A Brief History of Dillard University




Marvalene Hughes, former president of Dillard UniversityOn July 1, 2005, Dr. Marvalene Hughes began her tenure as the sixth and first woman to serve as president of Dillard University. A two-time alumna of Tuskegee University, she was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in counseling and administration from Florida State University. Hughes had served in administrative positions at Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), the University of Minnesota, the University of Toledo, Arizona State University and San Diego State University before becoming president of California State University, Stanislaus where she increased enrollment, fundraising and capital construction. Her efforts led to the university climbing national rankings.


Barely allowed to settle in at Dillard, Hughes was faced with the threat of Hurricane Katrina only one month after beginning her tenure. As the storm approached the area and a mandatory evacuation had been ordered by the City of New Orleans, Hughes acted quickly to get the students to safety by having them transported to Shreveport. In a savvy move, Hughes later negotiated a deal with the Hilton New Orleans Riverside to continue operations and instruction there as the recovery process began on campus.


With unwavering determination, Hughes facilitated the rebuilding of Dillard’s historic, 55-acre campus which had lost more than $400 million to physical damage and business interruption. In the first year of Hughes’ tenure, and again in 2006, the University raised more than $34 million in public and private gifts and grants, far exceeding any previous annual total in Dillard’s history.


In 2007, Dillard devised a comprehensive strategic plan to hasten recovery and guide the school’s future. The following year, Dillard launched its first capital campaign, Advantage Dillard!, with a goal of raising $70 million for six priority areas:  increasing student scholarships; enhancing teaching, learning, and campus facilities; introducing cutting-edge technology; enhancing the library; strengthening general program support; and securing Dillard’s future through general endowment. More than $60 million has been raised to date.


Following the Class of 2010’s commencement exercises, Hughes cut the ribbons for two exciting new facilities, the Professional Schools and Sciences Building and the Student Union and Health and Wellness Center. Both buildings are LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) registered, exemplifying Dillard’s burgeoning commitment to sustainability and environmental initiatives.


During the summer of 2010, Hughes announced an academic restructuring of the University under a new four-college system with 22 majors that will position Dillard to capitalize on future growth opportunities. The College of General Studies – designed as a two-year gateway program for all incoming freshmen to improve graduation rates, would enhance preparation for majors, and foster kinship among students – now stands alongside the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Professional Studies, and the College of Business. Hughes transitioned from the presidency in June 2011 and Dr. James Lyons served as interim president.



Walter Kimbrough, President of Dillard UniversityOn July 1, 2012, Dr. Walter Kimbrough became Dillard’s seventh president. Kimbrough had made an impact on Philander Smith College where he earned the moniker “Hip Hop Prez,” and he had gained national attention for his contemporary approach to higher education. The son of a United Methodist Church minister, Kimbrough felt a connection with Dillard as a UMC school. One of Kimbrough’s strengths has been his ability to keep up with and utilize social media, which had grown too rapidly for traditional higher education leaders. Living up to his moniker, Kimbrough has leveraged hip hop culture to teach his students ethics and leadership.


Kimbrough’s dynamic presence and social capital has attracted some of the most recognized figures of the day to Dillard as visitors and lecturers. His “Brain Food” lecture series hosted such figures as Michael Eric Dyson, Kirk Franklin, Juan Williams, the controversial Candace Owens, Malcolm Nance, Gabrielle Union and Issa Rae. In 2019, the series featured Dillard alumni as part of the University’s 150th anniversary celebration:  Dr. Nita Landry, Jericho Brown and Lisa Frazier-Page. The Revius O. Ortique Jr. Lecture on Law and Society attracted Bryan Stevenson, Angela Rye, former attorney general Eric Holder, James Forman Jr. and Dillard alumnus Michael D. Jones. Also impressive was the list of commencement speakers who have visited the Oaks during Kimbrough’s presidency:  First Lady Michelle Obama, Jeff Johnson, Terrence J, Janelle Monáe, Chance the Rapper, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy and Denzel Washington whose address went viral on social media.


Dillard’s fundraising has flourished during Kimbrough’s administration. One of his most significant accomplishments was having a $160 million Hurricane Katrina loan from the federal government forgiven in 2018. That paved the way for the University’s endowment to grow from $48 million to $105 million. Also impressive was the alumni giving rate reaching 23 percent. In an almost poetic move, the University found a way to leverage social media to increase its fundraising efforts. Dillard turned its attention to GivingTuesday, a day of online giving which brought in over $64,000 in 24 hours on the University’s first try. By 2020, Dillard had managed to increase its GivingTuesday total to over $780,000 despite battling the COVID-19 pandemic.


Academically, Kimbrough turned his attention to several programs that he felt would bring Dillard attention. In 2012, the University introduced its film studies program, a response to the number of “Hollywood South'' film and television productions in Louisiana. By 2018, Dillard’s physics program had become known for being a top producer of African American physics graduates. The University also began to experience success in its pre-law program. In 2021, 93 percent of the pre-law students who applied for law schools had been accepted. Feeling that his work at Dillard had been done, Kimbrough announced in August of 2021 that he would hand off the “leadership baton” as of May of 2022.



1869-1940 | 1941-1973 | 1974-2004 | 2005-2022 | 2022-Present


2601 Gentilly Boulevard
New Orleans, Louisiana 70122

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