Legal scholar Jennifer Collins elected Rhodes College president

A women with blonde hair poses for a portrait in front of two large rows of columns. She is reading a bright red blouse with black trim.
Legal scholar Jennifer Collins will become the next president of Rhodes College. Collins, dean of the law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, has been praised for her efforts to increase campus diversity. (Courtesy of Rhodes College)

Jennifer Collins, dean of the law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, will serve as the next president of Rhodes College in Memphis. Search committee Chair Cary Fowler announced the president-elect during a press conference Monday morning. Collins starts in July, succeeding Interim President Carroll Stevens who served this school year following the departure of President Marjorie Hass. Hass left this summer to head the Council of Independent Colleges.

In making the announcement, Fowler lauded President-elect Collins for her work on behalf of the LBGTQ community and efforts to increase campus diversity, her thoughtfulness on tough topics, and her management skills which led to new initiatives for the SMU law school and a fundraising record for the program, he said. 

The opening for the Rhodes presidency drew more than 100 applicants, and Fowler called it one of the strongest pools he’s ever seen. During Collin’s interview, Fowler said he wrote the following notes: “Articulate. Empathetic. Relatable. Good listener. Substance over style. Decisive. Unflappable. No sharp edges. Has everything. Rings true. Shares our values.”

Collins received her bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and her law degree from Harvard University, and has served on the faculty at Wake Forest University. The legal scholar who also served as assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, admitted that she has a lot to learn about Memphis.

“I promise you that I will approach this role with a firm commitment to listen and learn, to respect your culture and values,” she said, “and to work collaboratively transparently and joyfully with all the people who make Rhodes so special.”

Charles McKinney, chair of Africana Studies at Rhodes, said that he was not involved in the search, but he is pleased with the selection because Collins seems like a good fit.

“I’m encouraged by the credentials she brings to her new job. From an initial glance at her record at SMU, she understands that the road to actual diversity and equity is paved with something more substantive than press releases and task force reports,” he said. “She seems well prepared to help Rhodes move forward with boldness and clarity. I hope this will be the case.”

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