Dillard University President on Legacy, Culture, and Pushing Through The Pandemic
The importance of education for Blacks cannot be underestimated and is best described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as such, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
Nothing could be truer to Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, the current president of Dillard University, an HBCU (historically Black college or university) in New Orleans that was founded on the belief that every individual deserves access to a college or higher education. Dr. Kimbrough, who’s originally from Atlanta, holds several degrees from the University of Georgia, Miami University in Ohio, and a Doctorate in Higher Education from Georgia State University. Dr. Kimbrough has excelled in his career in student affairs, serving at Emory University, Old Dominion University, Philander Smith College, Georgia State University, Albany State University, and ultimately as the president of Dillard University.
Here’s what Dr. Kimbrough had to say to us about his career, the pandemic, and Dillard University.
Can you tell us about yourself and your position?
Kimbrough: I am a native of Atlanta. My dad was a United Methodist minister and my mom was a computer software specialist before becoming a professor of religion at Clark Atlanta. I went to college to become a veterinarian but ended up pursuing a career in student affairs, which eventually led to me becoming a president in 2004….and the current president of Dillard University in New Orleans, where I have been for over eight years.”
How has the pandemic impacted your university?
We have actually fared well. The Federal support for HBCUs, in particular, helped us maintain operations as being in school is important for our students. We have some students who have significant food and housing security challenges, so being open was important. Additional funding also helped students pay for their education and potentially reduce loans. We have made additional investments in technology and
continue to build a more robust platform, but we were ready to move online last spring due to the technology we had in place. This was an example of a benefit of living in hurricane country because we have to be prepared to operate remotely in case of an evacuation.
How has your engagement been with the student body?
This year has been hard due to distancing. Dillard, like many HBCUs, is built on strong relationships. We are in New Orleans, which has its own strong culture of relationships, a place where everyone kisses each other. So not being able to be fully Southern, fully HBCU, and fully New Orleans has made the experience different. I think we all are very ready to get past this pandemic so that we can experience the closeness this campus
What else would you like to share about Dillard University?
Dillard University is an awesome place. We are usually one of the top two national liberal arts HBCUs by Washington Monthly, and one of the top institutions of any type for social mobility. We are one of the top producers of Black graduates with degrees in physics. We’re one of a handful of HBCUs with a film program as we are located in Hollywood South. We have the oldest nursing program in Louisiana and the oldest HBCU speech and theatre program. Our pre-law program has received national awards and grants.