to go over the whole subject of the wages of students and recommend whatever reduction you think should take place. I wish a reduction of not less than one-third to be made. Small boys whose work can be of almost no service need special attention.”“September 4, 1894,” -Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

The fiscal management of student financial assistance or aid was not beyond the managerial scope of the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). For many institutions, net tuition revenue received from students-not the headcount of students visibly present-is the principal driver of an institution’s annual budget. In addition to federal and state aid in the form of grants and loans-and a host of other resources that students may receive including scholarships or personal resources, Institutions provide a number of options to assist students in the form of institutional scholarships, which are often “discounts”, alumni scholarships, donor scholarships and work-study. All the same, a university’s ability to provide on-going and continuous improvements to its technology, infrastructure and services available to students is partially contingent upon the monies these students pay in tuition billing to attend and secure a baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate degree. (Deep discounting or mis-managed discounting of tuition bills often leads to discounting the quality of the student experience at the institution. And this did not occur on the first president of Tuskegee University’s watch.) Mr. Washington requested a full review “over the whole subject of the wages of students” and he “recommend[ed] whatever reduction you think should take place.” It is well known that the early Tuskegee Institute students received monies in the form of wages to help pay their tuition bills so that they could remain enrolled. (Even the founding principal and president found work as a janitor at Hampton Institute to remain enrolled.) An institution has both a moral and civic duty to help her students but it also has a fiscal duty to itself. Moreover, this review also included the discounting of “[s]mall boys whose work can be of almost no service need[ed] special attention”. Presumably, there were “small boys” who were receiving “wages” from the institution-or in 21st Century nomenclature, “financial aid”-that did not demonstrate a reciprocal benefit for the institution. Perhaps they signed up for a responsibility that they did not perform? Perhaps they underperformed because they could not lift the bales of hay? Perhaps they underperformed because they could not lift the well-known bricks that Tuskegee Institute students were known throughout the region for? All the same, Mr. Washington requested a review of their work to determine whether the aid given to them in wages is the appropriate use of institutional monies. For the milk of Mother Tuskegee is available for all of her children, yet the institutional responsibility to steward her resources while simultaneously replenishing them is what will ensure that the milk continues to flow.

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 believe that one always does himself and his audience an injustice when he speaks merely for the sake of speaking. I do not believe that one should speak unless, deep down in his heart, he feels convinced that he has a message to deliver.” -Booker T. Washington _Up from Slavery_ (1901)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

It is a wise and prudent man or woman indeed who does not readily accept-or seek-any and every invitation to speak. Although such restraint is uncommon, Mr. Washington’s recommendation is one that would serve us well to follow. For the best speakers-whether teacher, professor, lecturer or any number of itinerant persons-are those whose words proceed from the works that support them. Mr. Washington was known locally, regionally, nationally and globally for his oratorical prowess and was largely regarded as such for the work he was doing at Tuskegee University. And this work was no mere job for the founding Principal and President of Tuskegee University, but his life’s purpose “deep down in his heart.” When he spoke, men and women could feel the force of someone who was not pretentious but purposeful. And he was able to do so because he spoke concerning those things he was doing or had done. He did not theorize about how to lead an institution. He led one. He did not simply ask of those within his charge to persevere, endure and overcome. He himself had done these things. He did not simply speak about the “race problem” affecting newly freed and formerly enslaved men and women but was engaged in a work to solve this problem in a manner consistent with his beliefs. And all of these things were visible, tangible and remain so nearly 100 years since his passing (1915-2015). Audiences know immediately whether one has done or is doing the things that he or she speaks which is why one should never offer words without accompanying works.

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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“We frequently hear the word ‘lucky’ used with reference to a man’s life. Two boys start out in the world at the same time, having the same amount of education. When twenty years have passed, we find one of them wealthy and independent; we find him a successful professional man with an assured reputation, or perhaps at the head of a large commercial establishment employing many men, or perhaps a farmer owning and cultivating hundreds of acres of land. We find the second boy, grown now to be a man, working for perhaps a dollar or a dollar and a half a day, and living from hand to mouth in a rented house. When we remember that the boys started out in life equal-handed, we may be tempted to remark that the first boy has been fortunate, that fortune has smiled on him; and that the second has been unfortunate. There is no such nonsense as that. When the first boy saw a thing that he knew he ought to do, he did it; and he kept rising from one position to another until he became independent. The second boy was an eye-servant who was afraid that he would do more than he was paid to do-he was afraid that he would give fifty cents’ worth of labour for twenty-five cents […]The first boy did a dollar’s worth of work for fifty cents. He was always ready to be at the store before time; and then, when the bell rang to stop work, he would go to his employer and ask him if there was not something more that ought to be done that night before he went home. It was this quality in the first boy that made him valuable and caused him to rise. Why should we call him ‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky’? I think it would be much more suitable to say of him: ‘He is responsible.” – “Individual Responsibility: A Sunday Evening Talk,”-Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

At the onset of receiving an entering incoming freshmen class into a university, one becomes awed and buoyed by the extraordinary sense of possibility that each student has in his or her future. Whether they were 4.0 student or 2.8 students in high school, the beginning of freshman year matriculation is a unique opportunity in their lives to start anew and afresh. And Mr. Washington, founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), provides an example of two young boys who possessed the same opportunities, but had very different outcomes 20 years later. It is all too easy to pass off Mr. Washington’s telling as some moralizing tale designed to motivate his students during one of his Sunday evening talks. Yet, we must be inclined to think that either Mr. Washington himself experienced this so-called tale directly-his autobiographical narrative Up from Slavery (1901) suggests as much-or he observed this in the lives of two of his students in his 34-year long tenure at the helm of Tuskegee University. Washington’s telling of such a tale might also raise the ire and suspicion of those who might argue the following:”It is roundly unfair for Mr. Washington to ascribe lacking personal responsibility to the woes of the second boy’s life because he doesn’t know what happened to him.” Notwithstanding any such dismissals, what Mr. Washington seeks to convey in this talk was the sense of a very real distinction between two young men who approached life matters-whether in the classroom or beyond-quite differently. The first young man was likely accused of being too punctual, too exact or just plain too serious. He often heard the now common proverbial expression: “It doesn’t take all of that.” And in spite of all attempts to justify the many failures of the second boy, all such attempts are undergirded with a profound sense of irony. (The very individuals who defend or make excuse for the second lad will also not hire him nor give him any responsibility regarding that, which is their own.) Wholly consistent with his reputation for being frank, honest and giving ‘straight talk,” Mr. Washington would not allow any such misgivings about his impressions of the success-or relative lack thereof-of the two boys described here. For Mr. Washington believed that “it does take all of that” to reach any desirable outcome, and one will be subject to the envy and criticism of others while doing it. Yet, enduring the sort of suffering experienced by the first boy is far better than experiencing the suffering of the second. We all experience one form of suffering or another, and if one learns how to suffer-to truly know how to suffer well in the thing that is good-one will learn how to succeed.

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 Taylor: This letter may be somewhat of a surprise to you, but I hope you can see your way clear to accede to our request. After deliberating for a good deal of time over the matter, we have determined to put some one of our graduates in the field in the North to collect money for the school; interest and instruct the people about our work, and we have settled on the conclusion that we can get no better person to represent us than yourself.” -Booker T. Washington, June 9th 1893

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“Dear Friend: your letter of recent date was the greatest surprise imaginable. I have thoroughly considered the offer made to me and have decided to off-set my ideas of going to school next term, so as to comply with your request. As you know Alma-Mater means nourishing Mother. From an intellectual stand-point I consider Tuskegee my mother-so I am perfectly willing to act in the capacity of a child.” -R.W.Taylor June 14th 1893

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  
Aside from her students, there is no more important constituent group for Mother Tuskegee than her students (alumni) who have graduated from Tuskegee Institute (University). And this correspondence between Booker T. Washington and Robert Wesley Taylor illustrates the strong ties and affinity within the Tuskegee University Family. Note, the Founding Principal “deliberated for a good deal of time” when considering who among “the Sons and Daughters of Booker and Mother Tuskegee” would best represent the institution. Among the many shining arrows in their quiver, Robert Wesley Taylor was preeminent among the family’s best and brightest. Although familial relations dictate equal filial love among siblings, when parents have a need it is not unusual for the strongest, most diligent, most generous and most capable son or daughter to respond. This describes the character of Mr. Taylor. Hearkening to the true spirit of Alma Mater, he regarded Tuskegee as his “intellectual nourishing mother.” For Mother Tuskegee had nourished his nascent personal, intellectual, social and spiritual appetite with the milk of George Washington Carver and Robert R. Taylor among countless numbers of eminent professors, scholars and staff members who are still nourishing students today. Mr. Taylor did not stop at child-like professions of love for his mother. He exhibited the attitude of a full-grown son who responded with a ready reply when he was called. And “while children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children,” a child does well when he or she has left home to help restore the nourishing ability of his or her mother so that mother is able to continue nurturing many, many more sons and daughters for years to come. And in this the centennial year since the passing of Booker T. Washington (1915-2015), there is no greater time than the present for the sons and daughters (and supporters) of Mother Tuskegee to support both the tradition and trajectory of Tuskegee 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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“…I have tried to pursue the policy of acting in a business-like prompt way especially when we are able to pay. I wish you would take up all these small accounts that are overdue and settle them. It is doubly necessary that an institution that depends for its living on begging money should keep a good business reputation. It is much more necessary than for an institution doing a strictly commercial business. It does not take long for a rumor to get circulated in any community to the effect that we are not businesslike and this hurts us in getting funds. For all these reasons it is very necessary that all the matters I am referring to in this letter be carefully, systematically and promptly attended to in your office. Some of the letters regarding the bills that I refer to I enclose.” -Booker T. Washington, “February 13, 1915″
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

As the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University, Booker T. Washington, repeatedly demonstrated during his 34-year long administration, the stewardship of one’s existing resources goes hand-in-hand with the petitioning of additional resources. And Mr. Washington here again describes, in what would be the last year of his life, an important philanthropic consideration between a non-profit institution like Tuskegee University-and similarly situated higher education institutions-as opposed to a for-profit “commercial business.” A non-profit institution seeks to serve a higher and greater good, and while profit and revenue are supremely important drivers in such institutions, its focus upon an area of societal need such as higher education makes profit generation only one of several considerations unlike “commercial business”. And this is why non-profit institutions rely upon philanthropic (fundraising) gifts to help support their efforts to serve the larger good. (In the case of Mother Tuskegee, the education and the comprehensive development of her students is the highest and larger good.) Notwithstanding, such a noble aim does not exempt a non-profit institution from “keep[ing] a good business reputation” particularly when it continuously seeks “funds” to support its mission and vision-its tradition and trajectory. Without respect to an institution’s noble ambitions, if it does not manage its existing resources in a manner that demonstrates that it can manage additional resources, it “hurt[s]” itself “in [the] getting [of] funds.” And Mr. Washington tells us precisely why it becomes “difficult” for others to give to it: “It does not take long for a rumor to get circulated in any community to the effect that we are not businesslike…” Moreover, if such a “rumor” is circulated in the kind of “community” that can actually provide a non-profit institution with major, transformational assistance in the pursuit of its noble aims then the hurt is extremely harmful. For no corporation, foundation, organization, entity or individual donor who has successfully stewarded its own fiscal resources will give them to another who has not successfully stewarded its own-however small or meager. These entities are also accountable to their own stakeholders, customers and constituents who rightly question where their gifts are directed, and stakeholder’s rest easier knowing that major gifts from entities they are vested in are going to non-profit institutions who will steward them appropriately. And Mr. Washington, who Tuskegee University celebrates in the centennial year since his passing (1915-2015), was the recipient of many such major, transformational gifts because he “carefully, systematically and promptly attend[ed]” to the stewardship of Mother Tuskegee’s resources from 1881-1915.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

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Tuskegee University and 7th President Appears on Cover of Diverse Magazine

Tuskegee University.

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