Dear Rhodes College Community,
Today I have the great pleasure of sharing with you the outcome of our presidential search process. The Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to name Jennifer M. Collins the 21st president of Rhodes College. An inspiring leader, beloved educator and committed proponent of the value of the liberal arts, President-elect Collins is currently the Judge James Noel Dean and Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
I am grateful to members of the Search Committee for their tireless efforts the past nine months, and to the members of the Rhodes community who provided support and input to the process.
With the help of Storbeck Search, the committee identified more than 200 prospects, held multiple rounds of formal interviews, and had numerous talks by phone as well as informal social encounters. 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.
Jennifer Collins received a B.A., cum laude, with distinction in History at Yale University, and earned her J.D. degree, magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she was notes editor of the Harvard Law Review.
She clerked for a judge in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, then served in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, providing legal advice to the president and executive branch agencies on constitutional questions. From there, she became assistant U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., where she was in the Homicide Division, prosecuted more than 30 jury trials, and won the Evans Award for outstanding trial advocacy.
Jennifer, however, was called to academia. She taught law at Wake Forest University, winning awards for teaching given by both the dean and by the students.
She was recruited internally and made associate provost for academic and strategic initiatives and then vice provost at Wake Forest. In these positions, she created the university’s first ever LGBTQ center and women’s center and led a large effort to improve campus culture. She guided the university’s response to the U.S. Department of Education’s new requirements regarding handling of sexual assault cases.
Jill Tiefenthaler, who was then provost at Wake Forest, later president of Colorado College and now CEO of the National Geographic Society, told us that “Jennifer’s greatest strength is that she is really good with uncomfortable conversations. Her background in law really helps with that – she can lead people through the most challenging topics. She is a great mediator, but she can also make decisions. She knows when to step in and lead and when to sit back.”
At Wake Forest, Jennifer managed more than a dozen direct reports including the registrar, the Humanities Institute, the Institute for Public Engagement, the Teaching and Learning Center, and all the arts institutions on campus. She chaired the Undergraduate Experience Committee, the World Events Committee, and a working group on pre-professional programs.
Jennifer arrived at SMU at a particularly challenging time for the law school. Being dean of a major law school is very much like being a college president. Law schools are semi-autonomous institutions. Their deans are typically responsible for all aspects of management: strategic planning, budgeting, fundraising, alumni relations, marketing and communications, crisis management, curriculum, international programs, compliance, community building, faculty and student recruitment, faculty development and research.
Jennifer Collins excelled in every respect and is much beloved today at SMU. Under her leadership, SMU increased the number, the academic credentials and diversity of student applications, and set fundraising records. She established and secured funding for the school’s first academic centers—the Center for Law, Science and Innovation, the Center for Criminal Justice Reform and the Center for Business Law and Leadership. She increased alumni involvement, revamped the first-year experience for students, overhauled the school’s communications, and launched a Covid-19 helpline to address the unmet legal needs of North Texas residents.
While Jennifer’s CV and her many accomplishments impressed us tremendously, 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.
Jennifer will be joined in Memphis by her husband, Adam Charnes, a Harvard Law School graduate and nationally prominent appellate attorney. They have three children—Jake and Lily are seniors at SMU and the University of Oregon respectively, and Sam is a junior at Vanderbilt.
If you were unable to attend the exciting announcement event on campus today, I encourage you to visit www.rhodes.edu/presidentelect to learn more about Jennifer and to hear from her directly.
Please join me in welcoming Jennifer and Adam to Rhodes and to Memphis.
Dr. Cary Fowler '71, P'19
Chair, Rhodes Board of Trustees
Co-Chair, Presidential Search Committee