Dillard University President Marvalene Hughes announced in February 2011 that she would soon begin transitioning out of the presidency. This look back at her six-year tenure shows some of Dr. Hughes' major accomplishments at Fair Dillard. The university community is grateful for the steadying presence she provided after Hurricane Katrina, and for the actions she took to position Dillard and its students for success well into the 21st century.
Triumph From Tragedy
Dr. Marvalene Hughes took office as the sixth and first woman president of Dillard University in the summer of 2005, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. The disaster left no corner of Dillard’s campus untouched; the university sat beneath as much as eight feet of water. Three buildings burned to the ground, three others were unsalvageable and had to be demolished, and every remaining facility required major reconstruction. One tree on the historic Avenue of the Oaks was destroyed.
Over the following six years, President Hughes wrought triumph from tragedy, saving Dillard from the brink of extinction and readying the university for success in the 21st century. Dillard emerged from Katrina better equipped to address the educational, occupational, social and health needs of its students than ever before in its 142-year history.
In advance of the storm, President Hughes dispatched students to Centenary College in Shreveport, La. In the storm’s aftermath, students enrolled in more than 200 colleges across the country. President Hughes then embarked on a speaking tour of campuses across the country in an effort to get former students to return, and in January 2006, more than 1,000 students returned to live and attend classes at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel. That summer, Dillard graduated the largest class in recent university history.
Under President Hughes’ leadership, the entire Dillard community developed a comprehensive plan, summarized in 11 “Strategic Pillars,” to serve as a blueprint for the transformation of the university in the wake of the storm and into the future. Each division was issued a challenge: develop world-class curricula based on state-of-the-art technology; make academic success the number one priority; promote a culture of research that permeates undergraduate studies; increase opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning; focus on public health; develop a green curriculum; and strive for diversity.
Financial damages from Katrina were staggering, topping $400 million in total damages. In 2005, Dillard launched its first capital campaign, Advantage Dillard, which to date has raised over $60 million toward its $70 million goal. Through a combination of grants, low-interest government loans, and public and private giving, Dr. Hughes and the development team would go on to raise over $300 million to help restore and renew Fair Dillard. That process began by refurbishing dozens of buildings across the school’s Gentilly campus – and constructing two new ones.
New Facilities and Green Initiatives
At Commencement 2010, Dr. Hughes cut the ribbons on two new state-of-the-art buildings: the Professional Schools and Sciences Building (PSB), and the Student Union and Health & Wellness Center.
The 127,000 square-foot PSB houses the College of Business, the Schools of Nursing, Public Health and Mass Communication, the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and more. Highlights include nursing simulation labs, the 420-seat Georges Auditorium, and the Justice Revius O. Ortique Jr. Mock Trial Center, which has been used not only for student moot court, but also for an appellate court hearing. The Honorable Eric H. Holder Jr., attorney general of the United States, attended the dedication of the Mock Trial Center on Nov. 11, 2010 and gave the inaugural Ortique Public Affairs Lecture on Law and Society. Holder, the nation’s first African American attorney general, paid tribute to Justice Ortique, a civil rights pioneer and Dillard alumnus.
The Student Union and Health & Wellness Center is the first student union in Dillard's history. The 55,000 square-foot building houses a movie theater, bowling alley, running track, and fitness center, in addition to eateries and student offices. The building’s other major component is a community health clinic created to serve both Dillard students and the greater Gentilly community. This devotion to community health can also be seen in Dillard’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, a special venture sponsored by a $6.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, which was announced in June 2010.
Over the past six years, President Hughes has instilled in the Dillard community a dedication to sustainability, and the PSB and the Student Union reflect that commitment. Both buildings are LEED® (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) registered and built in accordance with the top sustainability standards of the U.S. Green Building Council; they are the first such buildings on any university campus in the state of Louisiana.
After the storm, Dr. Hughes created a partnership with Brown University to encourage the exchange of sustainable ideas and the greening of the schools’ campuses. The Clinton Global Initiative University awarded Dillard and Brown its Outstanding Commitment award in the form of a $205,000 grant funded by the Wal-Mart Foundation. The grant served to assist in the rebuilding of Dillard’s campus in an environmentally sustainable manner.
These efforts have been buoyed by the work of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, which has been on the forefront of post-Katrina efforts to research the storm’s impact on the environmental and human capital of New Orleans. Students, too, have followed suit, establishing the Bleu Can Be Green initiative to raise environmental awareness and help the Dillard campus transition to a more sustainable mode of operation.
Beautiful new buildings (even green ones) mean little to a university without a clear sense of pedagogical purpose. In that regard, Dr. Hughes recently oversaw an academic restructuring of the university under a new four-college system with 22 majors that will position Dillard to capitalize on future growth opportunities. The College of General Studies, designed as a two-year gateway program for all incoming freshmen, will improve graduation rates, enhance preparation for majors, and foster kinship among students. The College of Professional Studies now houses the Schools of Nursing, Public Health, and Mass Communication, while the Division of Business has been reconstituted as the College of Business. The College of Arts and Sciences houses the Departments of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Under President Hughes’ watch, strong academic programs have continued to flourish – the School of Nursing remains one of the best in the region, boasting a perfect passing rate on the state nursing examination – and new ones have emerged as powerhouses. Dillard’s physics program, for example, acquired a $1.8 million pulsed laser deposition system, enabling students to conduct graduate level research; Dillard is the only HBCU in the nation with this equipment.
Dillard has also sought innovative collaborations to improve its students’ learning and occupational opportunities. In 2010, Dillard and the Louisiana Recovery School District partnered to develop a new teacher-training program that they believe will revolutionize teacher education in New Orleans and, perhaps, serve as a model for programs across the country. The program involves student teaching and paid internships. After graduating, qualifying and interested students will partake in an intensive six-week training program that will certify them to teach in the Recovery School District.
Part of a Global Society
President Hughes has found opportunities for Dillard students not only in the New Orleans community, but also in the global community. She established a partnership between Dillard and Communication University of China Nanjing (CUCN) to pursue global education through research and the exchange of faculty and students in fields including mass communication, applied mathematics, physics, engineering and international business. At Commencement 2010, President Hughes bestowed an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on Jinan Liu, president of CUCN.
In January 2011, the American Council on Education named Dillard University as one of seven institutions nationwide to participate in a new project, Creating Global Citizens: Exploring Internationalization at HBCUs, partially supported by the U.S. Department of Education. As part of the project, Dillard University will develop a strategic plan to further internationalize its campus and curriculum, helping students to compete in today’s global economy.
Furthermore, Dillard’s study abroad program has grown in size and scope every year, and Dillard’s Melton fellows – members of an international organization that engage in cross-cultural learning experiences – continue traversing the globe, expanding their worldviews, and teaching young people about America, HBCUs and Dillard University.
A Legacy of Leadership
In February 2011, Dr. Hughes announced that she would soon begin transitioning from the presidency of Dillard University. After overseeing Dillard’s 10-year affirmation by its accrediting body, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and virtually rebuilding the entire campus, she can do so with the satisfaction of a job well done.
It is not hard to see why President Hughes garnered so many accolades during her tenure as Dillard’s president. Brown University awarded her a Doctor of Laws, and Florida State University named her one of its 100 Distinguished Graduates. She was named one of the Top 10 Black Women in Higher Education in 2005 by Black Voices. In 2009, she accepted South Central Construction magazine’s Owner of the Year Award for Dillard University for spearheading the construction of the PSB and Student Union, and was featured on the cover of Sustainability: The Journal of Record for an article about the Clinton Global Initiative. She received the ACE Council of Fellows/Fidelity Investment Mentor’s Award in 2010, and was featured in the book “Answering the Call: African American Women in Higher Education Leadership.” The PSB was featured in New Orleans Magazine’s 2011 “Best of Architecture – 5 Great New Buildings” review.
The Dillard University Class of 2006 planted a tree on the Avenue of the Oaks to replace the one that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. They named it Marvalene.
The students, faculty, staff and board of trustees of Dillard University would like to thank President Marvalene Hughes for dedicating every ounce of her time, energy, passion and spirit to Dillard over the past six years. She will forever be remembered as one of the great leaders in this storied university’s history.
President Hughes transitions knowing that she led the university through its darkest hour and ushered in a bright new era for Dillard and its students – one replete with avenues of opportunity.