Walter Kimbrough, one of the highest-profile college presidents in the country elevated by his activity on social media and takes on the intersections of pop culture and higher education, will resign as president of Dillard University effective next May.
“Watching the Olympics also reminds me that the presidency is also a relay. Some are like the swimming relays, where the new swimmer dives right in,” Kimbrough said in a statement issued with the university’s release. “This is what happens when there is a sudden need for a new leader. But ideally, it looks more like a track relay, where the runner with the baton runs at full speed and the next runner begins to run in the transition zone so that when the baton is passed in the zone they are both running. Only after the exchange can the previous runner slow down.”
Kimbrough was appointed in 2012 to lead the private liberal arts institution in New Orleans. Under his leadership, the university experienced gains in philanthropy and public profile, last year breaking its institutional record for single-day philanthropy.
Enrollment at the institution remained relatively stable, with fall total headcount standing at 1,307 during his first year in office, and 1,225 in 2019, the last year of reported statistics offered by the U.S. Department of Education.
“Walter is an innovative leader who has made an indelible impact on Dillard University,” said alumnus and board chairman Michael D. Jones. “His commitment to our mission has resulted in significant growth financially, academically, and in the community. I am excited about Dillard’s future as we enter this next era of leadership.”
Last month, Kimbrough joined renowned author Malcolm Gladwell to discuss the frailty and fraud of the U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings, and their specific misrepresentation of historically Black institutions.
Last year, Kimbrough drew national attention as an advocate for Black Americans considering the covid-19 vaccine. He, along with Xavier University President C. Reynold Verret, volunteered in clinical vaccine trials and drew a blend of praise and criticism for their role in encouraging HBCU students and alumni to consider experimental inoculation.
Earlier that year, Kimbrough made headlines for his criticism of Texas Southern University and its handling of former president Austin Lane.
“But let me issue this public warning to anyone who would consider being president at Texas Southern. Stay away until they clean the board,” he wrote in Diverse Issues. Don’t get caught up in the idea of wanting to be a president, because any president working under this board is asking for a tenure filled with micromanaged misery. Chances are you will suffer a similar fate, and there will be no one to advocate on your behalf. Fit is critical to a successful presidency.”
It was his second public criticism of an HBCU board over a four-year period, following an equally scathing 2016 review of the board at Alabama State University.
“As things stand today, there is absolutely no way I would recommend anyone to seek the presidency of Alabama State University. In fact, it could be career suicide. Any time you watch a board take seemingly arbitrary actions, with the students, faculty, staff and alumni rallying together asking for answers and this same board ignoring them, it is troubling, to say the least.”
“Good candidates will talk to respected leaders in the field. Good candidates will read years of news stories in the Advertiser in online archives. And good candidates will realize that their careers are not worth risking for Alabama State. That is a tragedy.”
A month earlier, Kimbrough was at the center of controversy when a political debate featuring former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke drew crowds of protestors to the campus and resulted in dozens of students being pepper-sprayed.
As a fraternity hazing expert Kimbrough has been at the forefront of a number of cases involving severe injury or death resulting from college pledging, including the 2011 death of former Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion.
Kimbrough was an expert witness in the 1998 hazing case of FAMU clarinet player Ivery Luckey, hospitalized for 11 days with kidney failure after he was paddled during an initiation ritual.
“There is a major hazing-culture problem on this campus,” Kimbrough said. “This has to be a wake-up call.”
In 2014, Kimbrough was named Male President of the Year during the annual HBCU Awards held at the campus, and according to his executive biography, has been listed among America’s top Black professionals in industry and pop culture.
His announcement comes more than a week after accusations from a former dean charged Kimbrough and members of the executive team with academic fraud, nepotism, and the provision of false information to accreditors.