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M.O.L.D. Grants

Morgan State University to Partner with UMBC, UMD on $3-Million Mellon Foundation-Funded Initiative to Advance Faculty Leadership Development

by Morgan State U
November 11, 2021

Maryland Institutions Establish Model Program to Diversify Senior Leadership in Higher Ed While Fostering a Pipeline for Future Leaders

BALTIMORE — To address a lack of diverse leadership in higher education—including underrepresentation of women and Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan Native arts and humanities faculty in leadership—Morgan State University is partnering with UMBC and University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) to begin “Breaking the M.O.L.D.” The collaboration of the three leading Maryland institutions comes by way of a three-year, $3-million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Breaking the M.O.L.D., which stands for Mellon/Maryland Opportunities for Leadership Development, will create a model program committed to developing a career pipeline for diverse senior faculty leadership in the arts and humanities in higher education, while closing the advancement gap. For its part in the UMBC-led initiative, Morgan will receive more than $530,000 during the three-year period of the grant.

Leading Morgan’s implementation of the initiative as its principal investigator (PI) will be Patricia Williams Lessane, Ph.D., associate vice president for Academic Affairs; and co-PI Charlene Chester, Ph.D., assistant dean for the James H. Gilliam Jr. College of Liberal Arts (CLA). Together, they will team with four women in senior leadership from two fellow Maryland institutions to create programs and pathways to essentially break the mold of longstanding paradigms within higher education, which are often shaped by both implicit bias and epistemic exclusion. Breaking the M.O.L.D. aims to establish a new model for leadership development that embraces, and promotes, inclusive and expansive conceptions. 

Lessane“Leaders beget leaders. It’s through this model Breaking the M.O.L.D. initiative that we are creating the infrastructure and blueprint for our diverse faculty to thrive. We are particularly passionate about the work initiated through this grant, because we are focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders from the arts and humanities,” said Dr. Lessane.

A recent report published by CUPA-HR, a leading national association for human resources professionals in higher education, found that despite experiencing positive gains in overall representation in college administrations, women remain underrepresented at the top of the organizational chart at many universities — holding less than 40% of executive leadership roles.

ChesterNo stranger to leveling the scales of inequity, Morgan—Maryland’s largest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the consortium—understands the long-term impact partiality and disparity can have on progression and advancement. Addressing these imbalances is paramount for Morgan, and the Mellon-funded Breaking the M.O.L.D. program is just one example of how Morgan is exemplifying innovation in this arena. The University has made significant strides in this regard, putting in place measures not only to address diversity among its faculty but also the equity of their pay. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, salaries to Morgan’s female full professors are the second highest of public doctoral institutions in the U.S.

“Investment is at the core of leadership. We are an institution fully committed to nurturing tomorrow’s leaders, and we are equally committed to creating legitimate pathways for their development and ultimate success,” added Dr. Chester.

Morgan will develop and implement a Summer Leadership Academy to address the unique, historical barriers that often impede the ascension of women and diverse faculty in the arts and humanities, with a particular focus on Black women faculty. The academy aims to assist Morgan faculty in further developing leadership skills, balancing research and leadership responsibilities and navigating the higher education landscape, through specialized enrichment programs, workshops, applied research experiences and mentorship opportunities.

Central to the award of the grant was the synergy of the academic partners, who collectively represent a diverse field of Maryland’s higher education landscape. As an HBCU, a minority-serving institution (MSI) and a predominantly white institution (PWI), Morgan, UMBC and UMD are uniquely positioned to collaboratively lead this charge.

This ambitious project will include two cohorts of faculty — associate and full professors — guided by senior faculty over a three-year period. Participants will engage in skill-building seminars; learn key leadership skills from experts who hold senior positions at the three universities; and take part in leadership experiences with their administrative faculty mentors. The cohorts will travel to each campus to gain insights on how PWIs, HBCUs and MSIs create different pathways to senior leadership within each of the participating institutions’ arts and humanities colleges.

“Humanities scholars are needed in senior executive leadership positions because they understand the value of human-centered education and its impact as a driving force in equitable scientific and technological innovation, business enterprise and social justice reform during volatile, unprecedented times,” continued Lessane 

Kimberly Moffitt, Ph.D., interim dean of UMBC’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS) and professor of Language, Literacy and Culture; and Patrice McDermott, Ph.D., vice provost for Faculty Affairs, will serve as the PI and co-PI, respectively, for UMBC. At UMD, Psyche Williams-Forson, Ph.D., professor and chair of American Studies, will serve as PI, with Bonnie Thornton Dill, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) and professor in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, assuming the co-PI role.

The university partners on the Breaking the M.O.L.D. initiative have devised a flexible model that can be adapted to meet the diversity challenges and needs of individual campuses, while including all faculty from the arts and humanities who are committed to supporting diversity and inclusion in academia.

“This experienced team of diverse senior leaders has an opportunity to create a structural answer to elevate diverse leaders from the arts and humanities,” added Dr. Moffitt. “This will enable faculty to apply distinct knowledge, skills and perspectives to address our communities’ needs as leaders at their respective institutions.”

UMD’s ARHU faculty will tackle barriers Black women faculty face in accessing and succeeding in leadership positions, and they will support Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native faculty more broadly.

“As a Black woman serving at the senior executive level in a PWI, I’m keenly aware of the importance of having the voices of diverse people at the leadership table,” asserted Dr. Thornton Dill. “I see this project as an opportunity to expose program participants to the knowledge and experiences of other underrepresented minorities in administration as they develop their own strategies and approaches to higher education leadership.”

In addition to developing a network of diverse faculty equipped with the tools and resources to guide and grow universities, Breaking the M.O.L.D will invest in strengthening the links between leadership and scholarship. The intersectionality of the problems that communities face locally, nationally and globally requires diverse leaders with humanities and arts perspectives who are empowered to create and share knowledge in new, high-impact ways.

M.O.L.D.Beyond working with faculty as future higher ed leaders, this program also seeks to reshape institutional structures. Ultimately, it aims to disrupt systemic practices that have left women and ethnically diverse arts and humanities faculty out of university leadership. The partners plan to combine information gathered over the three years of the program with current research on inclusive excellence to design tools that will help universities rethink their recruitment processes for faculty leaders.

Through a variety of leadership presentations and exercises, the three institutions will design a path to develop truly inclusive leadership by disrupting implicit bias and other forms of exclusion present in job descriptions, search and selection processes, hiring and professional development. The resources they develop will be made available to other universities across Maryland and the nation, and to academic search firms and those who chair leadership searches, who often initiate the vetting process for arts and humanities faculty. By sharing these resources, the university partners hope to enhance equity in academic hiring nationwide.

About Morgan

Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering nearly 140 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, and the only university to have its entire campus designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit

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