Former AACC board chair, Bronx college CEO passes away

Carolyn Grubbs Williams, a nationally renowned community college leader who was the first woman to lead Bronx Community College (BCC) in New York, passed away on Wednesday at her home in Detroit. She was 81.

Carolyn Grubbs Williams

Williams, who was BCC president for 15 years before retiring in 2012 and also served as board chair of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in 2000, was an astute leader known for developing partnerships designed to better serve community college students. She also had a strong interest in connecting community colleges with international students, and especially in developing partnerships abroad.

Williams was a long-time leader on the National Council on Black American Affairs (NCBAA), which had its leadership program named for her. She was a current board member of NCBAA, an AACC-affiliated council.

“Community colleges owe a huge debt of gratitude to Carolyn,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “She was instrumental in strengthening the pipeline for leaders of color at the community college and her legacy lives on today through the leadership programs of the National Council of Black American Affairs. She was a powerhouse professionally and a delightful person and friend. She will be missed dearly.”

Leveraging collaborations

After serving at the now-closed Highland Park Community College in Detroit, Williams’ first CEO post was at Los Angeles Southwest College from 1991 to 1996. In her first year, she eliminated a $1.6 million budget deficit and increased student enrollment by 9%. She also obtained funding and state approval for three major construction projects. In 1996, she became president of Bronx Community College.

Williams was an expert in designing programs to help community college students continue their postsecondary education and a proponent of collaborative leadership.

“The educational challenges in our cities are too vast and the resources in our individual institutions are too limited for us to act alone,” she wrote in the fall 1998 issues of New Directions for Community Colleges. “The development of collaboratives provides community colleges with new opportunities to promote access and enhances the education success of underserved students.”

In the article, Williams detailed the Los Angeles Partners Advocating for Students Success (LA PASS), which included the Los Angeles Community College District, other area higher education institutions, the Los Angeles Unified School District, businesses, social agencies, community groups and reform organizations.

A global community

At BCC, Williams focused, in part, on the college’s outreach abroad, including partnerships with schools in South Africa. This included expanded study-abroad opportunities for domestic students as well as recruiting students from overseas.

“One of the major things I’m proud of was what was what I referred to as our global initiative,” Williams told the Bronx Times newspaper in 2011. “It’s not just study-abroad and the influx of international students, but the curriculum and the whole climate of the college. We were able to bring global issues into our community.”

Williams also served on various local and national organizations. For example, in 2007 then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Williams to the board of the Port Morris Empire Zone, which served to develop jobs and businesses in an area with more than 350 industrial and distribution companies. She also had served on the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which provides recommendations regarding accrediting agencies that monitor the academic quality of postsecondary institutions and educational programs for federal purposes.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.