WFU professor/leader retiring after nearly 40 years
Dr. Herman Eure shattered the glass ceiling at Wake Forest University 39 years ago.
The then-27 year old made school history in 1974 when he became the school’s first full-time African American male faculty member. (The late Dr. Dolly McPherson, an African American female, joined the WFU faculty around the same time.) Now, the biology professor’s storied career is coming to a close. Eure is retiring, leaving behind legacy of championing diversity, inclusion and equality at Wake Forest.
“It’s been a great run; I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve had great colleagues, extraordinary students, and I hope that I’m leaving Wake Forest, in terms of my faculty position, better than it was when I came, and I think I am. I think I have.”
Eure, a native of Corapeake and the seventh of 10 children, earned his doctorate at WFU with the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation. He was one of just a few black students.
“My parents had taught us that we could do whatever we wanted, so I just deflected that material. That was their problem, not mine,” he said of the discrimination he encountered. “…What I thought about me was more important than what they thought about me, so I would never let that racial thing hit me and stick.”
Despite the challenges he faced, Eure pressed on, with the words of his father ringing in his ears: [pullquote]“The only way for a black man to get ahead is to go to college.”[/pullquote]
Eure completed his degree and was hired almost immediately by the university. Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson said the school wanted very much for Eure to become a part of the Wake Forest family.
“It was a period when nationally, we were experiencing the various activities of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Wilson, a member of the Class of 1943. “…Wake Forest, I think, recognized that things were changing and we wanted to change with them.”
Eure said he accepted the post, partially because he too wanted to help affect change at the university.
“I came with this naïve notion that I was going to be this savior for black kids because I had been involved in campus demonstrations and the Civil Rights Movement and things of that nature,” he recalled. “(However), one of the greatest impacts that I saw was on white kids because they had never been taught by anybody who was black who had an advanced degree.”
As a faculty member, Eure participated in civil rights related activities, just as he had as a student. He helped African American students to organize and rally and fight for equality, using tools he picked up as an undergrad at Maryland State College (now University of Maryland Eastern Shore).
“I went to an all black school. All the student leaders were black kids, so we got trained on how to be leaders. They taught us about confidence and being confident,” he said.
In 1977, he helped to found WFU’s Office of Minority Affairs, now the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which sought to boost the school’s diversity levels by attracting bright, talented African Americans to the campus. He served four years as associate dean for Faculty Development, expanding his efforts to recruit black faculty. There was no margin for error with respect to recruiting minorities in those days, Eure said, so he and his team had to be extremely selective in recruiting.
“The assumption was that anyone who was not a majority person wasn’t as competent. We knew that anyone we recruited had to be head and shoulders above the average,” he said. “I knew where to find people, so it just worked. It’s a lot of work, but the end result is that you get some faculty members who look like you.”
As provost, Wilson, a staunch supporter of diversifying the university’s faculty, was one of Eure’s strongest allies.
“I believed in it,” Wilson said simply. “I felt that Wake Forest should integrate, that it was an academic and moral obligation.”
Wilson said Eure did his best to make the black students and faculty members feel at home there. He believes Eure’s tireless commitment to diversity and unflinching dedication to inclusion and equality will be his greatest legacy as a faculty member.
“I think the most important thing for the university was to see us successfully through the integration of the university,” Wilson said. “That, clearly, is what he will be most remembered and appreciated for.”
Jacquelyn Fetrow, dean of Wake Forest College, said she will miss Eure’s presence as both a leader of the campus community and a friend.
“Herman is one of the most thoughtful leaders I know,” she said. “He is understanding of people’s needs and situations, but he also understands high levels of scholarship and the needs of the institution … and he has worked very hard to balance those three things.”
Eure will stay on as a research professor, and continue serving on the doctoral committees of two current students, but will no longer teach classes.
“I don’t see myself as ever leaving Wake Forest,” he said. “In a sense, I will always have some sort of attachment to Wake Forest because I believe in Wake Forest. I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I didn’t.”