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Lawrence University names first Black president

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Laurie A. Carter has been named the new president of Lawrence University.

She will become the 17th president in the 174-year history of Lawrence on July 1, succeeding President Mark Burstein, who announced in September that he would step away at the close of this academic year after eight years leading the liberal arts college.

Carter’s appointment was announced Thursday in a video introduction to the Lawrence community.

Carter, who is African American, will be the first person of color to lead Lawrence University. 

“It’s very meaningful to me” to be the first, she said in an interview Thursday. “And I know that it’s meaningful to the community. I know it’s meaningful to the campus community as well.”

The presidency of Lawrence isn’t her first first, either: she was the first Black administrator at Julliard nearly 30 years ago; the first Black executive at Eastern Kentucky University; and the first Black and the first female president at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, where she’s been president since 2017. 

She said she’s committed to getting to know the Fox Valley’s communities of color.

“I have an interest in getting to know those communities and working within those communities. I want folks to know that is part of my make up,” she said. “This is now the opportunity for me to really learn more about who I need to engage with in the community and begin that process.”

She said she’s been aware of Lawrence since her days at Julliard, as Lawrence’s Conservatory has earned a national reputation.

“Lawrence’s integration of the college and the Conservatory has produced a rich campus culture informed by academics, athletics, and the arts and inspires creativity across all endeavors,” she said in the video message. 

Carter rose to the top of a field of candidates during the six-month search process. The Presidential Search Committee, led by chair Cory Nettles and vice chair Sarah Schott, both alumni, said the “breadth, depth, and diversity” of the candidate pool was robust.

“We wanted someone who would deepen the learning opportunities for Lawrence students, someone who was capable of managing the tremendous financial challenges that are buffeting liberal arts colleges all across the country, someone who would help us continue down the journey we’re on of diversity and inclusion and our goal to become an anti-racist institution, and someone who understands the hallmarks of a private, residential, liberal arts college,” said Nettles, who was recognized as one of Madison365’s most influential Black leaders in 2015. “There was one candidate who rose to the top of our list and who stayed there, and that candidate is Laurie Carter.”

The Search Committee unanimously recommended Carter to the Board of Trustees as the 17th president of Lawrence, and the Board enthusiastically accepted the recommendation.

Carter’s tenure at Shippensburg, a regional, public university in south central Pennsylvania serving 6,500 students, has focused on prioritizing student success, building a positive relationship with the community, and enhancing overall quality. She has strengthened student success efforts by creating a first-year experience program, a first-generation college students’ program, a comprehensive student success center, and an academic center for student-athletes.     

In addition, she collaborated with the local business community to create a downtown location for Shippensburg University’s Centers of Excellence, transformed the gateway to campus into a new Alumni and Welcome Center, and renovated a decommissioned steam plant into a home for the state system’s first School of Engineering. 

Carter’s efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion at Shippensburg were recognized by the publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, which named her as one of 25 outstanding women in higher education. Her efforts have included the addition of an executive level chief diversity officer, renovation of a multicultural center, creation of a PRIDE Center, and expansion of the Title IX office. Most recently, she created an Anti-Racism Institute to foster racial understanding.  

The Presidential Search Committee, which included representatives from all areas of the Lawrence community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees — was impressed by Carter at every turn, Nettles said. 

“Certainly, her experience as a sitting college president at Shippensburg University was among her top attributes,” Nettles said. “But we also found that Laurie has a calm, steely demeanor, she’s extremely collected, she’s thoughtful, she’s insightful, she’s a good listener. And most important, perhaps, she was a fan of our student representatives at every stage of the process.” 

Carter spent 25 years in leadership positions at The Juilliard School, a prestigious private performing arts college in New York City. She was Juilliard’s first African American administrator and taught on the liberal arts and graduate faculty. She developed the institution’s student affairs program, launched diversity initiatives, created the Office of the General Counsel, and co-created the Jazz Studies program. 

She was vice president and general counsel and executive director of Jazz Studies when she left Juilliard in 2013 to lead the nation’s third-largest arts education department at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She later joined Eastern Kentucky University as executive vice president and university counsel. And in 2017, she was named president of Shippensburg. 

“Excellence was a part of everything we did at Juilliard, and I bring that value with me to Lawrence,” Carter said. “My passion for an environment with liberal arts leanings that embraces the arts was born at Juilliard.”

A native of New Jersey, Carter attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor of science degree in communications. She received her masters of arts in communications from William Paterson College and earned her JD from Rutgers University. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Snow College. A former track and field athlete, she is a member of the Clarion University Athletics Hall of Fame.