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Saying “it’s time” after 11 years at the helm, Davidson College president Carol Quillen on Wednesday said she will resign at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
After a sabbatical year in 2022-23, she said, she plans to return to the campus as a professor of history.
“I love what I do, and I love Davidson,” Quillen said in a message to the community on Davidson.edu. “And at the same time, there is a natural course to a presidency.”
Quillen is the school’s first woman president and the first non-alumnus in that role in more than half a century.
When she was hired, Quillen said, the chairman of the Davidson College board asked her to imagine “a 10-year time horizon.”
“That seemed right to me, and I’ve been contemplating the timing of this decision to step down for the past few years,” she said. “My head and heart tell me that this is the time.”
To the community, she said: “Serving in this role and working with you all is an extraordinary gift. I’m grateful beyond words for the opportunities I have had over the past decade to share in your aspirations and accomplishments.”
But Quillen won’t leave for very long.
“Davidson and this community have become home,” she said.
During Quillen’s tenure, the student body grew more diverse — socioeconomically and racially, Davidson College trustees said Wednesday. The college saw a record number of applications, while the school endowment mushroomed past $1 billion, they said.
Meanwhile, the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship opened, extending the campus into downtown Davidson and creating partnerships with the local business community. The school campus also gained new public art.
“Carol will leave Davidson stronger than when she arrived,” said Alison Hall Mauzé, chair of the Board of Trustees. “She embraced Davidson’s mission and, then, challenged and guided us to figure out how we live out that purpose now and in the future.”
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a 1993 Davidson graduate and former Charlotte mayor, will lead the search committee for the next president of the school, Mauzé said.
Quillen oversaw Davidson becoming a top-tier undergraduate research school, trustees said. And the school tied for second in the nation for its athletes’ NCAA graduation success rate. The college joined the more challenging Atlantic 10 athletic conference during her presidency.
Quillen also established Davidson’s Commission on Race & Slavery, which explored the college’s history involving race and enslaved persons. She publicly apologized for the college’s role in perpetuating slavery, Jim Crow laws and policies that excluded people based on race.
“Carol possesses the most valuable commodity in higher education today: courage,” Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, said in a statement. “She doesn’t hesitate to challenge the status quo that we know isn’t working, and she does it in a way that helps those in the debate to look at an issue differently rather than grow defensive.”
Nationally, her peers selected Quillen to a leadership role in the American Council on Education. She is a founding member of the American Talent Initiative to increase the number of low-income students in colleges and universities with high graduation rates.
Former President Barack Obama appointed her to his Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. In 2019, Princeton University awarded Quillen the James Madison Medal, which recognizes an alumnus of the university’s graduate schools for a distinguished career and public service.