Will Malveaux’s Popularity Bode Well for HBCU?

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, 53, the MIT-trained economist and nationally recognized writer, syndicated columnist, radio talk-show host, and TV personality, may not have seemed like the logical choice to succeed Dr. Johnnetta Cole as president of the historically black college Bennett College for Women, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Observers, however, point out that her high visibility may make up for her lack of fundraising and traditional academic experience.

Both Cole and Malveaux are very charismatic individuals, excellent speakers, and inspirational role models for young women, points out Dr. Margaret Simms, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists member. But while Cole came to Bennett with traditional academic experience, Malveaux comes from a mass-media career that is atypical for a college president. Cole had been a faculty member, researcher, university administrator, and Spelman College president. Malveaux made her mark in broadcasting as a popular commentator and pundit. “Dr. Malveaux connects to some nonacademic audiences in ways Dr. Cole may not have done,” says Simms. “It can bring new supporters to Bennett. It could bring new kinds of visibility to the college, and that would help boost the institution.”
BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists member Dr. William Spriggs finds Malveaux’s lack of administrative experience to be an advantage. “Not every president of an HBCU has been from an academic background and [Malveaux] has taught here at Howard and at Bennett,” says Spriggs, who is also chairman of Howard University’s Department of Economics. He uses as an example the appointment of Dr. Charles A. Hines, a major general with a 38-year U.S. Army career, who became the 1994–2002 president of Prairie View A&M University. Hines successfully rebuilt the Texas university’s infrastructure, created academic programs, and stabilized its finances.
About not coming from the traditional college administrator background, Hines says, “I find that leadership is leadership. Sometimes people who come from different backgrounds are able to see problems far clearer than those who have been raised in that particular environment, and they are less afraid to venture out and make decisions and to change the status quo.”

Fundraising and increasing enrollment are critical priorities for the college, says Gracie Coleman, the Bennett trustee who chaired its presidential selection committee. Cole raised $44 million to rescue the private historically black college from a $2 million annual budget deficit and academic probation status. Because none of the 72 mainly women candidates had the same level of fundraising experience as Cole, the succession committee assessed contenders’ potential to become effective fundraisers. Malveaux came very prepared, doing a lot more homework on Bennett than any of the other candidates. “The quality, vision, and creativity in that presentation was a big plus in our decision-making in choosing Dr. Malveaux, ” says Coleman, who adds that the decision was unanimous and students participated in the interviewing process as well as the succession committee. The CEOs of two corporate supporters were also part of the succession management committee.

Malveaux says she’s more than ready to tackle funding issues. “I believe that