DSU president Williams stepping down to lead Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Delaware State University President Dr. Harry Williams waves while walking in the 2017 DSU Homecoming Parade in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Current president of Delaware State University, Dr. Harry Williams, will be leaving the school to take a position as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s (TMCF) new president and CEO in mid-January.

According to the TMCF, the news came in a surprise announcement at the organization’s 30th Anniversary Awards Gala on Monday night in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Williams will lead TMCF’s 47 member-schools — the schools represent nearly 300,000 students from America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions, and enroll nearly 80 percent of all students attending HBCUs. He will be charged with building new strategic partnerships to secure millions of dollars creating scholarships, enhancing capacity, expanding HBCU research initiatives, and stimulating innovative programming. Dr. Williams will also lead TMCF’s K-12 public education reform efforts, and its pipeline programming for Fortune 500 companies seeking highly qualified employees for increasingly diverse US and international markets.

TMCF’s outgoing president, Johnny Taylor Jr., said he is pleased that Dr. Williams will be following him as the organization’s CEO.

“While there were several reasons why we found Dr. Williams to be the best candidate to lead our organization, his proven track record of successfully raising multi-million dollar investments and gifts, coupled with his enviable and highly-effective bi-partisan state and federal legislative strategy, made Harry the top choice of a slate of nearly 200 professionals we considered,” said Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Taylor led the TMCF for seven years. He announced his departure in June.

Dr. Williams has led DSU since January 2010, when he became the 10th president in the university’s 124-year history. Prior to that post, he had served 18 months as the provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, according to the school. He succeeded Dr. Allen Sessoms, who resigned at the end of August 2008, and Dr. Claibourne Smith, who served as acting president during the presidential search period.

Calling his time at DSU “the most defining decade of my professional life,” Dr. Williams recalled the pride he has taken in leading the institution through one of its greatest period of growth and opportunity.

“My family and I are deeply indebted to the state of Delaware and to Delaware State University. This university and its community – students, staff faculty, alumni, trustees – have given us more than we could ever have imagined,” said Dr. Williams in a press release. ““Every day I’ve attempted return that same level of energy and commitment to the Hornet Nation, so that DSU takes its rightful place among the most important, diverse, and influential HBCUs in the country. While much remains to do, we have achieved our initial objectives and are now perfectly poised for the future. What makes me most proud is that we did it together.”

DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes said the university will miss Dr. William’s leadership.

“He encouraged a great vision among the faculty and students of what this university was capable of,” said Mr. Holmes. “He’s had a very good eight years and historically he has to be considered among the many progressive, successful presidents we’ve had.”

In early 2017, HBCU Digest named Dr. Williams among the “Top 10 Influential HBCU Presidents” in the country.

According to DSU, Gov. John Carney was among a cadre of general assembly well-wishers for the departing president.

“Dr. Williams has led Delaware State University during a critical time – when higher education has been more important than ever to the success of young Delawareans, and to our collective success as a state,” said Governor Carney. “DSU has long been one of Delaware’s most important and historic institutions, and its contributions to our state, our ability to attract talented young people, and prepare the next generation, have only grown under Dr. Williams’ guidance. We’ll miss his leadership in Delaware.”

Shoes to fill

Because Dr. Williams left the university a generous amount of time to find a replacement, the first step will be to appoint an interim president, said Mr. Holmes.

“We have some time, which is good,” he said. “Ultimately, a decision will be made by our board of trustees to appoint an acting president. At the same time, we’ll be launching a nationwide presidential search party.”

How long it will take to find a permanent replacement is up for speculation. Mr. Holmes said it can take anywhere from six months to a year or longer.

After Dr. Sessoms resigned as president in 2008, it took about a year and four months before the job was finally offered to Dr. Williams, said Mr. Holmes.
“At the time, the chairman of the board of trustees, Dr. Claibourne Smith stepped down to become the acting president,” he added. “Because he knew the university so well, he provided really stable interim leadership. That was a good thing because there wasn’t an undue sense of urgency to fill the position so we were enabled to work at it methodically and find the best candidate.”

Although there is no indication at present who the interim president will be, the board of trustees will likely select someone in the coming months.

Mr. Holmes said the search for a new president, like with any high-stakes job, will be centered on finding a skill set that is the best fit for the university.

“We have a very dynamic institution of higher education — we’re ranked 13th among the HBCUs in the country,” he said. “We have a lot of really great things going on here. There are a lot of schools out there struggling right now, but DSU is not one of them. We’re very fortunate that we have a wonderful relationship with our governor, our state government and our congressional delegation. Our academic programs are expanding and our research portfolio is growing. We have world class faculty. There is a lot going for us here, now we just have to find a president that will be a good fit for all that.”

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