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Dillard University President Resigns After Two Years To Focus On ‘Health And Family’

Dillard University President Resigns After Two Years To Focus On ‘Health And Family’

Dr. Rochelle L. Ford is stepping down as president of Dillard University effective July 1 “to focus on her health and family,” the university said in a statement to Nola News on Friday. Ford, the university’s eighth president, has been at Dillard for two years. She succeeded Walter Kimbrough, who served as president for a decade.

Ford, 52, joined Dillard from Elon University in North Carolina, where she served as the dean of the School of Communications. Before her time at Elon, she held positions at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Syracuse University in New York.

Erroll Williams, the Orleans Parish tax assessor, who is a graduate of Dillard and also sits on the board of trustees, mentioned that Ford had been on leave since before the commencement in May. He expressed surprise at her resignation and stated that he “hates to see her leave.”

“All I know is I like her energy and some of the things that she’s done,” he said. “I believe that she’s what we need.” 

President Ford’s Record of Leadership and Working Together

When Ford was hired two years ago, Dillard chairperson Michael Jones said students, faculties and trustees were “blown away by [Ford’s] insight, passion and drive.

In a statement Friday, Jones celebrated Ford’s tenure.

“Under Dr. Ford’s leadership the university repositioned itself as a ‘communiversity’ advancing health, safety and innovation,” Jones said. “During her tenure as president, the university welcomed its first cohort of masters of nursing graduate students, earned Gold Certification from the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, secured federal funding to battle gender-based violence, and launched partnerships to advance the business of energy evolution.”

Ford also led university funding efforts, leading to the investment of millions of dollars to restore university buildings as a part of Ford’s “Transformation 2030” strategic plan.

She named the university reviving its National Center for Black Jewish Relations and the work of the university’s Center for Racial Justice as top accomplishments of her presidency at her January 2023 investiture ceremony. 

“We cannot advance society without working together,” Ford said. 

Dillard University faculty, trustees, and alumni help incoming President Rochelle Ford, right, with getting her cap and gown straight moments before the start of her investiture ceremony inside Lawless Memorial Chapel on Jan. 27, 2023, in New Orleans. STAFF PHOTO BY CHRIS GRANGER

The Washington Post reported in April on how Ford’s efforts to rekindle Black-Jewish relations had ushered her into the national debate over support for Israel during the war with Hamas, which had “upset some Dillard students and alumni.”

Ford also has written letters to the editor on the topics of HBCUs, Harvard’s new president, increasing insurance costs, and campus electrical failures

New Orleans City councilmember Eugene Green said Friday evening that he had been impressed with Ford’s “enthusiasm” and “energy.” He said her contribution to the community through service was immense. 

“She was very much focused on having students get out into the community,” Green said. 

Green pointed to Dillard’s technology classes for seniors and students’ work to clean up the neighborhood around campus as examples of Ford’s dedication to service. 

“What I saw in Dr. Ford was a strong commitment to doing things in the immediate community of Dillard University,” Green said. “I think she recognized the importance of Dillard University especially in the general Gentilly community.” 

Magical HBCU Beginnings

Ford was raised in Gahanna, Ohio, near Columbus. In a 2022 interview with The Times-Picayune, she mentioned that she is a second-generation graduate of historically Black colleges and universities. Both of her parents attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, where her father studied physics and her mother studied nursing.

Ford got her bachelor’s degree from Howard University, where she studied journalism and public relations. It was there that she realized the “magic” of HBCUs, she said.

“I knew then what a sacred place being at an HBCU was,” she said. “And I wanted to make sure in my career I was able to … to create environments where young people had a safe place to fully experience their past and their present and their future because that’s what I was given going to an HBCU.”

Ford later earned a master’s degree in journalism and public relations from the University of Maryland at College Park, as well as a doctorate in journalism from Southern Illinois University. Additionally, she holds a graduate certificate in higher education administration from Harvard University.

Dillard’s New Provost Will Serve As Interim President

Monique Guillory, the university’s new provost, will serve as Dillard’s interim president, officials said. 

Monique Guillory, Ph.D., Dillard University’s provost and chief academic and enrollment officer

According to endowed professor Gary Clark, who has served on Dillard’s faculty for 35 years, Guillory is a “person who has a good sense of the flavor of the city of New Orleans.” She had served as acting president while Ford was on medical leave, Clark said.

Clark added he respects Ford and wishes her the best. He said her leaving, though, is an opportunity “for the university to regroup.”

“This is an opportunity to engage in substantial changes that may be necessary,” he said.

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