Bennett College has named Suzanne Walsh, an executive with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as its next president. Just last Friday, college officials at the historically black, all-women’s school announced that Phyllis Worthy Dawkins would be departing as president immediately.  No reason was given for her abrupt departure. Gwendolyn O’Neal, a Bennet alumna and college administrator was appointed interim president.

Suzanne Walsh has been named president of Bennett College. CREDIT BENNETT COLLEGE

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Bennett officials say Walsh will begin work as the school’s president on August 1. O’Neal will continue as interim president until that time and then stay on as the college’s chief operating officer.

“Bennett College sought a new president to embrace and champion innovative ideas that ensure our long term viability,” said Gladys A. Robinson, chair of the Bennett College Board of Trustees. “Suzanne Walsh has the experience, passion, fundraising expertise and personal qualities that will ensure she is embraced by our students, faculty, staff, alumnae and community.”

Bennett officials say Walsh, who earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Cornell University and a law degree from Case Western University, has significant experience working with organizations in transition and helping educational institutions find new ways to be innovative.

Bennett has struggled with convincing its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SACS, that it is financially viable long term. The school successfully raised nearly $10 million in February to convince SACS officials otherwise.

The school spent two years on SACS’ probation list because of financial concerns and in December its accreditation was not renewed. Bennett officials have filed a lawsuit and remains accredited as that legal process plays out.

Walsh says she looks forward to leading the school as officials work to revamp the college financially and academically.

“Bennett College has a compelling mission to produce accomplished young women who are ready to lead,” said Walsh. “In an ever-changing world that I believe is thirsting for their leadership, that mission feels more relevant than ever, and what excites me is the opportunity to help translate it for a new era. I look forward to working closely with our board, faculty, students, alumnae and supporters to find new and powerful ways of delivering on Bennett’s promise, which is the promise of a great education.”

Bennett is one of only two historically black colleges for women in the country. The other is Spellman College in Atlanta.