‘Expect the unexpected’ from high-achieving local university
At 44, Walter M. Kimbrough is the youngest president ever at Dillard University, the historically black New Orleans liberal arts college with about 1,600 students. He’s the author of “Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities.” Kimbrough was recently named one of 100 African-American leaders by NBC’s theGrio.com.
What are your big goals for Dillard?
We have to be known as more than the school which recovered from Katrina. We should be known as a school which is No. 7 in the nation for producing blacks with physics degrees. We should be known for our budding film program — several students interned this summer with Spike Lee for his new film, “Old Boy.” We should be known as the second-ranked liberal arts university in the nation in terms of research dollars awarded by the 2012 Washington Monthly College Guide.
Dillard attracted attention with recent speakers Tavis Smiley and Cornell West. What are your criteria for speakers?
I really try to bring a diversity of voices to campus, and therefore to the community. ... I’ve worked with Smiley and West before, and they contacted me about coming to Dillard. But expect the unexpected!
How do you view the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities today?
Twenty-five percent of black undergraduates still attend HBCUs. That’s a very significant number. The goal is to increase the number of college graduates in the nation, so any avenue that facilitates this should be valued.
How do we improve the success rate for young African-American men?
I think many schools recruit black students to make arbitrary diversity goals but fail to meaningfully engage them to ensure their success. The national college graduation rate for black men is 32 percent. Only six schools in Louisiana are above that level, and two of them are Dillard and Xavier.
You are known for being an avid user of social media such as Twitter. Why?
I actually gave up social media for Lent. For me it is a great way to engage students and other constituencies. Twitter particularly is where the students are.
What’s so special about
I always start with the students. They have been fantastic! The faculty contains a number of superstars doing some great work. The staff is extremely committed to the university, and loves the students. ... Add a unique history, including overcoming a once-in-a-lifetime natural disaster, and you have a great institution.