Mr. Jenkins: I have received your note which I consider one of the few disrespectful communications that I have received during my connection with this institution as its official head. I have neither time nor inclination to debate the matter with you of your attending devotional exercises and even if there were a disposition to debate the matter or of the school to change its policy, the attitude assumed in your communication leaves, the school, but one course to pursue. I have stated plainly the wish and policy of the school to you, it now remains for you to make your choice.” “February 29 [March 1], 1895,” Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Above is the third of three letters sent between the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington, and an employee at the institution, Mr. William Jenkins. In the first communiqué sent to Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Washington sought to “remind [him] again that it is the policy of this institution for its academic teachers to be present in the chapel…”. In the second correspondence, Mr. Jenkins explained to his employer, “If you will give me some place to prepare my lessons instead of my bedroom I shall be only too glad to comply with your order.” (Mr. Jenkins believed that unless the institution provided him with adequate facilities for lesson preparation, he would continue to not comply with policy.) Hence-the third and final piece of correspondence was Mr. Washington’s response above. Now, one must remember that the 19th century was altogether different from the 21st century. Every institution of higher education in the 19th century possessed policies that persons in the 21st century would hardly think appropriate in our contemporary society. Notwithstanding, all 21st century institutions and organizations-at least the most thoroughly efficient and well-organized ones-possess policies designed to help promote the general interest and welfare of the organization, and if one employee habitually-even openly-flaunts his or her failure to comply with policy then this promotes organizational disarray. Among many other considerations, other employees note partiality with respect to the employee, and are discouraged from following policy by the institution’s bad precedent. (If an institution fails to follow and enforce its own policies, it does so to its own detriment and needlessly contributes to institutional discord.) In the end, however, we do not know what choice Mr. Jenkins or Mr. Washington made when the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University) stated thus: “I have stated plain the wish and policy of the school to you, it now remains for you to make a choice.” Yet, when one considers the length and success of Mr. Washington’s 34-year presidency, it is not unimaginable to deduce that Mr. Jenkins either complied with institutional policy or found employment elsewhere.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.