A giant at the helm
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
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.”