It’s not every year a university president announces a resignation that doesn’t include retirement or a move to a new job. But Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough is no ordinary president.
A higher education leader and a die-hard NBA fan, Kimbrough announced Monday that he’s becoming a free agent. His time at Dillard in New Orleans will end next year. “Since this is NBA free agency season I guess I am entering college presidential free agency,” the legendary social media Hip Hop Prez wrote in a tweet. Kimbrough’s resignation isn’t effective until May 31, as the academic year winds down.
Kimbrough’s done a lot for Dillard. The school’s endowment is about $105 million after growing by more than 115% since he arrived. That growth made the 152-year-old institution one of the best-funded endowments among historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). About $7 million was raised from supporters outside of the DU orbit as they learned more about Dillard as Kimbrough influenced many on social media and television, and with local and national commentary. In 2020, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $5 million.
With his Bleu Pride Rising chapter tour, Kimbrough touched individual alumni donors and it paid dividends. In nine years, Dillard’s alumni giving increased from 4% to 23%. That's one of the best alumni giving ratios among all higher education institutions. The national alumni giving average was 8% not long ago.
Dillard’s enrollment has been challenging, staying above 1,200 students in recent years. Providing some buoyancy has been the restructuring of the nursing program, creating the College of Nursing, and the introduction of film studies and physics programs while working to retain students and increase graduation rates.
Kimbrough told his board he was stepping down and he announced his decision to his faculty and staff as they prepared to start another academic year. Kimbrough said the average college president tenure is about 6.5 years and he’s beat that average twice. He was president at Philander Smith College in Little Rock for 7.5 years and he’s scheduled to end his Dillard tenure after 10 years. He described a presidential term of 7 to 10 years as “optimal for a successful presidency,” and “the proper rhythm for most academic presidencies.”
In his university note, Kimbrough offered appreciation and a glimpse into his thinking about his future. “Dillard University and New Orleans have been awesome for our family, and we are thankful for the love and support. But it is time for a new challenge where my gifts and graces match the needs of an institution at this point in their history, and Dillard is ready for someone new to do likewise,” he wrote. “And in this season of increased presidential departures, particularly due to retirements, there are a number of exciting possibilities at a diversity of institutions for which my talents may match.”
Having Kimbrough in New Orleans and Louisiana has been good for us. He’s provided challenge, ideas and been a part of pushing us forward. Free agent Kimbrough is a good catch for the right team seeking a creative, effective and experienced leader. We don’t know where he’ll be next, but we’re thankful for this time we’ve had together — and we wish him continued success.