Dr Melissa Gilliam becomes Boston University’s first Black and first female president

BY Preta Peace Namasaba October 5, 2023 3:17 PM EDT
Dr Melissa Gilliam. Photo credit: Boston University

Dr. Melissa Gilliam has been selected as the President of Boston University, marking a historic milestone as the institution’s first Black and first female president. A distinguished educator, scholar, research scientist, and physician, she will take the helm as the university’s 11th president, commencing her role on July 1, 2024.

This appointment culminates a yearlong search to identify a successor for Robert A. Brown, who has served as the University’s president since 2005. The diligent efforts of the 16-member Presidential Search Committee were guided by a presidential profile crafted through the collective input of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Among nearly 400 candidates hailing from across the globe, Dr. Gilliam emerged as the most qualified and ideal candidate for this prestigious position, as determined by Boston University’s Board of Trustees.

“I’m really excited about how engaged Boston University is in the city and how engagement has been a hallmark of BU. I’m looking forward to hearing from people, learning and listening. I lead by listening, collaborating, and empowering other people. That is the best way to run big organizations, to get everyone excited and engaged and empowered and doing more than they think they’re capable of doing. This philosophy is core to shared governance, an essential component of a thriving university”- Dr Melissa Gilliam

A distinguished professor of obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics, Dr. Melissa Gilliam will take the helm of one of the largest private residential universities in the United States. Established in 1839, Boston University boasts 17 schools and colleges and is home to approximately 37,000 students. As one of Boston’s prominent employers, the university boasts a staff of over 10,000 individuals and an endowment of $2.9 billion.

Notably, this appointment marks a return for Dr. Gilliam to both the city of Boston and Boston University. During her tenure at Harvard Medical School, she collaborated with researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health on a summer project and participated in a research endeavor in Ecuador alongside the same team, aimed at gaining insights into the health of elderly individuals.

Dr. Gilliam’s academic journey has been characterized by exceptional achievements. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Yale University, followed by a Master of Arts degree in philosophy and politics from the University of Oxford. Her academic pursuits continued at Harvard University, where she attained a medical degree. She further honed her expertise with a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Illinois Chicago.

Currently, Dr. Gilliam serves as the Executive Vice President and Provost at The Ohio State University, a position that makes her the first woman of color to hold such a role. She will continue to fulfill her responsibilities as the university’s chief academic officer until the end of this year, at which point she will officially assume the position of President-Elect at Boston University, effective January 1, 2024. Prior to her role at Ohio State, she was a professor, vice provost, and held the title of Ellen H. Block Distinguished Service Professor of Health Justice at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Gilliam’s journey in academia commenced at the University of Illinois Chicago, where she served as a faculty member. Her numerous roles included directorship of the Center for Reproductive Health, leadership of the Fellowship in Family Planning, and co-direction of both the research and clinical cores for the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Women’s Health. She later assumed the role of chief of the Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research within the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Dr. Gilliam also led the Program in Gynecology for Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults and was the founder and director of the university’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health from 2012. Additionally, she served as the dean of diversity and inclusion for the Biological Sciences Division.

Dr. Gilliam’s trailblazing career is further enriched by her familial connections to pioneering figures. Her mother, Dorothy Gilliam, achieved distinction as the first Black female reporter to be employed by the Washington Post. Meanwhile, her father, Sam Gilliam, earned recognition as an abstract painter and is credited with introducing the concept of a draped, painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars—a groundbreaking contribution to the world of art.