- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

ATLANTA — The road from Boston to Morehouse College inevitably goes through Sean Daughtry. The 1993 graduate of the nation’s only all-male, historically black college is president of the Atlanta school’s alumni chapter in Boston, and he informally interviews boys hoping to become Morehouse Men.

“If you live in Boston and your son wants to go to Morehouse, I’m going to hear from him,” said Mr. Daughtry, a chemist.

The science of determining who is Morehouse material lies beyond a student’s resume, Mr. Daughtry said. While some cases are obvious, others need a closer look.

“Not every person who is intelligent is necessarily a person of integrity, character and good moral judgment,” Mr. Daughtry explained. “And there are certain things that you look for in a young man who might not have the most stellar resume, but still has the desire.”

Morehouse is expanding its admissions process to include interviews of all serious candidates. The school says it won’t make a decision on anyone until the prospective student has had a conversation — either in person or over the phone — with a school official or an alumnus who has been through recruitment training.

The changes are being made after several high-profile crimes involving Morehouse students. Though administrators deny any tie between the bad publicity and increased scrutiny of potential students, they acknowledge the interviews are an attempt at getting more to the core of each candidate’s character.

“What we’re looking for is some sense of whether or not the kinds of traditions and philosophical, ethical and moral beliefs we have here are compatible with the student who is looking at Morehouse, and making sure he understands the real expectations we have of students on our campus,” said Terrance Dixon, associate dean of admissions and recruitment.

Morehouse traditionally has interviewed some candidates — typically those touring the campus or competing for merit-based scholarships — but not all. Last year, the school received more than 2,600 applications and offered admission to about 1,800 students. About 860 accepted.

Mr. Dixon expects the interview requirement to improve the student retention rate, which is about 60 percent.

“We’re talking about whether or not the student feels comfortable in our environment,” he said. “We’d hate to have a student come here and be miserable.”

Some of the crimes involving Morehouse students can’t be ignored. In 2002, one student’s skull was fractured when another attacked him with a baseball bat because he thought the victim was homosexual. Last summer, the body of student Carlnell James Walker Jr., 23, was found in the trunk of his car after four former students broke into his home and bound, gagged, beat and stabbed him, looking for a $3,000 insurance settlement check that Mr. Walker was expected to receive, police said.

Mr. Daughtry said he was concerned by the incidents but doesn’t blame the school.

“The times being what they are, you’re going to have some instances where the larger society is going to be reflected in what you see on campus,” he said. “When an institution like Morehouse has a history and a tradition of … bringing up the character of young men who are expected to be leaders in their community and in their chosen field, there’s no place for criminal or nefarious activity in that paradigm.”

Concern over behavior or disciplinary problems is not unique to Morehouse. Many colleges are paying more attention to discipline as a factor in admission, said David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Mr. Hawkins said it is common for schools to interview candidates, but not many require it for admission. Those that do tend to be elite.

“The competition for seats at those colleges is so keen and the number of applications is so high that those colleges are paying that much closer attention to who they let in,” Mr. Hawkins said.

With many high school seniors sending out multiple applications to increase their chances for acceptance, interviewing students can give administrators a better idea of a student’s commitment to their institution. Morehouse’s acceptance rate of 48 percent last year is on par with the national average.

“It’s tough to determine who’s serious,” he said.

However, Morehouse’s student body vice president, Tony C. Anderson, is worried that his school’s new interview policy could hurt the chances of free-spirited, independent-minded candidates of being accepted over potential students who show up wearing a business suit, no facial hair and are more inclined to conform.

“What about the free expression of a student?” Mr. Anderson asked. “College is a very fragile period in a person’s development. It’s about testing the boundaries of who you are.”

Mr. Daughtry said he won’t let stereotypes prejudice his screening.

“Some concerns are simply generational,” Mr. Daughtry said, like the young men wearing earrings who raised eyebrows when he was an undergraduate. “But that does not speak to what’s in their hearts, what’s in their character, their level of integrity.”

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