Betsch Cole '57 is something of a revolutionary in higher
education. Her career reveals a devotion to curricular reform, minority
student advancement, and community service, and she led to prominence
Spelman College, the historically black college for women. Cole
retired in 2001, hoping to continue her work in other fields, but
a call from North Carolina's Bennett College pulled her out
of academic retirement. The nation's only other historically
black college for women, Bennett sought a president to pull it out
of its financial troubles. Cole was happy to oblige.
65-year-old educator developed a passion for social justice at a
young age, inspired by family members dedicated to community service
and civil rights activism. "Growing up in the Jim Crow south,
there was evidence all around me for the need for social change,"
Oberlin years fueled her passion for equality and diversity. "I
came from the segregated southwhere religious diversity meant
Methodist or Baptist, and where racial diversity meant black or
white," she said. "My insistence that the world is made
better by multiple views was solidified by my college experience."
sociology studies at Oberlin and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern,
Cole began a career as an author and professor. She directed the
black studies program at Washington State University and the Latin
American and Caribbean studies program at Hunter College. As associate
provost at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she led a
successful campaign to reform the general education requirements.
But it was her work as the president of Spelman that gained national
attention, both for herself and the school. Tapped for the position
in 1987, she accepted the presidency out of a desire to promote
education for minority women.
didn't want to be the president of a college," she told
a reporter in 1998. "But what kept standing out was that this
was a place that dared to say it educated African American women
all accounts, Cole improved on that legacy. As the first black female
president in the school's 107year history, Cole became
popular with students who dubbed her Spelman's "Sister
President." She was also popular with donors: During her 10-year
tenure, Cole helped raise more than $113 million, tripling the college's
endowment. She started a corporate partnership program, enlisting
the help of 77 major companies through her charm and persistence.
Cole's leadership, the school soared to national prominence, noted
as U.S. News and World Report's "Best College Buy"
in 1992 and ranked by Money magazine as the best historically
black college in 1996.
in the higher education community expressed their enthusiasm about
Cole's appointment at Bennett, which began this summer.
Cole is one of the most outstanding leaders in higher education
in the country with a proven track record and the ability to transform
institutions, taking them to a new level of excellence," said
William H. Gray, III, president and CEO of the United Negro College
commitment to social justice is a commitment to work for it in every
way and everywhere." With this philosophy, she has served
on Bill Clinton's 1992 transition team, authored several nooks,
engaged in the corporate world as a board member and diversity consultant,
and consistently engaged in community service.
Peter Meredith '02