Please read the following essay and be prepared to discuss its merits
and shortcomings in our next class. Specifically, consider the strength
of the thesis, the usefulness and completeness of the supporting detail,
and the degree to which unity and coherence are maintained. Of course,
format and sentence skills issues should also be considered.
A Century of Progress For the Centenary Biblical Institute
When what is now known as
Morgan State University was first founded as the Centenary Biblical Institute
in 1867, life for African American students was quite different from what
it is today. Back then, the sole purpose of a Morgan education was to become
qualified to be a minister. During the next phase of its development,
Morgan broadened its focus to include training Black men and women to become
teachers as well. Thus, by the time its first baccalaureate degree
was awarded in 1895, Morgan had established its foundations in two very
important fields: religion and education. The fact that 1895
also witnessed Booker T. Washington's presentation of his famous speech
at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition presents an interesting
context within which to appreciate the significance of Morgan's mission,
as well as the progress it has made during the century following Washington's
speech. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that there is
still room for improvement; Morgan has to address problems in three important
areas before it can fully realize its potential.
The first area that requires improvement is the use of religion. Without a doubt, religion has been the backbone of African American society since the days of slavery, and it is a component of Black culture that should not be underestimated. At the same time, however, there are two important concerns associated with the use of religion at Morgan. First of all, the campus is considerably focused on the Christian religion. While perhaps the great majority of students here are indeed Christian, a tremendous number of them are not. Whether Muslim or Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu, these other students have the right not to have to be subjected to the constant invocation of Jesus's name at university functions. One particularly problematic example of this situation is the University Convocation series, attendance at which is mandatory for first and second-year students. Each of these events begins and ends in the same way: with a prayer. Whether it's the opening invocation or the closing benediction, the majority of these prayers are in fact Christian. Very little mention is ever heard of Jehovah, Allah, or Khrishna. This may not seem to be much of a problem, but it is. Not only does this Christ-centered approach prevent all Morgan students from feeling as though they are a full part of the community, it also encourages all students to perpetuate the kind of self-centered thinking that is the basis for all the racial hate and discrimination that African Americans have faced for almost four centuries. The other concern that the use of religion at Morgan raises involves the university's status as a state-funded, public institution. It is not clear whether the lawmakers and check-writers in Annapolis realize how faith-based so many university functions are. Chances are, if they did, the issue of the separation of church and state may become a problematic one. To be sure, the continued success and progress of Morgan depends upon the maintenance of good relationships in this area.
A second area that Morgan needs to address if it wishes to fulfill its mission of producing intelligent, well-rounded individuals involves its housing policies and procedures. Morgan students are all adults, yet the attitudes implicit in many residence life policies suggest otherwise. Writing about college life in the 1930s, Langston Hughes included Morgan among the the historically black colleges and universities he discussed, many of which, he lamented, embodied "mid-Victorian attitudes" in their treatment of their students (58). Forbidding male and female students to mingle was a particularly unpopular policy for Hughes. He certainly wouldn't be much more pleased with the limited progress that has been made in this regard. Today, seventy years after Hughes's essay was published, Morgan continues to regulate interpersonal interaction. The policy prohibiting visitors of the opposite gender from being one's dorm room after 10:30 during the week, midnight on weekends, and 11:00 on Sunday nights is totally ridiculous. Because the rationale for this policy is not published, one can only wonder what the university hopes to accomplish by preventing overnight interactions between the genders. Certainly, it won't prevent actual sexual activity--people can do things at 9:00 at night just as easily as at 1:00 in the morning. If it is the appearance of innocence that is desired, perhaps this might be accomplished, but only if the observer is really naïve.
The final area that Morgan must improve involves the overall level of hostility that often confronts the Morgan students. Too often, students are treated as children, or worse, criminals. For example, the registrar's policy of dropping students' schedules if their accounts aren't settled by a certain date does a tremendous disservice to the students, who are treated as if they are trying to steal an education. Too often, the problem lies with the handling of financial aid; even scholarship students find their schedules dropped when the real fault lies with the university itself. Other policies that result in the students being disrespected include the policy of required attendance for certain classes. The implication again is that students are irresponsible and cannot be trusted to attend their classes unless they are coerced. The bottom line is that students are in control of their own destinies. If a student is able to master the material for a course without having to endure the painfully boring lectures of instructors who don't act as if they like their jobs or their students, he or she should not be forced to do so.
In the end, Morgan State University remains a very important institution, offering educational opportunities to a population of Americans who not too long ago had very few. In order to maintain this tradition of significance, though, the school needs to dedicate itself to moving fully into the twenty-first century. It can do so by moving away from its dependence on its Christian foundation and trusting its students to act in their own self-interest, free from the everpresent strong arm of the university's authority.