Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Meharry's Persistence Pays Off

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Meharry's Persistence Pays Off

Article excerpt

Alumnus' son takes helm of medical college.

NASHVILLE, TENN.

When Meharry Medical College launched its search for a new president, the search committee refused to drop Dr. Wayne Riley from the list of more than 100 prospects, despite Riley's repeated insistence - in phone conversations and written correspondence - that he did not want the job.

Riley had everything Meharry wanted to take it to the next level. The New Orleans native was politically savvy, having worked for five years alongside the late Ernest "Dutch" Morial, the first Black mayor of New Orleans. Riley had four degrees, from Morehouse, Rice, Tulane and Yale universities, with an M.D. and MBA in the mix. He had loads of practical experience on the front lines of delivering and improving health care for the poor and underserved, most recendy working in Houston with Hurricane Katrina evacuees. To boot, his father, the late Dr. Emile Riley Jr., was a 1960 Meharry grad.

Meharry's persistence paid off.

"This particular place, at this particular time in history, is the right place for me," Riley, 48, told Diverse about his new capacity as president and CEO of Meharry. "In a spiritual sense, after a lot of reflection, prayer, talking witii people around the country, I offered myself to Meharry."

Riley, who took office Jan. 1, was officially inaugurated last month at a major ceremony held in the city's new Schermerhorn Symphony Center. As a testament to the city's enthusiasm for the school's new leader, the event was attended by some 1,800 people, including the governor, mayor, top business movers and shakers from around the region, and education, religious and civic leaders from around the nation. It was one of the most impressive events staged in the city in years and generated a quarter of a million dollars for the school's scholarship fund after expenses, school officials say.

"He is an outstanding young visionary," says Dr. Nelson Adams, a Miami physician and Meharry graduate who is president of the National Medical Association, the professional trade group of Black physicians in America. "He's the right person at the right time for Meharry," says Adams, echoing the sentiments of others.

"He's young, vibrant, learned and energetic," says Dr. T.B. Boyd III, who has been a member of the Meharry Board of Trustees for 25 years. "Everything he's undertaken so far has been successful and on a first-class level."

With a stellar track record of performance behind him and high expectations ahead, Riley, who came to Meharry from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has had what he calls an "aggressive" 10 months as Meharry's 10th president.

Less than two weeks after his official start, he inked a five-year labor contract with the school's service employees, ending an 18montii stalemate he politely attributed to too many lawyers in the mix. He has installed a small management team of skilled go-getters, nearly all of them from outside the school's ranks. Becoming a familiar face all over the city, he has met with the local newspaper, the governor, legislative Black Caucus and traveled to Washington. As important, he's an ever-present face around the campus, making what employees call "rally" rounds.

"It was important to get around and get Meharry known," says Riley. "It's amazing to me that, in 2007, even people in Nashville don't know about Meharry and its contributions. …

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