Wiley College Welcomes 17th President: Dr. Herman Felton Jr.
By: Sherri Gragg
Dr. Herman J. Felton Jr. has been named the 17th President and Chief Executive Officer of Wiley College.
Dr. Felton succeeds his personal mentor and the longest tenured president of Wiley College, Dr. Haywood L. Strickland. Recently, we sat down with Dr. Felton to discuss his vision for Wiley College and his strategy to guide the historically black college into the future.
Q: What is it like to take the helm of such a distinguished and historically influential educational institution as Wiley College?
A: I love it. Following Dr. Strickland is a big deal for me because he is a personal mentor, and the history of Wiley speaks for itself. It is amazing to be able to continue the work of my 16 predecessors, just surreal.
I find that in a lot of incidences colleges really live on their history. What is remarkable about Wiley is that you see this continuity throughout history. What started in the 1940’s is still continuing today. Historically, Wiley was the home of leaders of thought and last year, we had our first Fullbright scholar. That speaks volumes to the type of students we have here. We also have tremendous diversity racially and economically, and it makes learning all the richer.
Q: What are your short-term goals for Wiley?
A: We will stabilize the infrastructure. We have a ton of maintenance that needs to be addressed and we need funding to make those improvements. I have been meeting with Representatives and am working to gain support from the community. I see Wiley as a lynchpin to the success of Marshall. I want us to operate at an optimum level in the community. Our campus should be bustling in the summer with camps for local children. I want us to host programs for the community and be a place they can experience the arts. This year, our Christmas program will be free to the public.
Q: What is your vision for Wiley’s future?
A: In ten years, I see Wiley an educational incubator for students, giving them a laboratory from which to launch into lives of service. We will find resources to build not only new dorms, but a wonderful community center that will house some shared resources and human resources with Marshall. This is not just about Wiley, we want to make sure we capture the needs of the community. There is blight in this community. We are in a food desert, a health and wellness desert. There is a lack of access to broadband internet.
I also want us to be a resource for Marshall, a place where the community is exposed to the arts. I hope they will come to hear lectures. We want to become contributors not only to not only to this space and to Texas, but to the nation. We will be a beacon or a light on the hill-metaphorically, literally, figuratively.
Q: As president of Wilberforce University, you were successful in dramatically increasing funding for the school. Is this a priority for you at Wiley?
A: Absolutely. Fundraising is a goal here. You can’t pay bills, faculty members, and create infrastructure and programming on tuition alone. We have to find grants and our alumnus must be accountable. I have no desire to shame people into giving, but I will continually make the case for support. I want to articulate the need.
Q: Tell me about Wiley’s students. What makes you proud? What do you hope for them?
A: The kids are really kind. They are smart, and they are passionate about Wiley. I hope that we as an institution will not only continue to educate them and give them everything they need to be successful, but I hope to introduce them to Christ and Christ-like things.
My wife and I have begun hosting students to dinner each Tuesday night in “A Seat at the Table.” We feed them a homecooked meal, introduce them to the etiquette they will need to be comfortable in any situation, and have conversations with them. We talk about fashion, rap, and marriage, but also about Christ.
I told them last night that the real work begins when we go into the dark places and are with the people who don’t think like us. I challenged them that if our goal is to hear Christ say, “well done” we have to think about how to make that happen. It begins with saying “good morning” to someone, doing a good deed, studying God’s word. It begins with compassion and grace.