Rhodes College welcomes new president

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 10:01 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - An Ivy League-trained lawyer with solid credentials as a highly regarded law professor and administrator became the 21st President of Rhodes College this month.

“I am so excited to be here,” said Jennifer M. Collins, a wife and mother of three who comes to Memphis after eight years serving as dean and professor at the law school at Southern Methodist University.

Collins says her enthusiasm for Rhodes rises as she meets students and faculty members.

“I think we attract some of the very best students in the country. We have faculty doing incredibly interesting and important research teaching in the classroom, and we have an incredible staff supporting all that great work,” Collins said.

A native of Massachusetts, President Collins earned a degree in history at Yale University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University Law School, where she also served as an editor for the Harvard Law Review.

“I’m a lawyer by training. I spent about ten years of my career practicing, primarily in Washington DC., " Collins said.

In her decade in our nation’s capital, Collins clerked for a federal appeals court judge, worked in private practice, and joined the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Collins earned her stripes as a federal prosecutor as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1994 to 2002.

But in 2003, Collins made a move to academia as she became a law professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina where her star began rising in the administration.

She was named associate provost for academic and strategic initiatives in 2010 and vice provost in 2013 and became the first law professor to be appointed to a role that had oversight of strategic planning, budgeting, faculty, and student recruitment, and a variety of other responsibilities that aligned Collins’ career trajectory toward a college presidency.

“One part of the job I’m really excited about is to continue to do a job telling the Rhodes story and letting both Memphis and the broader community nationally know about all the incredible things that are going on here. The way our students serve. The way our alumni give back to their communities,” Collins said. “We’re constantly ranked one of the most service-minded colleges in the country and the way our students have a sense of compassion, and deep commitment to the community is absolutely inspiring. That will continue to be a huge priority and a big strength of the college going forward,” the new president said.

“One of the things that I was really proud of at my prior institution was starting a program for high school students who might be interested in pursuing law school. Although it would have been wonderful if they came to SMU, that was not the point of the program. It was to give them the tools and the background and the resources they need to successfully apply to college, to have mentors who would support them throughout college, so we need to think really holistically about how we expand access and opportunity in every way possible and make sure students aren’t held back because of limitations of financial resources, " Collins said.

Just shy of 60% of Rhodes’ 2,000-member student body receive some kind of financial aid to attend the liberal arts college. Clearly, Rhodes’ new president wants to make sure that those who qualify to attend her new institution have every opportunity to do so.

“That’s certainly one of my core commitments as a leader—and I think every leader of higher education institutions today—is to expand access and opportunity. So anything that we can do to help people achieve a dream they have set for themselves by eliminating financial barriers, but also by eliminating resource barriers we’ll want to do,” Collins said.

Rhodes’ new leader said she spent part of the summer attending Harvard University’s seminar for new college presidents where she learned alumni tend to connect on social media via Twitter while students prefer Instagram.

Collins said the Harvard trainers encouraged new presidents to have accounts on both services and she has now created accounts, “but I will not be on TikTok,” Collins said.

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