Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > 2010 > December > Archive
UM college president honored in Ebony


10:00 A.M. EST Tuesday December 28, 2010 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS)

Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College, has been named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100. Photo courtesy of Philander Smith College.
Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College, has been named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100.
Photo courtesy of Philander Smith College.
View in Photo Gallery

Last year, Walter M. Kimbrough searched Ebony magazine’s Power 100 for potential speakers to invite to Philander Smith College’s “Bless the Mic” lecture series.

This year, he is on the list himself.

The accomplishments of the 43-year-old president of Philander Smith College, a historically black institution affiliated with The United Methodist Church, garnered the attention of the nation’s premier entertainment and lifestyle publication geared toward an African-American readership. The honor came as a complete surprise to Kimbrough, whose father, the Rev. Walter L. Kimbrough, is pastor emeritus of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

“I found out on Facebook,” the college president said. A family friend from Atlanta posted a congratulatory message on his Facebook wall before the December/January issue of Ebony had arrived on Little Rock newsstands.

Since Kimbrough’s installation in December 2004 as the college’s 12th president, Philander Smith has seen its retention and graduation rates increase, more high-achieving students enter, and its national profile rise.

A hip-hop lecture series

One reason for the campus’ increasing name recognition has been “Bless the Mic,” Kimbrough’s reinvention of the traditional president’s lecture series held at many colleges and universities. Bless the Mic specifically seeks to appeal to the hip-hop generation and has brought such diverse voices to campus as former Essence magazine editor Susan L. Taylor, the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist minister and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

Power 100 honorees who have spoken at Philander Smith College include Taylor, Sharpton, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Vashti McKenzie and the radio host Tom Joyner.

“I’ve had the most fun with the lecture series,” Kimbrough said. “It exposes our campus, it exposes the state and particularly central Arkansas, to people who have never been here.”

As an example, Kimbrough cites Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who made her first trip to Arkansas to speak at Philander Smith College’s convocation this year.

“It’s been an opportunity to showcase the state to people from all across the country,” he said. “And I think part of that is how [being mentioned in] Ebony happened because they talk to people. There are a number of people on that list who have been to campus, who are really champions for the college.”

Academic emphasis

According to Ebony, choices for the Power 100 meet one or more of the following criteria: They consistently challenge the status quo, forge new paths to opportunity and success, make an impact due to the sheer breadth of their sphere of influence, and display efforts that positively benefit African Americans.

Kimbrough’s listing appears on the “academia” page, along with nine other honorees, including Ruth Simmons, the first African-American president of an Ivy League school (Brown University), and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

While the attention he’s receiving is exciting, Kimbrough emphasizes that his proudest accomplishment is raising the bar for the Philander Smith student body and seeing them meet the challenge.

Moving from open to moderately selective admission policies has increased the school’s academic profile to the point that, statewide, it places second only to the University of Arkansas in ACT scores and grade-point averages among African-American students.

The college’s retention rate has grown from 51 percent in 2004 to 77 percent in 2009. Its graduation rate has increased from 16 percent in the late 1990s to an average of 20 percent in the past two years.

“Now we have students graduating in three years and going to law school,” he said. “We didn’t have anybody like that when I got here.”

“They’re excited, and they just bring a new energy to campus,” he said. “And I think that becomes a catalyst for all the other things that are happening.”

*Forbus is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, a publication of the Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference.

Comments will be moderated. Please see our Comment Policy for more information.
Comment Policy
Add a Comment

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW