November 15, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 14
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Melvin B. Miller
Editor & Publisher

A giant at the helm

Keith Motley described his inauguration as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Boston as the celebration of “a journey of return and renewal.” For many of those in the African American community, it was much more than just a personal achievement. Motley’s elevation is a major step forward for us all.

In her presentation of greetings, Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott hinted humorously at this significance when she congratulated Motley for having broken through the glass ceiling, noting that never before had a man standing 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 300 pounds been granted such an honor.

Jenkins-Scott has it just right. It is, in fact, a question of magnitude. Motley is not the first African American to head an institution of higher learning in the Boston area. In the city, there is Jenkins-Scott at Wheelock; Ted Landsmark, president of the Boston Architectural College; and Terrence Gomes, president of Roxbury Community College. In the suburbs, there is Ronald Crutcher, president of Wheaton College in Norton; Dana Mohler-Faria, president of Bridgewater State College; and Carole Berotte Joseph, president of Massachusetts Bay Community College.

Except for Bridgewater State, which is quite large, the student body at those institutions ranges in size from 1,020 to 1,550. There are 12,500 students at UMass-Boston — a significantly greater order of magnitude. As chancellor of a large urban university, Motley has to cope with all of the problems of racial diversity and low family income. The tenor of the inauguration ceremony he authored indicates that his administration will be grounded on humanistic values.

Students who have so many burdens to overcome in their efforts to excel in school are fortunate to have the support and guidance of such a kindly yet academically demanding chancellor.

The ruling class

Americans believe that democracy is the ideal form of government. However, few are acutely aware of how different views on the right to vote have historically been a source of conflict in the United States. The concept of “one man, one vote” has not always prevailed.

The U.S. Constitution does not grant universal suffrage. Except where the Constitution sets forth a specific rule, each state is free to establish its own voter qualifications. In colonial America, only men of property could vote. Women were not granted the right to vote until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Blacks were not permitted to vote in the South and some Northern states until that right was granted in 1870 by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Even then, states fearing the franchise of its black citizens established barriers like the poll tax. When that did not work, they often resorted to violence.

It was not until 1964 that the 24th Amendment made it unlawful to deny anyone the vote for failure to pay the poll tax. In 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which gave the federal government the right to oversee the electoral process in states of the old Confederacy.

America needed almost 200 years to determine whose votes should count. The “in crowd” of the rich and powerful worked diligently to keep the others out of the voting booth. This sounds more like oligarchy, government for and by the few. However, the enforcement of the Bill of Rights, which granted personal freedoms, enabled the United States to claim persuasively that it was truly a democracy.

Democracy can remain vibrant only as long as the president implements the lawful acts of Congress and abides by the rulings of the Supreme Court. The coming presidential election will determine whether the republic leans more toward oligarchy or, with candor, transparency and inclusiveness, can become a truly democratic society.


“I guess you have to be a big
man to do this job.”

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