In a move that surprised many within academia, Bennett College trustees have named noted commentator and economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux president of the women’s college, effective June 1. Malveaux is best known for her numerous appearances on CNN and BET, and her columns have appeared regularly in USA Today, Ms. Magazine, Essence and this publication, Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. Malveaux replaces retiring Bennett College President Johnnetta Cole, whose leadership is credited with bringing Bennett back from the brink of deaccreditation and fiscal insolvency.
Though many unfamiliar with Bennett’s presidential search progress expressed surprise upon hearing of the selection, Malveaux was received enthusiastically by hundreds of cheering students, faculty and staff members who assembled on campus Monday morning for her formal introduction.
“I couldn’t be more pleased and more humbled by the reception that I got in Steele Hall this morning. I really couldn’t be more overwhelmed at the lengthy standing response — some of the students I taught here coming out and they were right there, front and center.”
“I think that people were concerned about what transition would be like, Dr. Cole has been such a powerful and phenomenal leader that people were concerned about who would come next and I think that I’ve allayed their concerns,” Malveaux said.
Though many in the Bennett community have come to know Malveaux through her teaching as a diversity-in-residence scholar this past year, some academics familiar with her often-polarizing punditry wonder if her hard-charging style will mesh well with the demands put upon a college president.
“She can be controversial at times, and she has issues with conservatives, because they see her as a neo-liberal,” says Dr. Lavonne Jackson Leslie, a professor in Howard University’s African-American studies department. “She is a Black feminist, and that is important in many ways, but at the same time … she’s controversial to many.”
Malveaux’s “reputation in the Black community is mixed, I would say. I believe the criticism might come from mainstream America, especially those involved with politics, because this is like a political move in many ways.”
Nevertheless, Malveaux, aided by her celebrity status, is poised to continue the successful fund-raising drives started by her predecessor.
“I have seen her impact with the corporate community as a part of our chief diversity officer’s forum where she speaks often, so I know that she will be an effective fund raiser. She makes an impact, she’s impressive, she works well with people, and so I have no doubt that she will carry on the tradition Dr. Cole has started with significant fund raising here at Bennett College,” says Dr. Arthur Affleck, Bennett’s vice president for institutional development.
However, Leslie says Malveaux will have to overcome a view in academic circles that despite her MIT doctorate in economics, she’s seen “more as a journalist, versus an academician.” Nevertheless, Malveaux says her plans to a continue Bennett’s momentum around fund raising, revamp Bennett’s curriculum to include a freshman research and writing seminar by the fall of 2008, and take a listen, learn, and lead approach will win over the entire community as it won over Bennett’s board.
“I have been a faculty member … given 1,000 campus speeches. Certainly the work that I did at Diverse Issues was very helpful, I covered higher education for 15 years, and if you look at the range of my columns, you’ll see something that’s quite comprehensive that deals with things as minor as the pay of graduate students to as major as the survival of historically Black colleges and universities.
Aside from running her own consulting business, Malveaux serves on the boards of the Economic Policy Institute, Women Building for the Future — Future PAC, The Recreation Wish List Committee of Washington, D.C., and the Liberian Education Trust.
“I think that my entire background [makes] a perfect pairing for Bennett and for me,” she added.
Current President Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole said, “Serving as the 14th president of Bennett College for Women has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I deeply respect the mission of this ever so special institution and I will always feel close to the Bennett College Family. It is with full confidence in Dr. Julianne Malveaux that I will ‘pass the baton’ to her to continue to lead Bennett College to the height of her possibilities.”
Malveaux received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Boston College and is the author of two column anthologies: Sex, Lies, and Stereotypes: Perspectives of a Mad Economist (1994) and Wall Street, Main Street, and the Side Street: A Mad Economist Takes a Stroll (1999). She is most recently the co-author of Unfinished Business: A Democrat and A Republican Take On the 10 Most Important Issues Women Face (2002).
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