Author, columnist and economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux closes the chapter on Bennett College for Women. She resigned from the historically black all-women’s college in Greensboro, North Carolina, February 28, at a town hall meeting. With doors shut to the public, this bittersweet moment was shared strictly amongst faculty, students and staff.
Dr. Malveaux granted the Bennett Banner, the Bennett College online newspaper, a one-on-one 20-minute interview eight days after making the announcement.
The Boston College and MIT alumna started off the interview with why it was time to leave.
“I always tell people that God brought me to Bennett, and God is taking me from Bennett. There’s a sense in my soul that it was time. It’s been five years. I probably never really planned to stay more than five years, but then I really got into it and said no I can do this a little longer. But, then I’ve had some health challenges that have been complicating factors as well as the fact that I’m tired.”
Bennett College released a statement highlighting the president’s accomplishments like breaking the 28-year span without any construction on campus by completing a $21 million dollar capital improvement campaign. The money helped build four new buildings and renovate others.
“The opening of this Global Learning Center was a really high point of last year. It’s been full of proud moments.”
The Board of Trustees also credits the president with increasing enrollment and alumnae involvement.
“I think that changes I made at Bennett will withstand the test of time.”
The outgoing president also says she put in five years of 100% into Bennett College, and she had a great time becoming a fixture in the Greensboro community.
“I did get to be a part of many things in the community like the Board of Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the Board of the Greensboro Partnership, things that really allowed me to bring Bennett to the broader community table.”
Dr. Malveaux uses an economic term, “compensating differentials,” to discuss some of the challenges she faced as a college president.
“It just basically means you can’t have everything, so you give up one thing to get another.”
Malveaux says being a college president has restrictions, and she called herself “Malveaux Light” because she began editing herself more. She gave an example using the national column she writes.
“I was going to write something the other day, and it was pretty harsh on [Mitt] Romney. Then, I said you know what I have Republicans on my board. He may well be the nominee. That’s the kind of thing [where] you find yourself editing yourself. On one hand you’re going to be yourself, but what I describe myself as sometimes is ‘Malveaux Light.’ When I’m here it’s sort of like ‘Malveaux Light.’”
One challenge the college faced under Dr. Malveaux’s presidency occurred last summer. In June of 2011, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [SACS] placed the college on a 6-month probation for financial instability. The college was taken off probation by December 2011, and its accreditation was reaffirmed for 2014 after SACS finished its evaluation.
The outgoing president wishes she could’ve focused more on the students during her five-year tenure.
“I think another big challenge we’ve attempted is to really be responsive to students. Now students may have different opinions about that, but we really try to be responsive to students in terms of improving our student activities. The theme used by the college is ‘Students First,’ but of course everything often here boils down to dollars. We haven’t provided students with everything I wish we could have.”
Dr. Malveaux says on top of the normal issues a college president faces, she began battling health issues. She suffers from diabetes.
“Some of you have seen a sense of fatigue in me sometimes. Usually I’m a firecracker-peppy but I’ve had an overwhelming sense of fatigue.”
Battling the disease has brought on some deep regrets.
“I wish that my health had been better this year. I wish that I had been more on top of my game. I think there were occasions when I really and visibly wasn’t, and you know obviously as a strong black woman you want to project that strength at all times.”
President Malveaux says the disease has gotten out of control partly because of stress. She says it’s easy to spot when she’s stressed and not feeling well.
“I turn pale, my shoulders are a little hunched, [and] and sometimes I speak slowly.”
Malveaux says she was hardheaded because she thinks she could have dealt with her health issues earlier.
“I’m like, well it’s going to be okay. You have a great day; you think okay everything’s okay.”
The president says resigning her position will allow her to focus on her health.
“Obviously this is something that I need to manage better. Those things could be managed while I do the job, but I thought about it and said, ‘You know my health comes first.’”
Speculations arose from students regarding her resignation.
“This, in some ways, has been bittersweet. It’s certainly my decision to leave. No one said, ‘You have to go’ or anything. You’ve been doing something for five years, and you look up and you’re saying ‘Okay, what’s next?’“
She responds to the notion that her presidency was short-lived.
“My line is nobody likes change but a wet baby, and even the wet baby cries. So, what I want to say to my students, to my successor and even to me, is the only constant in life is change. A bittersweet moment is sweetened by the notion that change is constant.”
The immediate change taking place on campus is that the Board of Trustees announced that Dr. Esther Terry, the current Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, will assume the role as the Chief Academic Officer. She will be named the Interim President once Dr. Malveaux’s tenure ends after the upcoming commencement ceremony. Dr. Terry is also an alumna of the college, class of 1961.
Dr. James Dixon, the current Chief of Staff, will serve as the Chief Administrative Officer.
Dr. Malveaux will continue to fundraise for the school as her time as president comes to an end, and she had a message on this subject for her full-time replacement.
“My successor will have to be far more focused on fundraising than I was.”
She also left one other message for the 16th President of Bennett College.
“Your students deserve the best. Know it and insist on it and push for it with vigor.”
She reminisced on some of her proud moments while at Bennett College.
“Certainly my installation, the first graduation…was just tremendous. When we were able to find the matching funds to renovate the JMS [Journalism and Media Studies] building. That was amazing. Our Women’s Leadership Conferences have been proud moments. We’ve brought people to campus. It’s been great to be able to host my friends like the Dysons [Dr. Michael Eric Dyson & Rev. Marcia L. Dyson], and Rev. [Jessie] Jackson, Cornell West, Susan Taylor. I mean the list goes on. To host them and kind of show off and brag about Bennett…a lot more people know about Bennett than they did before.”
Malveaux says she’s also changed in a number of ways over the last five years.
“I’m kinder-gentler; some say I am and some say I’m not. I think that I’ve become more measured. Early on one of the reporters wrote that my style was ready, fire, aim. I didn’t like that very much, but it may well have been the truth. But, I think I’ve calmed down. I think I’ve softened.”
She says she also learned a lot from her students.
“I think I see the value of teens a lot more. Being here has not only made it more important for me to listen to young voices but also more imperative. The young people are indeed our future.”
The outgoing president says she’s excited to figure out what’s next for her.
“I’ve gotten in conversation with a couple folks about a book [and] conversations about some other writings. I’m boogieing at the Essence Music Festival, and you know I will say waiting to see how life happens. I’ve got a web page that I’ve had for years that we’re going to keep current, and we’ll have columns on it and other stuff.”
Dr. Malveaux says she would also look at the possibility of working with President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. She also talked about continuing to help young women.
“I mentor a lot of young women both here at the college and other places, and as I leave Bennett I’ll step that up. I need to do a little bit more of that.”
President Julianne Malveaux says she’s going to miss the Bennett College students, and left them with the following charge.
“Love Bennett and always lift her up. This is a tremendous place. I think the young people who study here are special and deserve the best. Always know you deserve the best and insist on it.”
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By: Dominique Mackey