Champlain College announced Tuesday that it has hired Dr. Benjamin Akande as its new president, even as it seeks to weather the crisis wrought by the pandemic.
Akande, who takes over the position on July 1, replaces Dr. Laurie Quinn, Champlain College's provost and senior vice president for academics, who has served as interim president since July 1, 2019. The Nigerian-born, American-educated professor, administrator and economist becomes the college's ninth president and the first person of color to serve in that position since it was established in 1878.
“I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to lead Champlain College during this period of great transformation and even greater opportunity," Akande said in a press statement. "While the challenges we currently face as global citizens are daunting, they also sharpen our focus and urge us both individually and as a community, to lead from wherever we are.”
Like all of Vermont's colleges and universities, Burlington-based Champlain College faces one of the most precarious times in its history. Its campus has been shuttered by the coronavirus in exchange for online study only, students have been refunded room and board fees, and the prospects for in-person summer and fall semesters remain uncertain.
Fortuitously, Champlain's board of trustees recruited a leader with impressive financial credentials. Akande holds a PhD in economics from the University of Oklahoma and completed his post-doctoral studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. A former president of Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, Akande currently serves as assistant vice chancellor for international affairs-Africa and as associate director of the Global Health Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
Named one of that city’s most influential leaders by the St. Louis Business Journal, Akande, 58, is an accomplished economist, scholar and global consultant to Fortune 500 companies as well as to institutions of higher learning. According to his website, Akande served as director of Ralcorp Holdings, a $5 billion publicly traded manufacturer of private food labels. He has consulted for major corporations such as Anheuser-Busch, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and SeaWorld. He now serves on the board of Argent Capital, a $4 billion asset management company.
Akande wasn't immediately available for an interview Tuesday. However, in an online video message about his appointment, Akande described his impending mission in terms that sounded more like a motivational business speaker than college administrator.
“I will empower all of you to imagine new possibilities, to dare to dream what we cannot yet see, to be adaptable thinkers, daring change makers and inclusive innovators, because together we will espouse constructive impatience,” he said.
Akande, who first came to the United States from Nigeria at 17 to pursue his college education, hinted at areas he plans to emphasize at Champlain, noting that he wants to “open the door to the American Dream to first-generation, college-bound students as well as working adults.
“We will not wait for opportunity to knock at our door," he added. "We will seek instead to build a portal that will enable opportunity to find us.”
In a press statement, Champlain College board of trustees chair Charles Kittredge described Akande as "an agent of change and a visionary leader with a global perspective."
Akande and his wife, Bola Taiwo-Akande, a pharmacist and entrepreneur, have three adult daughters. The family plans to relocate to Burlington this summer.