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Viewpoint: Black Leadership and White Adventists at WAU


This piece will appear as a letter to the editor in the upcoming edition of The Spectrum Journal. Being that it is in response to a blog post, we have chosen to also post it here.  

I feel that I have a responsibility as a 1963 graduate of Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) to comment on the article posted on the Spectrum Magazine website of May 18, 2014 captioned “Crisis in Leadership at Washington Adventist University.”

This is an unwarranted and destructive criticism of the leadership of the first black president, Dr. Weymouth Spence, who is now the president of the 110-year old university after it has changed to a majority Black student enrollment. It maybe of interest to know why the author of the article, Professor Barry Casey, left the university after Dr. Spence became president. Did he leave in good faith and in good standing?

I do not believe that the university has a crisis in leadership. It appears to be a crisis in race relations and lack of adequate financial resources to strengthen academic programs, hire full-time faculty, and maintain accreditation of programs in the highly competitive academic and intellectual environment of Metropolitan Washington. The president of any university has to make the difficult decision to cut programs and faculty when there is inadequate financial support.

In spite of the progress made in race relations in America since the signing of the Civil Rights Act outlawing racial segregation and discrimination by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, there are still many Seventh-day Adventists in the church and its institutions who hold on to the old racial stereotype that Black people are incapable of holding leadership and administrative positions. Whenever Blacks are placed in leadership positions Whites anticipate a change in the status quo and become uncomfortable, critical because a Black person is now in charge, and gradually withdraw financial and human resources.

The failure and closing of Atlantic Union College is a prime example.

White Adventists should learn to work with and under the supervision of Blacks or any other race. The World Seventh-day Adventist Church has more people of color today than white people. 

Throughout Professor Casey’s criticisms of the president and the academic programs, he failed to mention that the highest enrollment ever attained at the university was in 2011 during Dr. Spence’s presidency. He also failed to acknowledge that Dr. Spence constructed a state-of–the-art fine arts music building which is a big improvement to the physical and academic infrastructure of the University. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Spence for the first time at the official opening, and I was disappointed in the conspicuous absence of Whites in attendance.

The Washington Adventist University has come a long way in changes to its racial policies. In the early 1960s, when I was a student, there was an all white administration and faculty, dormitory rooms and dining tables were segregated, and interracial dating was strictly prohibited. The first full-time Black faculty member (a graduate of the   University) was hired in the year 1966. She served for four years and during her tenure there was no other full-time Black faculty member.

Today, the university has a Black president, an integrated administration and faculty, and a majority Black student body. Notwithstanding, this is not a Black University, it is the Washington Adventist University owned and supported by the Columbia Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The University is located in a strategic and important area for the development and sustenance of quality academic programs. It is within a short distance of The Library of Congress, important federal government educational institutions, and foreign embassies.

It is also in the area of the largest concentration of Adventist churches and institutions namely, The World Church of  Seventh-day Adventists, the Columbia Union Conference, the Chesapeake and the Potomac conferences, 25 Adventist churches, 10 academies and high schools, the Washington Adventist Hospital, the Shady Grove Hospital, and other Adventist healthcare institutions.

I am appealing to this enormous strength of Seventh-day Adventists, all alumni, and the board of trustees to increase their support to Washington Adventist University so that it can continue to be an outstanding university.


Donald G. Morgan

Retired Professor of  Maryland University System


See a Facebook page dedicated to posting concerns and news about Washington Adventist University and the webpage of the group We Are Washington Adventist Community for more information.

See a Spectrum interview with Weymouth Spence in 2008, soon after he became president.

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