Pressing Forward and Fearing Nothing: A New Adventure
December 1, 2020
President Reynold Verret
c/o Mr. Phillip Adams and Dr. Anne McCall
Xavier University of Louisiana
One Drexel Drive
New Orleans, LA 70125
Dear President Verret, Mr. Adams, and Dr. McCall:
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write to tender my resignation as the assistant vice president of development in the Division of Institutional Advancement; the founding director of the Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit; and assistant professor in the Division of Education and Counseling at Xavier University of Louisiana effective December 31, 2020. My last functional day in the office will be Wednesday, December 16, 2020.
Please allow me to thank each of you for the tremendous opportunity to serve the mission of Xavier, our students, and my faculty and staff colleagues for the last four years and six months. I arrived on campus as the director of corporate and foundation relations fresh from graduate school in July of 2016. It was nearly 15 years to the day that I began at Xavier as a student while concurrently a novice in the Josephite House of Studies—the Josephite novitiate; it was a full circle moment. During this time much has changed personally and professionally, and much has been accomplished.
My sincere hope, in the words of Toni Morrison, is that I’ve done my real job. Morrison writes, our “real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
As the now assistant vice president of development and then-director of corporate and foundation relations under the direction of former Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Dr. Gia Soublet, I led and shaped Xavier’s corporate and foundation philanthropic strategy, maintained a personal portfolio of over 200 donors and donor prospects, served as chief proposal writer, and developed new prospects and strengthened existing donor relationships. In addition to my cultivation and stewardship efforts in corporate and foundation relations, I planned and implemented the Annual Benefit Concert, assisted in the planning of Xavier’s Homecoming, wrote and developed fundraising collateral material, created and executed the Women of Faith Awards, developed the College of Pharmacy Alumni Board, crafted institutional fundraising policy, streamlined functional systems and inter-institutional processes, and worked closely with the former assistant director of scholarships in the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships to make certain we secured scholarships for Xavier’s most in need and most deserving students.
With respect to fundraising, my most significant contribution to the University is my work with faculty and staff colleagues across campus in building new programs, securing much-needed dollars for programmatic enhancements, and the semesterly faculty and staff fundraising workshops I developed and facilitated for over three years.
There is much to be celebrated! For example, I am extremely proud of having written the University’s Black Male Retention and Recruitment Program in 2018 for which the Coca-Cola Foundation awarded the university $250,000 in support of our efforts to bolster Black male achievement on campus. Similarly, my stewardship of the university’s relationship with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has yielded much fruit for Xavier. In 2019, I led a team composed of the Provost, Vice President of Enrollment Management, and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in crafting a grant proposal aimed at increasing transfer student enrollment and readying the campus for the influx of this new student population. The Mellon Foundation awarded Xavier $500,000 to carry out this work. Most recently, I served as principal grant writer and thought-partner on the Mellon funded new African American and African Diasporic Cultural Studies major program of study at Xavier in the amount of $500,000; secured $225,000 from the RosaMary Foundation for “last dollar” need based scholarships; secured $525,000 from a major corporation for the Scholars for Equity and Justice; and served as the principal investigator for a $500,000 gift from NBCUniversal/Comcast for the NBCU Academy in the Department of Mass Communications.
After Institutional Advancement was placed under the receivership of a team of hired consultants and management of the Office of the President, in the midst of COVID-19 and personal hardships, I maintained corporate and foundation relations fundraising and stewardship efforts with little to no administrative support nor a team of frontline fundraisers. I am happy to report, at this point in the fiscal year, we have raised $3,280,425.60 with another $2,403,289.08 pledged to be delivered by the end of the fiscal year. For all intents and purposes, the $5 million corporate and foundation relations goal set by the Board of Trustees at the beginning of this fiscal year will be met.
In the last four years, I have secured on average $4.5 million per year while serving as the team lead for strategy and proposal development for my colleagues. For two of those years, I was simultaneously building the Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit and serving as an assistant professor in the Division of Education and Counseling. Along with my former colleagues Gia Soublet, Stephen Engro, and Dr. Sarah Stanwood, I was instrumental in the cultivation of Mackenzie Scott (Bezos), who is responsible for donating Xavier’s largest gift by a single donor—$20 million. This gift and the hard work of the Institutional Advancement team has set Xavier on a new course, which if steered properly, will allow our beloved institution to reach new heights and to educate more students for another century.
Please allow me to extend my gratitude to new Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Mr. Phillip Adams, for my recent promotion to assistant vice president of development. I was very much looking forward to the great work we planned to accomplish together.
The Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit at Xavier, Academic Affairs
I am most saddened to leave my brainchild and passion project. Founded in 2018, in thought-partnership with the Provost and with the approval of the President, the Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit is a light to the institution, the city, and region. Our work within the areas of PK-16 educational equity, criminal legal system reform, and environmental justice has already yielded promising results in the transformation of these systems. Please allow me to extend my most sincere gratitude to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their seed investment of $500,000. This support, coupled with the University’s $5,000 per year budgetary allocation for the work and vision of the Center, has allowed the Center in a very short duration to build a reputation for honest dialogue, truthful discourse, and Black-centered public intellectual engagement for purposes of achieving equity, pursuing justice, and uplifting the human spirit.
In alignment with our three focus areas, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation investment contains programmatic and scholarship dollars to increase the number of Black male PK-12 educators, hire a postdoctoral fellow for public educational equity to fulfill the Center’s research component, and provide salary for the Center’s program coordinator. Most recently, I wrote the Scholars for Equity and Justice Program—presented as a partnership between the Divisions of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and the Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit—which seeks to capture incoming first-year students in a living learning community who have exemplified a commitment to social justice and saturate them in social activism and community engagement. The program was funded just last week by a major corporation and renamed the XXXXXX Scholars for Equity and Justice Program. The Scholars for Equity and Justice Program was written to be managed by/through the Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit at Xavier University. The corporation is scheduled to make a public announcement next week. I trust the Division of Academic Affairs will maintain the programmatic schema, honor the donor’s intent, and execute a dynamic program. The same can be written about the XULA Investigative Stories Project in partnership with award-winning former 60 Minutes producer, Helen Malmgren and Dr. Tia Smith, which falls under the mantle of the Center.
In the last two years and nearly five months, the Center has held 26 events engaging over 3,500 constituents and hosted over 22 meetings for both internal and external audiences. On the Human Spirit, the Center’s bi-weekly newsletter reaches over 1,700 subscribers or unique visitors at each dissemination.
Of note, we hosted:
The Historic New Orleans Collection Purchased Lives Exhibit Series in partnership with Women’s Studies and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (2019)
Dinner and Dialogue Series: The 1619 Project (2019)
Inaugural Sankofa Lecture featuring New York Times Writer Nikole Hannah-Jones (2019)
The Community Conversation in Tribute to Atatiana Jefferson’14 (2019)
The W.K. Kellogg Equity Speaks Lecture featuring White House Correspondent April Ryan with Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana of the Exonerated Five (2020)
The Truth Exposed COVID-19 Series (2020)
The Joy and the Wound: Witnessing America, Race, and Righteous Rage (2020)
Equity in Higher Education Virtual Roundtable featuring Shawn Barney (moderator), Xavier University President Reynold Verret, Tulane University President Mike Fitts, Loyola University New Orleans President Tania Tetlow, and Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough (2020)
Your Vote, Your Voice Series (2020)
Second Annual Sankofa Lecture: Sixty Years Later, New Orleans School Desegregation featuring Dr. Walter Stern and the McDonogh Three—Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost (2020)
Since COVID-19, the Center’s virtual events have been attended by an international audience. From the first three-part series in 2018, The Blessing and the Burden: A Dialogue for Faculty of Color in the Academy, co-sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development (CAT+FD) to the Center’s campus wide initiative in early 2020, Imagining a Restorative University, we have been in active pursuit of wholeness as a campus community and human family. In each of the Center’s events, I have tried to make certain the mission of Xavier University of Louisiana remains a central focus of the dialogue and that each person leaves with a deep understanding of the truth, a profound sense of hope, and a spark of courage to act.
As Center director, I have also been hard at work developing formal and informal partnerships with community, civic, and advocacy organizations and faith-based non-profits. Recently, we signed an MOU with the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board (CYPB), a quasi-city of New Orleans agency, designed to assist in the planning, development, implementation, and operation of services which encourage positive youth development, diversion of youth from the criminal justice and foster care systems, and reduction in commitments of youth to state institutions. The Center’s work with CYPB is in support of the on-going evaluation and data collection of their dynamic city-wide Youth Master Plan.
In April 2020, through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, the Center hired Caryn Blair to serve as its program coordinator. In the last eight months, we have been able to accomplish much together, and I thank her for work ethic and passion for our very important work. My hope is that the very important work of the Center-in-the-world and our inter-institutional restorative approaches will continue under her guidance and new, but no less passionate, leadership.
It must be said that this was all accomplished while I served in three positions and as a 10% FTE Center director; I can only imagine what could have been accomplished if my request over a year ago to move into the Center and faculty roles full-time were granted. However, these ponderings belong to the past and the Center now belongs to the future.
The Division of Education and Counseling, Academic Affairs
As the instructor of record for Leadership Theories and Behaviors, I have built valuable relationships with my doctoral students and served as a mentor to many of them in their leadership obstacles. We have been for one another a source of intellectual stimulation, support, and mutual learning. Each of them will be successful in their chosen fields of study. Additionally, it is my hope to remain a member of the dissertation committees on which I currently serve.
I will spend the remaining weeks closing out projects with partners, transitioning corporate and foundation relationships, and wrapping up the work of the Center’s strategic planning committee.
Of course, I would not be me if I did not offer a few institutional observations.
As you all know, I believe in telling the truth while not telling everything one knows; parrhesia is necessary for transformation. It is known but it must be expressed: Black education is not white education in Blackface. Black education and Black higher education, in particular, is born of a tradition of liberation that centers the human experience and the dynamism of the Black experience. It is a tradition that does not only impart knowledge for the mind, but feeds the soul, and frees the spirit from the bondage of the insidiousness of the dominate white supremacist culture. Our Black educational space has become deeply inundated by this negative cultural influence for students, faculty, and staff of color. Xavier’s faculty and staff percentages allow us to make correlations between my observations and the lived experience of people of color on campus. For example, the latest data shows Xavier faculty is 35.2% Black or African American (87/245), while the Black staff comprise 82% of the employee staff population (395/479). These data point to an inverted power dynamic, where non-faculty of color occupy the academic positions of power, influence, and curricular decision-making often without fidelity to the mission or the lived experiences of the students and community who employ them.
As an ubuntu scholar, knowledge is the challenge of being human so as to discover the promise of being human; however, what tends to occur in white supremacist culture infused institutions, no matter their mission or foundation, is the privileging of process and policy over human decency and humane interaction. This manifests as an environment that can neither be just nor humane in its practices.
Xavier is holy ground. Literally, holy ground—where a Saint has lived, a pope has prayed, saints have toiled, and holy men and women have prayerfully fulfilled their vocation to educate and inspire purpose. Yet, even holy ground can become plagued with toxic culture and it has. Xavier, as an institution, for nearly 100 years has been a light in the darkness. While the institution will survive for another century or more, the spirit that is Xavier—as a place and space of higher learning meant to uplift the beauty of Blackness, educate the mind and heart for service to humanity while glorifying the Great Creator—cannot survive in a culture of domination. That is to say, love cannot exist in the current culture.
Finally, my Black faculty and staff colleagues are hurting. All of my colleagues are hurting, but I lift up my Black comrades specifically because they are investing their all in the education of Black leaders—our collective future, while suffering their own hardships, personal tragedies, and a profound sense of underappreciation in the midst of a global pandemic that has taken its toll on all of us. Like me, I know, they have refused to be murdered by overwork, underappreciation, and the professional and human invisibility consequential of white supremacist cultural ideology from which Xavier was intended to be a refuge.
These observations are raised in profound love for what Xavier has been and must become in this societal moment of grand transformation. You also know, if I have raised the issues or expressed the observations, I also stand ready to assist in their correction or transformation regardless of my change in employment.
It goes without saying that I am very proud of my time here at Xavier and what I have been able to accomplish along with the assistance of dedicated colleagues. In my heart of hearts, I know that I will return one day. The mission of Xavier and the dream of St. Katharine has saturated my spirit and resonated with my being. I am indebted to the lessons learned, the friendship of colleagues, and the guidance of mentors. If there is anything that I can do to assist Xavier now or in the future, please do not hesitate to call upon me.
With much gratitude, I press forward fearing no-thing.
David W. Robinson-Morris, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President of Development, Institutional Advancement
Founding Director, The Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit
Assistant Professor, Division of Education and Counseling
Xavier University of Louisiana