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Rhodes College names SMU law dean Jennifer Collins new president

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 10:00 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Rhodes College announced its 21st president Monday. Jennifer Collins was chosen with a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees.

Collins is currently the Judge James Noel Dean and professor of law at Southern Methodist University in Texas. She has served as dean of the Dedman School of Law at SMU since 2014.

Collins was previously a member of the law faculty at Wake Forest University in North Carolina where she served as associate provost for academic and strategic initiatives and vice provost, teaching criminal law, criminal procedure, family law, gender and the law and career development and legal professionalism. She has received numerous teaching excellence awards.

Before teaching, Collins practiced law in Washington D.C., clerking for the Hon. Dorothy W. Nelson in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and working in private practice before joining the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel as an attorney-adviser. She then served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. She returned to private practice before moving to Wake Forest.

Collins’ previous law experience is something she plans to bring to her new position.

“As I always like to say, there’s no greater preparation for telling a good story than trying to get 12 citizens who could not figure out how to get out of jury duty to take very seriously the obligation that they have to try to do justice and reach the right result,” she said.

Collins was introduced to the Rhodes community Monday by Cary Fowler, Board of Trustees chair and Presidential Search Committee co-chair.

“While the applicant pool was by far the strongest I have ever witnessed for any position in my professional life, one person in this wonderfully diverse and accomplished pool shone through at every stage,” said Fowler. “Jennifer’s CV and her many accomplishments impressed us tremendously, but it was her personal qualities that won our hearts. We found her to be warm and caring. A good listener. Empathetic and yet decisive; even unflappable. In Jennifer, we will have a president with the values we hold dear at Rhodes College.”

Speaking to the Rhodes community Monday, Collins said, “When I talked to the search committee about why I was so excited about joining you, two of the things I focused on were your remarkable people and this wonderful place, the beautiful city of Memphis, that I will now be so fortunate to call home. I know I still have so very much to learn about Rhodes and Memphis, and I promise to approach this role with a firm commitment to listen and learn, to respect your culture and values, and to work collaboratively, transparently, and joyfully with all the people who make Rhodes so special.”

Rhodes College joins a list of higher education intuitions in Memphis that have announced new presidents in the last year.

The liberal arts college located in Mid-Town gained attention in 2020 when graduate Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Supreme Court.

Hundreds of Alumni came out in opposition to her nomination, claiming her former legal opinions marginalized the LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities.

Former President Marjorie Haas came out in support of Barrett’s nomination.

Newly appointed president Collins says she doesn’t plan to shy away from discussing social issues.

“I think we’re at a critical inflection point in terms of the kind of country we want to be and how we advocate for social justice,” she said, “I think that a liberal arts college are some of the best places to have those conversations.”

Collins takes office July 1, 2022, succeeding Interim President Carroll Stevens who has served since July 1, 2021 after the departure of President Marjorie Hass.

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