Former Morehouse President and Obama HBCU Chief John Wilson Selected to Lead Diversity at Harvard

 John Sylvanus Wilson at the Future Leaders Legacy Fund Awards gala, hosted by the Africa-America Institute, on Sept. 29, 2015, in New York City
John Sylvanus Wilson at the Future Leaders Legacy Fund Awards gala, hosted by the Africa-America Institute, on Sept. 29, 2015, in New York City
Photo: Eugene Gologursky (Getty Images)

Former Morehouse College President John Sylvanus Wilson has announced that he will take a leave of absence from Harvard University’s board of overseers to take a new position as Harvard University President Drew G. Faust’s senior adviser and strategist on diversity and inclusion initiatives.


The new role will help the university understand the experiences of different students who attend the college, as well as help make the 381-year-old Ivy League institution more diverse.


Perhaps no other individual has had a career that is more qualifying for such a position. After graduating from Morehouse in 1979, Wilson received two master’s degrees (in theological studies and education) at Harvard. After a stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wilson left for George Washington University, where his research focused on “best practices for the sustainability and stability of colleges and universities, as well as transformative advancement and finance in higher education,” according to his Howard bio.

When President Barack Obama wanted someone to lead his administration’s effort to strengthen HBCUs in 2009, he tapped Wilson to lead the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Wilson worked inside the Department of Education for four years, guiding the executive branch’s efforts to strengthen black institutions of higher learning.

Wilson returned to his alma mater, Morehouse, in 2013, serving until 2017, when a contentious relationship with the college’s board of trustees resulted in his contract not being renewed.


Upon leaving Morehouse, Wilson became Harvard’s “president in residence” while serving on the Harvard Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging. Its final report (pdf) was released on Tuesday, when Wilson was named to his new advisory position.


Wilson’s leadership positions with America’s pre-eminent educational institutions, both black and white, have led him to begin working on a book about higher education, with a focus on black colleges and universities.

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A little perplexed by this career trajectory. If this were two HBCUs or two PWI’s, it would be a step down to go someone to go from being a college president to the advisor to a President. Or is Harvard so special that any move there is a move up? Maybe he doesn’t want to do the President thing and, if he’s a good man, hope the brother gets a good bit of that sweet Harvard money and spreads it around..