Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

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“Until late I have been trying to persuade Mr. J.D. McCall, who has had charge of our scientific work for some time, to transfer to the department of mathematics in lieu of the sciences, but he has not as yet consented to make the transfer. Of course I could make the change without his consent, but with a teacher who has been here for sometime and who is faithful in doing the best he can, I dislike to make a change that is not agreeable to Mr. McCall. We are pushing more and more our scientific work, and it has now gotten to the point where it is entirely too much for any one person to do acceptably. I have just had a talk with Mr. McCall about this, and he agrees with me thoroughly on this point.” -“May 1, 1894,” Booker T. Washington 

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson     

It is sometimes with great difficulty that a chief executive officer-particularly a newly minted one-institutes change. For oftentimes, such change comes at the expense of substituting-even supplanting–long-standing practices (or culture) with innovation. This is precisely what the founding principal and president, Booker T. Washington, was doing in his communiqué to Mr. Hoffman concerning one of Mr. Washington’s faculty members-Mr. McCall. As Mr. Washington indicated, “of course I could make the change without his consent,” he thought it best not to for this was “a teacher who has been here for some time and who is faithful in doing the best he can.” Clearly, Mr. McCall’s works were well-regarded at Tuskegee Institute to be treated in such a manner to receive such treatment from Mr. Washington. (For Mr. Washington’s letters and correspondence are littered with terminations, replacements and administrative decisions made in the interests of the institution that held no similar regard to others as opposed to what he says about Mr. McCall.) All the same, Mr. Washington was clear in his suggestion that the institution was “pushing more and more our scientific work” and it was necessary for change to be had. And while in this communication Mr. Washington opted instead to employ another-Mr. Hoffman was being requested to come work for Tuskegee as a faculty member in the sciences where he taught in agriculture chemistry and biology from 1894 to 1896-he still exercised excellent management in the course of this decision. First, he evaluated Mr. McCall against his record at the institution and found it satisfactory enough to not demand any change. (Unlike his many other decisions, the decision was made to retain Mr. McCall in view of this assessment of his past record and its impact on the present direction in the sciences.) Second, he discussed it directly with Mr. McCall. (Mr. Washington was no “dark decision-maker”. He made the decision in the light. He dealt directly so there would be no second or third-guessing about his assessment of the matter and the employee.) Third-only after his assessment of Mr. McCall’s station and a discussion-he reached out to another for employ. Here again, Mr. Washington demonstrates that the “wizard of Tuskegee” was neither a mystic, magician nor a miracle-worker. He was simply a manager-all while being magnificent at the macro-during his 34-year long presidency of Tuskegee Institute (University). 

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

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