From Professor to Provost, Hongtao Yu shares his 25 year education journey

Yu’s path to his new position as Provost of Morgan State University began in his early days of research and training from his mentors.


Courtesy of Morgan State University

Hongtao Yu was appointed to Morgan State University’s next provost and senior vice president for academic affairs effective September 1, 2021.

Alana Bynes-Richardson, Campus News Editor

After a two-month internal search for Morgan State University’s next provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Hongtao Yu was appointed into the position, effective September 1, 2021. 

Almost six months later, Yu reflects on his first semester and explains the path that brought him here.

With over 25 years in the higher education field and an extensive background in research, Yu believes his experience is what led him to become Morgan’s provost. 

By retaining the training and advice from his mentors, he was able to cultivate a distinguished career that made him uniquely fit for this position.

Looking at his curriculum vitae, one might wonder why Yu has continued to pursue a career in higher education and what he gains from it.

“My purpose is to educate disadvantaged students. I grew up in a very disadvantaged neighborhood. I just want to give them the best opportunity,” said Yu.

While Morgan is on the rise with its highest ever retention and graduation rates, there are still some setbacks the university faces as a historically black college and university (HBCU.)

However, Yu is not concerned with navigating these supposed obstacles. Before he began teaching and advising at Morgan, Yu spent over 20 years as a professor, and then chair, at Jackson State University, an HBCU in Mississippi. 

“As I am deeply rooted in HBCU life, I understand the challenges ahead. I worked with so many students to bring them up from where they were. Although it is a different culture, I understand…” said Yu. 

Yu received his baccalaureate degree from the chemistry department at the University of Science and Technology of China, his master’s degree from the Institute of Chemistry from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his doctorate from the Institute for Organic and Biochemistry at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. 

Although his academic affairs dream started when he was young, it was after he received his bachelor’s that Yu realized he wanted to work with students. His father was a teacher and held the profession to high regard. 

When he was abroad, Yu’s focus was on research. But after obtaining an associate professor job at a university, there was more research to be done. 

Yu learned the social aspects of higher education and also bring his perspective as an international educator. 

Once he became a department chair, his interest in administration grew. 

“I am a people person, I work well with people. I am also an objective person. My passion and love for their wellbeing is what helped me become a department chair, then dean; now provost,” said Yu.  

No matter the title, Yu is determined to make a big impact on different levels. His duty as provost means there is more work to be done for all the schools, and much of it. His goal aligns with the university’s. 

The university recently shared its extensive plan to transform Morgan within the next 10 years. Six of the university’s goals include enhancing student success, implementing faculty and staff development, elevating Morgan’s status to R1 doctoral research university, expanding a campus-wide infrastructure to increase overall institutional capacity, serving as the premier anchor institution for Baltimore City and accelerating global education initiatives.

While singing praises to President Wilson, Yu mentioned his plan to work with him and the deans, faculty and chairs of each department and place Morgan in its best possible position. 

Yu is set to follow the six strategic goals the university and President Wilson has implemented. In particular, he wants to follow through so Morgan can become an anchor institution in Baltimore and top research university in the country. 

Individually, Yu remains focused on the student and faculty’s mental health, a problem that has gained more attention since the beginning of the pandemic. He would also like to reorganize the people that report directly to him and place them in a more proper position to maximize their potential. 

Yu continues to stay true to himself and his motto as he receives numerous awards and honors. He believes he is a tool for faculty and staff to rally around and follow the six strategic goals while providing whatever they need in order to improve their talents and service. 

His message to students and faculty follows, “Be a servant leader. I am a servant first. I want to serve by example. I serve the students, faculty, staff and administration. I always think the best of people and want them to do the best they can.”