Today’s a big day at Bennett College: It’s the first day of the new presidency of Suzanne Walsh.
I've haven't seen anything about Walsh's arrival on Bennett's website or any of its social media channels. As of Tuesday, though, Walsh was packed and ready to fly from Seattle to Greensboro to start her new job:
Good morning #BennettBelles! 💙🔔Who else is getting packed and ready for the new academic year @BennettCollege? What is the one thing you HAVE to bring? Post your pics.— Suzanne Walsh (@sewsueme) July 30, 2019
See you all very soon on campus & over at my new @BennettPres_SEW pic.twitter.com/XNctkFBByT
Any social media or other honeymoon probably won't last too long. Walsh takes over a women’s college that faces deep, intertwined and immediate concerns over enrollment, finances and accreditation.
Walsh, meanwhile, is Bennett’s fourth president since Julianne Malveaux left in 2012, not counting three interims, two of whom ended up with the president's job permanently. Moreover, Walsh arrives after the fastest higher ed presidential search I’ve seen. Bennett announced that it had hired Walsh just six days after dumping its last president, Phyllis Worthy Dawkins. Here's the official Bennett press release on the Walsh hire.
I haven't met Walsh. Her one day of media availability came during my vacation, and I'm hoping to get up with her sometime later this month. A few folks have interviewed her:
• Here's the N&R editorial written by Allen Johnson, who interviewed her:
"(S)he seems absolutely thrilled to take on a task that she acknowledges won’t be easy. ...
During an interview, she brimmed with ideas. But she also said she had no illusions. “I expect that at some point every single person will be resistant,” Walsh said. “Change is hard. Change is about loss.”
Here's the piece from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website mentioned in the editorial. (Walsh's last employer was the Gates Foundation, where she was deputy director for post secondary success.) And here's a short write-up from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, where Walsh spoke at commencement in 2017. (Her commencement address is referenced in the Gates article.)
• WGHP (Fox, Channel 8) interviewed her here: "We want to make sure that we're setting the right plans moving forward to stabilize the institution and also to re-imagine and reinvent the institution for the future." She also talked a bit her personal and professional connections to historically black colleges.
• WFMY (CBS, Channel 2) talked to her here. Once again, she mentioned the words "stabilize" and "future." I'm sensing a theme!
One raised eyebrow, and it's a big one, comes from Jarrett Carter Sr., the founding editor of HBCU Digest, which covers all things related to historically black colleges and universities. Carter wrote about Bennett's board of trustees on his Patreon page, and the N&R reprinted his column here. Carter lays out the tough task in front of Walsh, who has worked with but never for a four-year college or university:
"But most of all, she’ll be ... working to find a way to resist the same problematic impulses of the board that over the years led to Bennett being in this financial crisis, while stretching to enact its will in strategic and operational vision.
"All of this would be a tall order for an experienced president, let alone a first-time college CEO with no extensive executive apprenticeships on a campus prior to her appointment."
Bennett's fall semester classes start Aug. 19. I'm hoping to have a story written on Walsh by about then.