Morgan State: urban college with a special role

February 04, 1992|By Catherine E. Pugh and B.T. Bentley

Since its inception as the Centenary Biblical Institute in 1867, Morgan State University has gone through a number of transformations which have contributed to its continued growth.

The Centenary Biblical Institute was created to train young men as ministers for the congregations of the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. by 1890, the school had broadened its mission to educate men and women for careers outside of the ministry, and became the first black college in Maryland.

The name was changed to Morgan College in honor of Dr. Lyttleton F. Morgan, who was a member of the board of trustees and a respected member of the Baltimore Conference. Dr. Morgan's endowment to the college allowed it to offer courses on the college level.

Morgan expanded its mission in 1881 from the strictly theological to also preparing students for teaching careers. This mission allowed for the enrollment of women at the college. The first class was graduated in 1899, and by 1900 about 150 black and white students had graduated from Morgan.

In 1939, the State of Maryland purchased Morgan College from the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Morgan College became Morgan State College.

Governance of the school rested with an independent board of trustees from 1939 until 1967, when oversight was passed along to the Board of Trustees of State Colleges.

In 1975, after years of effort by community leaders, faculty and students, Morgan made its case to the state that the institution could support a larger role within the framework of Maryland's competitive system of colleges and universities. Morgan State University was born, along with new goals and objectives for the institution.

Teaching, research, and service were to be Morgan State's main missions, as mandated by the state.

The state's charge was that "Morgan will develop into the state's primary public institution dealing with programs that address the specific social, political, and economic concerns of urban areas."

That charge was the framework for Morgan's development well into the future, and many thought it cemented the school's existence within the state system indefinitely. But a number of factors would emerge to place the college's future in jeopardy, among them faulty spending and accounting procedures while the school was under the leadership of Andrew Billingsley, president of the school for nine years. He resigned in 1984.

Dr. Earl Richardson was appointed interim president in March, 1984 and was appointed president in October of that same year. "Times were difficult when I arrived at Morgan," says Dr. Richardson. "The university was facing declining enrollment, and there was pressure by the state to merge with the state system."

Dr. Richardson was able to win support from the the community and Morgan alumni for an agenda and identification separate from other state schools.

Under Dr. Richardson, enrollment has increased from 3,600 to 5,100 full-time students.

"That is a figure I think we can comfortably support on this campus," he said.

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