Mary Schmidt Campbell '69 Named President of Spelman College

Mary Schmidt Campbell '69

Philadelphia Inquirer: Art scholar Mary Schmidt Campbell to be president of Spelman College in Atlanta

Mary Schmidt Campbell graduated from Girls High in Philadelphia in 1965 with the confidence that she could make a difference. And she has.

The art history and humanities scholar transformed the Studio Museum in Harlem from a rented loft over a liquor store into the country's first accredited black fine arts museum.

She ran the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for more than two decades. She currently serves as vice chair of a U.S. presidential committee seeking to elevate the importance of art in public schools.

And on Saturday, Campbell, 67, also a Swarthmore College grad, came out of retirement to become president of Spelman, a prominent historically black women's college in Atlanta.

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She entered Swarthmore in 1965, part of the first significant group of African American students - there were about 20 - to be admitted to the highly selective liberal arts college. The experience was hard, so hard that during a 2009 commencement address she gave at Swarthmore, she said she had left her own graduation "wearing a black arm band, a very large Afro" and vowing "never to return to the campus."

There were no black staff or faculty except for those who cleaned and served food, she said. White students were asked if they minded rooming with a black student. "We were being treated as if we were guests allowed to stay there," she recalled.

Swarthmore kept reaching out to her after graduation, and she grew to admire its "deliberate steps" to become "an open and welcoming campus" to all students. She served on the college's board of managers for 12 years.

One of her sons, Garikai Campbell ['90], graduated from Swarthmore and became a professor and administrator there before heading in 2013, to Morehouse College, an historically black men's school in Atlanta, as provost.

Read the full story. The news has also been covered at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Ebony, Atlanta Business Chronicle, and Culture Type, among others.

Mary Schmidt Campbell '69 graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in English literature and art history. She has an M.S. in art history and a Ph.D. in humanities from Syracuse University. In 2009, Swarthmore awarded Campbell an honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree; in her commencement address, she described a "Swarthmore quality of mind," which meant having "comfort with massive amounts of new material and complexity, the capacity to probe deeply and persistently with purposeful focus, [and] the insistence on excellence and integrity." In 2014, she delivered the keynote address at the Symposium on the Future of the Liberal Arts.