Morgan's gift continues family tradition of supporting education

Photo of Musette Morgan

Musette Morgan

If you’re making decisions about educational policy changes, who do you turn to for advice?

Musette Morgan (A.B.Ed. ’76) has faced that question. She served for ten years as a member of the Tennessee State Board of Education at a time when that state was enacting a series of school reforms. She found the information and advice the board received from educational policy researchers to be essential.

“We were making huge education policy reforms and their research and their expertise made a tremendous difference,” Morgan said.

Morgan came to appreciate the importance of researchers who devote themselves to evaluating educational policies. The experience helped motivate her in making a gift that enabled the School of Education to secure a new professorship to support such work.

The Morgan Distinguished Professorship in Educational Innovations was made possible by a gift of $350,000 from Morgan and her husband, Allen Morgan. Additional support from an anonymous donor, combined with $250,000 from the C.D. Spangler Foundation allowed the University to secure $333,000 in matching state funds for the $1 million endowment to fund the professorship.

The School will soon be recruiting for a faculty member to fill the position.

Morgan said policymakers need the help that informed educational policy researchers can provide.

“I saw a disconnect in effective research that would lead to good policy making,” she said. “We need to replicate good programs and not throw money after bad ones. It’s just a critical need.”

Bill McDiarmid, dean of the School of Education, said Morgan’s gift would provide the School additional strength in an important area.

“We intend to grow our ability to help inform policymakers as they make decisions regarding our schools,” he said. “There’s a growing interest among the public and their representatives that we do a better job educating all of our children. Having new ability to help foster educational innovation will contribute to those discussions.”

While a native and resident of Memphis, Tenn., Morgan has deep ties to North Carolina. Both of her parents were from North Carolina. One great-grandfather – William Walton Kitchin – served as governor from 1909-1913. Another – James Yadkin Joyner – was the state superintendent of public instruction from 1902-1919.

Her interest in the field of education was sparked in the fifth or sixth grade when she was given the assignment of writing a paper about someone in her family. She chose Joyner, a member of the Carolina Class of 1881 and for whom Joyner Residence Hall is named. She learned that Joyner served during a time of great change in North Carolina schools.

During his term as superintendent of public schools, the state established a high school system, began to certify teachers, extended the school year and instituted compulsory attendance.

“I learned that education was very much a part of my family,” Morgan said.
That new knowledge of her family’s deep involvement with education was strengthened by her own personal experience – working with children each summer during her teens.

Her interest in education continued in college.

But, she wasn’t going to go to Carolina. When it was time for her to choose a college, Morgan said she knew one thing – she was not going to be a Tar Heel like so many in her family. She wanted to do something different.

But, as so often happens, all it took was a trip to Chapel Hill. She came to town to visit her two older sisters, then Carolina students, who were going to take her to other campuses.

“One visit and it was love at first sight,” she said. “Just driving onto the campus I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”

Morgan majored in education. She went on to get a master’s and a doctorate in education from Memphis State University, now called The University of Memphis. She has taught at the college level. Her service on the Tennessee State Board of Education included chairing a Parent Involvement Initiative and the Committee on School Violence.

She and her husband are longtime supporters of Carolina. She has remained involved with the School of Education, including serving on its Foundation Board.

Among their gifts, they established the James Yadkin Joyner Fellowship in Educational Policy in 2003 and the Morgan Writer in Residence Program through the College of Arts and Sciences, which has brought a succession of notable writers to Chapel Hill.

“Musette Morgan has demonstrated time and again her devotion to education by supporting our School,” said Wendy Gratz Borman, assistant dean for external relations. “The Morgan investment is an example of what enables the School of Education to continue to build and expand into this important area.”

Morgan called choosing to support the professorship in educational innovations an easy decision.

“I just saw the need,” she said. “I’ve been talking a long time about the need for more strength in this area.

“This is very exciting to me.”