Dr. Ben Vinson III, 18th president of Howard University (Courtesy of Howard University)
Dr. Ben Vinson III, 18th president of Howard University (Courtesy of Howard University)

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A yearlong search for the next president of Howard University (HU) has culminated in the selection of Dr. Ben Vinson III as the institution’s 18th president. 

Vinson currently serves as the provost, executive vice president, and Hiram C. Haydn professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In assuming the helm at HU, Vinson makes his return to the D.C. metropolitan area after previously serving leadership roles at George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University. 

In a statement, Vinson expressed gratitude for being able to take the mantle at such a critical juncture in HU’s development. 

“Howard’s incredible legacy, its remarkable trajectory, combined with the fine talent of its faculty and staff, situate Howard at the uppermost echelons of higher education. Combined with the uniquely transformational power of a Howard education, the students, faculty, staff, and alumni constitute a positive force of change in our society,” Vinson said. 

“Our world needs Howard at maximum strength,” Vinson continued. “I look forward to returning to the DMV, which I consider home, and working with the broader campus community to fortify Howard and help build upon its incredible tradition of delivering excellence, truth, and service to greater humanity.” 

Who is Dr. Ben Vinson III? 

Vinson will start his new role at HU in September. 

As provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University, Vinson oversees academic and university research.  He also led the university’s “Think Big” strategic planning initiative and helped facilitate the increase in underrepresented students over the course of four years. These feats align with Vinson’s role on the Association of American Universities’ Advisory Board for Racial Equity in Higher Education, and its subcommittee on faculty advancement and tenure. 

Vinson, the son of a U.S. Air Force master sergeant, has also lived around the world and amassed a research catalog that reflects his interest in the Diasporic experience. His scholarship explores Black religious festivals in Venezuela, race and class dynamics in Mexico, and differences between Winston-Salem, N.C.’s African-American and Afro-Mexican immigrant populations. 

HU’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved Vinson as the successor to Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, HU’s president of nine years who announced his retirement last spring. The announcement sparked calls among HU alumni for a Black female university president. 

The search for Frederick’s replacement involved the launch of a board-appointed Presidential Search Committee and the consultation of executive search firm Isaacson Miller. The search committee, composed of faculty, staff, alumni, students, and current and former trustees, developed criteria, engaged the university community, identified and interviewed candidates and submitted a recommendation to the board of trustees. 

Jordyn Allen, president of the HU Student Association and presidential search committee member, said that Vinson fit the profile of a leader that could best represent her interests and that of her peers. 

“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,” Allen said. “I look forward to watching Dr. Vinson stroll the yard, sit in the cafe and attend athletic/academic events to create an intimate and memorable relationship between students and the University president.”

Howard University, Past and Present

Over the past year, HU has experienced a substantial increase in philanthropic giving, enrollment and student retention. The local HBCU has also inked a multi-million research deal with the Department of Defense and Air Force for the development of new-age defense technology. 

Under Frederick’s tenure, HU entered long-term leases for Meridian Hall, Slowe Hall, Carver Hall and other campus buildings that Frederick, in response to criticism about the deals, said allowed the university to tap into outside funds for building upgrades. During the 2021-2022 academic year, HU administrators quelled conflicts with students about housing conditions, as well as faculty. . 

Some students, like one who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, expressed their desire for Vinson, an administrator who’s dedicated to the African diaspora, to address students’ concerns about the impact of HU’s DOD contract on the global African community.  

“Frederick engages people [like the Department of Defense] who contribute to the demise of African people,” the student said. “I hope Dr. Vinson doesn’t engage in those types of things but I have a feeling he might because he’s Frederick’s successor. He hasn’t had the opportunity to prove himself, so we’ll see.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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