Linda Strong-Leek Named Provost of Haverford College
Strong-Leek, the provost, vice president for diversity and inclusion, and professor of women’s and gender studies at Berea College, will start August 25 as current Provost Fran Blase transitions back to the chemistry classroom.
Following a nationwide search, Linda Strong-Leek has been named provost of Haverford College, effective August 25. Strong-Leek is currently provost, vice president for diversity and inclusion, and professor of women’s and gender studies at Berea College in Kentucky. At Haverford, she will replace Fran Blase, an associate professor of chemistry who has served as provost for five years and who will now return to teaching.
“Linda will join Haverford as an engaged and creative collaborator and as the faculty’s strongest advocate,” said Haverford College President Wendy Raymond. “She is a liberal arts faculty member at heart. Linda comes to our community of scholars and learners as a partner in the endeavors we hold dear: scholarship, creative work, teaching, learning, inclusion, building community, and elevating our individual and collective capacities as we contribute to the greater good. She is an extraordinary and generous leader, and we are so fortunate that she will soon join us.”
Strong-Leek said she is excited for the opportunity and is inspired by “the wonderful students who come to Haverford with a deep desire to make the world a better place, [the College’s] deep history and commitment to peace and social justice, and Wendy Raymond, who I met as a member of the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Consortium, and her deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Haverford’s incoming provost graduated from North Carolina Central University with a B.A. in English and journalism and an M.A. in English and educational administration, and earned her Ph.D. in English, with concentrations in African and African American literature and African American history, from Michigan State University. She was a Fulbright Scholar in 1988, during which time she taught the first class focused on African women writers at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare.
She began her career as an assistant professor of English at Florida International University in Miami, and joined the faculty at Berea in 2002. While there, she served as interim chair of Women’s and Gender Studies Department, chair of the African and African American Studies Program, associate vice-president for academic affairs, and as the first vice president for diversity and inclusion at the college before becoming provost in 2019.
“In appointing Dr. Linda Strong-Leek as its next provost, Haverford College is hiring one of our most admired and accomplished Bereans,” said Berea President Lyle Roelofs, who was both a physics professor and associate provost during his own 22-year career at Haverford. “Linda has served in every major leadership role on the academic side at Berea College and has had a profound impact in strengthening our unique mission and identity. Her impact across the academic enterprise has been sweeping, and also, having served as the inaugural vice president for diversity and inclusion, she has led efforts to enhance faculty, staff and student body diversity. You will understand, of course, that I am not entirely pleased, that now twice in recent years Haverford has chosen to hire away some of our best and brightest. Were I not still deeply appreciative and indebted to Haverford for the delightful and formative years Laurie and I spent as part of your community, I might be forced to respond in kind!”
Strong-Leek is a distinguished scholar of major African authors, including Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta, and her current research focuses on the novels of Caribbean women writers. Though she said she was initially an “accidental administrator,” over the course of her career she discovered how satisfying it was to serve students and develop programming in her administrative roles.
“I have learned that having a ‘seat at the table’ matters greatly for women and people of color, who are often marginalized by our nation’s history of patriarchy and white supremacy,” she said. “I have watched conversations shift when there were other voices at the table, and believe that part of my work is to always bring the voice of the marginalized from the ‘margin to the center,’ as bell hooks so beautifully argues. So for me it is a call and a duty to do this work.”
That work informs her research. She co-authored an article in Diversity and Democracy, published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, on Berea College’s three initiatives that help male students persist and graduate. This research was inspired by her work overseeing those initiatives as vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Strong-Leek will join the Haverford community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which presents challenges to the type of face-to-face instruction and residential learning experience the College champions. But she says that she is prepared to lead the kinds of complex discussions that will help Haverford move forward in this new era.
“We must work together to find a way to maintain the Haverford model of close relationships between faculty and students while being mindful of safety and health,” she said. “I want all students, faculty and staff to feel seen, heard, supported, and to know that they belong at Haverford. I want to make sure that I bring the very best of myself to this position.”
Strong-Leek will build upon the contributions of Fran Blase, whose provostial term saw myriad accomplishments, including contributing to the hiring of 29 new faculty (more than half of whom are faculty of color); enhancing support for interdisciplinary programs; developing new initiatives in support of faculty research and work-life balance issues, especially for women pre-tenure faculty; helping to shepherd the $35-million library project; and establishing the Tri-Co Philly Program. With Blase’s full-time return to the faculty on June 30, Professor Robert Manning, who is currently associate provost for faculty development and support, will serve as interim provost until Strong-Leek’s arrival later this summer.