Audrey Forbes Manley, M.D., is a former student, activist alumna,
trustee, and widow of a former Spelman College president. Now she’s in
charge, but after more than a year in office, some observers still
don’t know what she’s about.
They called it an inauguration, but it was ore like a coronation.
After a relationship with Spelman College that dates back to 1950,
Audrey Forbes Manley, M.D., was officially installed Oct. 31, as the
college’s eighth and first alumna president.
Rarely has a higher education president been as intricately linked
to a college as Manley. Her April 1997 appointment capped an
affiliation with Spelman that has seen her wear many hats — including
those of student, activist alumna, trustee, and first lady. When she
was married to long-time Spelman President Dr. Albert Manley, his
encouragement was instrumental in her participation on important
committees for the school.
And although she has held such key positions as Acting Surgeon
General in the Clinton administration, Manley say’s she feels like, “I
never really left Spelman and I think Dr. Albert Manley had a lot to do
Albert Manley, Spelman’s president from 1953 until 1976, died in April 1997. The two were married in 1970.
This was the third time Manley was asked to consider the
presidency. On two previous occasions she demurred, saying she wanted
to devote more time to her medical career.
“Everything was right this time,” Manley says. “I talked to the
search committee and the more I heard, the more I realized that this is
something I should consider seriously and that was an opportunity to
make a contribution to my alma mater. It would come full circle, but I
was coming home with a lot.”
But her late husband’s isn’t the only shadow from which she has to
emerge. Manley replaced the popular Dr. Johnnetta Cole as Spelman’s
president. During her 10-year tenure, Cole raised the national profile
of Spelman, as well as a record $114 million in a capital campaign.
And now, after a year at the helm of Spelman, some are questioning
Manley’s leadership style in the aftermath of an almost-complete
turnover among senior administrators.
In the days leading up to her inauguration, Manley seemed very
relaxed. Standing on the porch of her on-campus home, Reynolds Cottage,
the bright sun accentuates her reddish-brown hair and girlish freckles.
Her softblue, Spelman-colors suit is a stark contrast to the Navy blue
uniform she wore as the Acting U.S. Surgeon General.
In a span of about five minutes, Manley notes how beautiful the
flowers on campus arc, addresses campus workers by name, and implores
staff members to tell jokes. As a group of students walk by and wave,
she gives the push-it-up gesture, so popular among college students.
“She is very professional and cares a lot about Spelman,” says
Marci Smith, a 21-year-old music major. “She is going to take this
college to new and better heights.”
A Lifetime’s Preparation
Manley’s ongoing relationship with Spelman began in 1950, when,
while still a high school senior in Jackson, Miss., she heard the
Spelman Glee Club sing.
“I knew then that this was the place for me,” she recalled.
The following year, Manley enrolled at Spelman on a voice
scholarship. When she graduated in 1955, she embarked on a career in
medicine, receiving her medical degree from Meharry Medical College.
Manley’s 30-year medical career includes several key leadership
positions in the U.S. Public Health Service — including being named
the first African American woman Assistant Surgeon General. During her
tenure in the federal government, she established the Office of
Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
and headed a federal task force that rescued Meharry from the brink of
“We are very excited about her being our first alumna president,”
says Pearline Davis, president of the National Alumnae Association of
Spelman College. “We think that her whole life has been in preparation
Founded in 1881, Spelman, a historically Black all-women’s college,
anchors the six-school Atlanta University Center and consistently ranks
among the country’s best liberal arts colleges. This year’s freshman
class has an average SAT score of 1,106, well above the national
average. The alumni rolls include the likes of Marian Wright Edelman,
founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Pulitzer Prize-winning
author Alice Walker.
While well known to the Black community, Spelman skyrocketed to
national prominence under Cole, who attracted a $20 million gift from
Camille and Bill Cosby. When she retired as Spelman’s president in
1997, there was a great deal of interest in who among the 125
applicants would be named president. Cole now teaches at nearby Emory
Manley, was ultimately chosen from a group of finalists that
included Dr. Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, vice-chancellor for academic
affairs at the University of California-Los Angeles, and attorney Hazel
O’Leary, the Secretary of Energy during President Bill Clinton’s first
term (See Black Issues, April 3, 1997). O’Leary eventually dropped out
of consideration for the Spelman job.
“I certainly think [Manley] wasted no time picking up the ball and
moving ahead,” says Dr. June Gary Hopps, dean of the Graduate School of
Social Work at Boston College and chair of the Spelman board of
trustees. “She is very goal oriented and assertive. We have been
fortunate to have good leadership in the past and good leadership now.”
Manley says one of the keys to her presidency will be developing a
master plan for the college that will carry the institution well into
the next century.
“A major contribution that I would like to make is that we know
where Spelman College is 50 years from now, so no matter who is
[president], we can move forward,” she says. “When I think about the
future, I think we must re-affirm our founding mission — which is a
commitment to academic excellence, the development of African American
women for leadership, and a commitment to service. That has always been
a part of who we are and what we stand for, and I do not see that
In order to do that, Manley wants to improve an already strong
academic curriculum and invest in technology to make sure that faculty
and students have access to computers. She also wants to make distance
learning more common and to reach out to Africa, South America, the
Caribbean, Europe, and Asia to develop international programs.
“At the same time we are trying to be more global, we have to be
more local — and I don’t like to talk about one without talking about
the other,” says Manley, adding that she is working with community
leaders to revitalize the community around the campus.
Elements of Change
But Manley’s management style, which she says she developed through
her practice of medicine, has also ruffled some feathers. Since she
took over in July 1997, every vice president from the Cole
administration — except for Robert D. Flanigan, vice president for
business and finance, who pre-dated Cole — has either left Spelman for
another job, or did not have their contracts renewed. The directors of
admissions and human resources also left, as has the academic dean and
dean of students. Several other key administrators have been reassigned.
“The first thing you do as a doctor is assess the situation,”
Manley says. “Then you ask questions, and I ask a lot of questions.
Some people don’t like questions. Some like to do things the way they
have always been done.”
However, Dr. Glenda D. Price, who left her post as Spelman’s
provost to become president of Marygrove College in Detroit, says “I
took a cut in pay, because I want to be at a place where my skills
match and I am going to have fun.”
Price, who worked at Spelman for six years, added that she probably would not have left had Cole stayed.
“It is not about money. I didn’t think that was happening for me at Spelman,” she says.
Dr. Freddye Hill, who had been the academic dean, left to become
the dean of the college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. A
1968 Spelman graduate and an administrator there for 10 years, Hill
says Manley periodically sent her job announcements for positions at
other colleges, one of which was for the job she currently holds at
Hill says she had a lot of hope when Manley arrived, but by the
time she left this past June, many students felt they no longer had a
voice in campus decisions and the faculty and staff had been
demoralized and afraid to speak. She says during the previous decade,
Spelman flourished on inspired leadership, sound finances, and open
“For 10 years, Spelman was one of the best run institutions in this
country and I have served at three major institutions, so I can tell
you without a doubt it was one of the best,” says Hill, who still has
friends at Spelman. “I didn’t feel comfortable at Spelman anymore, and
I did not want to work in an environment were I was not respected,
heard or appreciated.”
“Whenever a new president comes in, there is some change. The
changes here are not out of the ordinary,” says Hopps. “The president
has that right [to make changes] and the board voted her that right.”
After decades of working in the federal government, Manley is used
to transitions and says they are rarely easy. She was the director of
the National Health Service Corps when President Ronald Reagan left
office, and was the acting assistant secretary of health when President
Clinton succeeded Bush.
“I have been through many of these and as transitions go, Spelman
had a very successful transition year,” Manley said recently.
“Transitions are not easy and are sometimes very emotional. But at this
point, we have only two vacancies, and I think that is very good.”
Davis says the alumnae are behind Manley and have been pleased with
her performance, a sentiment echoed by Hopps and the board of trustees.
During Manley’s first year, the school raised $17 million, a million
more than it raised the previous year.
“I would say that we have had a pretty good year,” says Hopps.
“Manley has developed a warm relationship with students, faculty, and
alums. And she is grounded enough to realize that her most important
job is to continue to prepare women for roles of leadership in the next
Manley says she is ready for that charge. Days after her historic
inauguration, she says the excitement from the event has her ready to
continue moving Spelman forward.
“Now I know the true meaning of one living one’s destiny,” she
says. “To come back to Spelman at this point and finding out what I can
bring to the college is very rewarding.”
Audrey Forbes Manley, M.D.
PRESIDENT, SPELMAN COLLEGE
B.A. — Spelman College, chemistry, 1955 M.D. — Meharry Medical
College, 1959 M.P.H.–Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and
Public Health, 1987
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics/Gynecology and Obstetrics Howard University School of Medicine
Assistant Professor, Departments of Pediatrics/Gynecology and Obstetrics Emory University School of Medicine
Clinical Assistant Professor, University of California School of
Medicine/Pediatrics Instructor in Pediatrics, Pritzker School of
Medicine, University of Chicago
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT POSITIONS
Deputy Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Acting Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Michele N-K Collison contributed to this story.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com