By Ashleigh Fields,
AFRO Assistant Editor

Author, histographer and visionary Ben Vinson III, Ph.D., was recently selected as the 18th president of Howard University, effective Sept. 1. 

Vinson previously served as a faculty member at Barnard College and Pennsylvania State University before moving to Johns Hopkins University, where he helped found their Center for Africana Studies and served as its inaugural director. One of his most notable projects there was funded by the Mellon Foundation with the objective to digitize the AFRO archives dating back over 115 years.

“His vast experience and proven track record in academic leadership make him the ideal candidate to lead our esteemed institution into the future,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University. “I am confident that Howard will continue to thrive under his guidance as a premier center for higher learning and innovation.” 

The Howard University Board of Trustees unanimously voted to appoint Vinson as president on May 1. He was vetted by a presidential search committee with the help of executive search firm Isaacson Miller.

“As a member of the presidential search committee, it was of utmost importance to me to choose a president who was personable, eager to build relationships with students and able to meet students where they are,” said Jordyn Allen, 62nd executive president of the Howard University Student Association (HUSA).

Although Vinson was well received by the Howard community, some alumni were hoping to see a woman selected to be the next leader of the University. 

The only female to serve as president at Howard was Joyce Ladner, a civil rights activist and sociologist who served as interim president in 1994, but was not selected to serve in the position permanently. The following year she was appointed to the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority to oversee the financial restructuring of the D.C. public school system.

In May of 2022, Fred Outten an alumnus in the class of 1999 wrote an op-ed for the campus newspaper proclaiming the dire need for a woman’s influence.

“Given HU’s rich history in civil rights and in its development of countless students into strong leaders in all aspects of our society, NOW MORE THAN EVER, we need a stable and strong Howard University in these especially racially challenging and turbulent times,” wrote Outten. “There is and has always been a tremendous list of extraordinary Black women candidates prepared and willing to carry the Torch!”

Outten’s call for a female president is still being echoed today. Some are in favor of rescinding Vinson’s appointment calling for a Black woman to be selected.

#HowardU1stBlackWomanPrez’18 Campaign, issued a May 11 statement that read, “Howardites everywhere are outraged, extremely insulted and deeply disappointed by the sudden HU Board of Trustees’ announcement on May 2, 2023, that it hired yet another man to be its 18th President, Dr. Ben Vinson III.” 

The University shared that the selection process took 12 months and was widely inclusive of all genders, but found Vinson was the best fit citing his ability to resonate with students in addition to staff.

Vinson prides himself on bridging the gap between minority students and high level research opportunities. In 2013, Vinson served as Dean of the George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences where he oversaw the development of a $275 million, 500,000-square-foot facility dedicated to research. 

“Dr. Vinson is an accomplished higher education leader; historian of the African diaspora with a focus on Blacks in Latin America; and the provost, executive vice president and Hiram C. Haydn professor of history at Case Western Reserve University,” shared Laurence Morse chairman of the Howard University board of trustees in a statement to the University community.

Case Western is a private university in Cleveland, Ohio. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Higher Education recognized the institution as an R1 university at the forefront of research and innovation. Although Vinson has never attended or been employed by an HBCU, he notes his experiences raising while raising children has prepared him to identify with members of the University community.

“There are so many ways in which being a parent and a father gives you insight to our modern students, the conversations about race, about politics,” said Vinson. “Being able to know when to guide, when to let go, when to lean in, when to listen, these are some of the things that through my own experience as a father, I think I also bring to the job as the president.”

Vinson describes himself as a “champion of faculty” and shared that he could not wait to join “the constellation of stars that are teaching at Howard University.” As he relocates to D.C. with his wife, Yolanda and three children, he is eager to make an impact.

“When you look at the legion of HBCUs that exist Howard stands tall, when I think of Howard, I think of excellence and I think of leadership and I think of the pinnacle of education of possibilities in this world,” said Vinson. “Our world needs Howard at maximum strength.”

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