Long-time Dallas-area community college leader Wright Lassiter, Jr., passed away July 1. He was 85.
Lassiter was appointed chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) in 2007 — the first African-American to hold that position — and retired from the post in 2013. Previously, he was president of El Centro College, which is part of DCCCD, for 20 years.
“We all live in the spirit of hope and service which was the trademark of Dr. Lassiter’s life. He lived by example. He was larger than life, yet he lived with humility,” DCCCD Chancellor Joe May said in an email regarding Lassiter’s passing.
In 2016, Lassiter received the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Leadership Award. AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus noted that his friend, with whom he served at Dallas community colleges, exemplified leadership at the highest level.
“With over 50 years in the community college sector, Wright was a visionary leader with numerous local and national accomplishments,” Bumphus said. “He garnered the admiration and respect of all of those who had the privilege of knowing and working with him. We are truly saddened by his passing, but we know that his contributions to establishing a foundation for many of the programs that are still in our sector today will live on.”
Achievements as CEO
Over his time at DCCCD, Lassiter led the seven-college district to prominence at the state and national level. He oversaw the completion of a $450-million bond program passed by voters. It resulted in 29 new buildings throughout the district, including five community campuses in areas of the county that were considered fast-growing or underserved. The work helped to accommodate an unprecedented enrollment growth, which reached 80,000 credit and 25,000 non-credit students.
During Lassiter’s tenure, the district also gained prominence in the business community. Grants from the Texas Workforce Commission allowed DCCCD to work more closely with companies and to prepare more workers in the county for high-demand positions.
Lassiter also was instrumental in forming partnerships with area hospital systems to accelerate graduation from Dallas system colleges with associate-degree nursing programs. He led the formation of the District Health Resources Center, which serves as an entry point for students interested in allied health and nursing careers.
Before becoming chancellor, the Mississippi-born Lassiter served as president of El Centro College for 20 years. He played an instrumental role in founding El Centro’s Middle College High School (MCHS) in 1988. MCHS puts high school students on the path to earning an associate degree, and gives them an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most of the school’s graduates are the first in their families to complete college.
Because of his work championing MCHS, the school was later renamed the Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School at El Centro College.
Students of the Dr. Wright Lassiter Jr. Early College High School ask Lassiter how the early college got its start.
‘One of a kind’
Lassiter retired from DCCCD in 2013, but continued to serve as a graduate school faculty member and trustee at Dallas Baptist University.
As word of his passing spread, college leaders recalled serving with Lassiter and his work in opening pathways for new leaders.
“We have lost a great legend in community college leadership. His legacy will be cherished for years to come,” said Quintin Bullock, president of the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. Bullock noted that Lassiter was the first African-American college president in the State University of New York System when he led Schenectady County Community College — where Bullock himself also served as president.
Justin Lonon, executive vice chancellor at DCCCD, recalls his former boss as “one of a kind.”
“He was a true statesman and gentleman. He inspired thousands of students on their educational journey and was a mentor to those of us lucky enough to work with him. I’ll always remember his guiding words and hearty laughter,” Lonon said.