Tuskegee University: Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“[To William Addison Benedict]…You remember you said in one of your previous letters that you could raise $30,000 per year for the institution and we were led to believe that your experience and acquaintance with people would enable you to secure funds without having to go through the long “breaking in” process that a man unacquainted with the ways and means would go through, and when you sent your report for December you said the one for January would show quite a different state of things. The time has now come when we must look facts squarely in the face in a business way. So far as the figures before us show you have collected in all $269.21, $25 of this comes from Miss Amelia H. Jones of New Bedford, who for the last six years has given us regularly every year $50, but her last address was put down Boston, so in this way you were misled; but up to the first of February this institution owes you $625, and you have collected of this amount $269, thus leaving the institution in debt to you in the sum of $356. So you see we are poorer by this amount than we were this time last year and the same time our salary account is very much enlarged by your being employed thus making the appropriation of money spent for securing funds very much larger than it should be and throwing us open to the criticism of the public cannot escape. I hope you will not understand that I mean to speak in an unkindly spirit. I think we will both understand each other by being business-like and frank.” – Booker T. Washington, “February 8, 1892”

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

Whether in the 19th, 20th and 21st Century, the Tuskegee Institute (University) President is often presented with proposals from outside vendors designed to benefit the university’s interest. And in addition to the task of discerning between profitable and unprofitable proposals, the Tuskegee Institute (University) President must also decide when existing agreements are no longer beneficial to the university. This was the case in Booker T. Washington’s communication with one William Addison Benedict. Mr. Benedict indicated in one of his “previous letters” that he could raise “$30,000 per year for the institution.” Moreover, the institution was “led to believe” that his report for “January would show a quite different state of things.” Unfortunately for both Mr. Benedict and Tuskegee institute (University), this was not the case. One of the more unpleasant sides to business is the necessary parting of ways when one party does not live up to or honor what was agreed upon. While there are a host of factors that might have led to Mr. Benedict’s poor record of performance as opposed to what he had promised, it was clear to Mr. Washington that Tuskegee’s “salary account [was] very much enlarged” by paying for his additional services unaccompanied by his expected performance. And herein lies Mr. Washington’s appeal to Mr. Benedict to “understand each other by being business-like and frank.” For what university President in any century continues to perpetually make payments based upon promises as opposed to performance?

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

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