Mary Schmidt Campbell
Mary Schmidt Campbell
|President of Spelman College|
|Assumed office |
|Born||October 21, 1947|
|Alma mater||Swarthmore College (BA)|
Syracuse University (MA, PhD)
Mary Schmidt Campbell (born October 21, 1947), is an American academic administrator, professor, author and scholar of art and culture.
A leader in higher education, the arts and the public sector for nearly 40 years, Dr. Campbell began her tenure as the 10th president of Spelman College, a leading liberal arts institution for women of African descent located in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 1, 2015. She currently holds this position and is setting the standard for leadership in higher education.
As president of Spelman College, Dr. Campbell is leading the institution in the development of a comprehensive strategic plan grounded in the College’s compelling mission to propel the institution into the top tier of liberal arts institutions, while preparing women of color for life and career.
She recently completed the book, “An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden” for Oxford University Press. For this work, Dr. Campbell received the 2018 Hooks National Book Award from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. In 2019, she was a finalist for the 55th Georgia Author of the Year Award in the category of biography. Also, the Museum of African American History selected "An American Odyssey" as a finalist for the for 2019 MAAH Stone Book Award.
Prior to becoming the 10th president of Spelman, Dr. Campbell was a major force in New York City’s cultural sector. Her career in New York began at the Studio Museum in Harlem during a time when the City was on the verge of bankruptcy and Harlem was in steep decline. Under her leadership, the Museum was transformed from a rented loft to the country’s first accredited Black fine arts museum.
She went on to serve as university professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy and dean emerita of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. During Dr. Campbell’s tenure of more than two decades as dean of Tisch, she elevated the school’s profile and stature, increased the recruitment of a more diverse faculty and student body, and led an unprecedented capital campaign for the school.
In 1987, New York’s late Mayor Edward I. Koch, invited Dr. Campbell to serve as the City’s cultural affairs commissioner. In this role, she led the Department of Cultural Affairs which oversees the operations and capital development of the city’s major cultural institutions. As a commissioner, she gained a reputation as an advocate for large and small arts organizations throughout all five boroughs.
She is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.
Early Life and Education
Born to Elaine and Harvey Schmidt in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 21, 1947, Dr. Schmidt Campbell has distinguished herself as an educator and prominent advocate of the arts.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Swarthmore College in 1969, Dr. Campbell taught English literature at Nkumbi International College in Zambia. She returned to the U.S. and studied art history at Syracuse University, graduating with a master's of art in art history. She later earned a doctorate in humanities from Syracuse University. Her doctoral dissertation followed the life of the Afro-American artist, Romare Bearden, and his quest struggle to "create a timeless and enduring body of work without relinquishing his unique individual identity." In 1974, she became both a curator of the Everson Museum of Fine Arts in Syracuse, New York and the art editor of “Syracuse New Times.” 
Studio Museum in Harlem
From 1977–1987, Campbell served as executive director of the Studio Museum. During her tenure, Campbell steered the museum from a struggling organization located in a loft space above a liquor store to a 60,000 sq. ft. building and into one of the nation's premier black fine-arts museums with an annual $2 million budget. At the time, the museum was the only one of its kind to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. Noticing the lack of a facility that could adequately communicate African-American art's "depth and range," she organized a series of exhibitions devoted to the country's leading black artists.
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
At the age of 40, Campbell was sworn in as the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs October 1987 by then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch. With an annual $172 million budget, the Department provides operating and capital improvement funds to 32 major institutions—including museums, theaters, zoos, and botanic gardens—and grants program money to hundreds of neighborhood arts groups. A few weeks into her tenure, the stock market crashed, forcing the City to make significant budgetary cuts. The Department's budget was initially cut by $7 million, but Campbell was able to minimize the cuts to $1 million.
One of her main accomplishments was organizing and fundraising "New York and the Arts: A Cultural Affair," a campaign focused on promoting cultural activities throughout the city and encouraging attendance. Other accomplishments included a pilot program focused on introducing the arts to low-income youth.
In 1989, she was reappointed by Mayor Koch's successor, David Dinkins. At her swearing-in ceremony in 1990, she proposed that the city's budget on drug education should be reallocated to her department for cultural and recreational programs for schoolchildren, saying that "if our children can be addicted to the power of language and the excitement of ideas, if they have the benefit of the time and attention of creative adults who have only the highest expectation of them, if excellence and discipline are the standards set for them, they will rise to the occasion."
In May 1990, the Smithsonian Institution named Campbell to be the chairwoman of a 22-member advisory board to study ways to exhibit the heritage of black Americans on the National Mall, which laid the groundwork for the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
New York University Tisch School of the Arts
On October 1, 1991, Campbell was named dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. During her tenure, Campbell expanded the school's arts profile, including digital media in addition to theater, film, and television. Tisch also founded new disciplines and departments, "including a moving image archiving and preservation program, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and a dual M.B.A.-M.F.A. degree with the Stern School of Business at N.Y.U."
In 2008, Campbell established the Tisch Talen Identification Process, a program that recruits high-performing, high-need students to the school.
Presidency (2015 – Present)
Since Dr. Campbell assumed the role of president of Spelman College, the programs and initiatives she has put into place have ensured that Spelman will continue to preserve its historical place in higher education. The College continues to engage in focused inquiry that will generate new levels of creativity and intellectual prowess.
Under her leadership, Spelman moved from 77 to 57 on the US News and World Report annual Best College list and ranked No.1 HBCU for the 13th year in a row. In addition, the College secured the No. 6 spot on U.S. News' inaugural list of Top Performers on Social Mobility.
I. Enhanced strong ranking
- Deemed a leading producer of Black women who earn PhDs in STEM according to National Science Foundation
- Secured No. 6 spot on Most Innovative Schools List (tie)
- Ranked No. 22 in Best Undergraduate Teaching (tie)
II. Promoted college completion and affordability
- Raised over $80M in new scholarship funds to overcome financial barriers
- Established low-cost online summer school opportunities
- Established a Careers Pathways Initiative with UNCF
III. Promoted academic excellence and innovation
- The Department of Defense designated Spelman as a Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM
- Spelman established the AUC Collective for Art History and Curatorial Studies funded by Alice Walton Foundation
- Spelman participated in the launch of the AUC Data Science Initiative
- Designed a new academic facility, the first in 20 years -- The Center for Innovation and the Arts
IV. Enhanced operational excellence
- Landed two of the largest gifts in Spelman’s history
- Spelman trustee Ronda Stryker and spouse William Johnston give the College a $30 million gift to help build the Center for Innovation & the Arts, the College’s first new academic facility to be built since 1996
- A $40 million gift from philanthropists Patty Quillin and her spouse Reed Hastings, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Netflix, will over the next 10 years, fund scholarships for a total of 200 first-year Spelman students
- Modernized and upgraded Spelman’s technology infrastructure
- Established leadership development program for Spelman managers
Spelman's historically high number of admission applications grew by more than 60 percent in the last year alone, and its graduation rate (77 percent) is in the top five of colleges in Georgia and more than 30 percentage points higher than the national completion rate for African American students.
The College has claimed a unique place in higher education as a teaching and research institution, as well as a private historically Black institution, focused on graduating female students who assume leadership roles in a global society. When many HBCUs have experienced a decrease in enrollment due to the economy, Spelman made the progressive decision to limit its enrollment to around 2,100 students each academic year.
The most recent enrollment data for the College covers fall 2014 to fall 2019. The total enrollment for fall 2019 was 2,120 students, with 578 of the students being freshmen. The average age range of the full-time Spelman first-year student was eighteen (18) years old. The average age range of the entire student body was nineteen (19) years old.
Grants and Funding
A supporter of college completion and affordability, Dr. Campbell has also helped spur giving to the college. In 2019 the College received a $2 million grant from the Department of Defense to support its continued growth in STEM education.
Funding helped establish The Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM, the first center of its kind designed to address minority underrepresentation in the natural sciences and mathematics fields.
In addition, the College was awarded a $2 million gift from the Karsh Family Foundation. The gift will fund annual and endowed scholarships that support graduates of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, a nationwide network of open enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools.
In 2020, the College received a generous $20 million gift from MacKenzie Scott to bolster the College’s Strategic Outcomes; a $5 million gift from Seth and Beth Klarman of Boston that will fund scholarships for current and incoming Spelman students and a $40 million gift from Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings to fund 200 full scholarships named for Spelman alumna and civil rights activist Dovey Johnson Roundtree.
Spelman trustee Ronda Stryker and spouse William Johnston gave the College a $30 million gift to help build the Center for Innovation & the Arts, the College’s first new academic facility to be built since 1996.
Under her leadership the College also earned a First in the World Grant. Spelman is one of just two colleges in Georgia – and among only three historically black colleges nationwide – named a 2015 First in the World (FITW) grant recipient by the U.S. Department of Education. Spelman will receive $2.7 million to incorporate new teaching and learning strategies into its curriculum focused on metacognitive learning, a system defined as “thinking about thinking.”
Dr. Campbell lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She and her husband, physicist Dr. George Campbell Jr., president emeritus of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, are the parents of three sons and have six grandchildren.
Awards and Honors
A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Campbell currently sits on the boards of The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the High Museum of Art, and is on the Advisory Boards of the Bonner Foundation and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. She has sat on the boards of the American Academy in Rome, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the United Nations International School, and is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. She received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1986.
Dr. Campbell holds numerous honorary degrees, including one from her alma mater, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania as well as the College of New Rochelle, Colgate University, City University of New York, and Pace University.
In addition to winning book awards and lending her arts expertise to numerous public discussions, Dr. Campbell was named, in July 2019, to the board of trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust, an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts. Getty’s 12-member board, which consists of leaders from a range of industries, works to set policies related to spending, management, governance and grant making. Trustees are elected to four-year terms and may serve no more than three terms.
Selected Works 
Dr. Campbell is a contributor to several publications including Artistic Citizenship: Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis; New York Reimagined: Artists, Art Organizations, and the Rebirth of a City (Oxford University Press, 2016); Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art, Foreword (Gregory R. Miller & Co., 2016).
She is also co-editor of Artistic Citizenship: A Public Voice for the Arts, (Routledge, 2006); co-author of Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987); and Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden, 1940-1987 (Oxford University Press & The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1991).
Romare Bearden 
Dr. Campbell’s recently published book, An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden (Oxford University Press), is considered the definitive biography of one of the most important artists of the twentieth century and offers a view into the mind of a man whose art celebrated the traditions and ceremonies of African American culture. For this work, Dr. Campbell received the 2018 Hooks National Book Award from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis.
An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden offers a full and vibrant account of Bearden’s life from his years in Harlem working in his studio the Apollo theater, to his travels and commissions, along with illuminating analysis of his work and artistic career.
Dr. Campbell, who met Bearden in the 1970s, was among the first to compile a catalog of his works. An American Odyssey goes far beyond that, offering a living portrait of an artist and the impact he made upon the world he sought both to recreate and celebrate.
In 2019, she was a finalist for the 55th Georgia Author of the Year Award in the category of biography. Also, the Museum of African American History selected "An American Odyssey" as a finalist for the for 2019 MAAH Stone Book Award.
During her tenure at Spelman, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell has contributed to several discussions, articles and podcasts on a myriad of subjects including the national dropout rate and other topics related to higher education.
In 2020, she penned an op-ed for The New York Times in response to how the College was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. She also appeared on MSNBC's PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton to discuss how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting historically Black colleges and universities.
Dr. Campbell has also lent her voice to ongoing conversations about twentieth-century artist Romare Bearden. Her book, “An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden” has been called “a clear, concise biography that originates in her own encounters with Bearden and extends to her key role in asserting the importance of Bearden's work into the discourse of contemporary art while executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem.”
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