Connecticut College selects Les Wong as interim president
The Connecticut College Board of Trustees has unanimously elected Leslie E. Wong, Ph.D., a nationally respected leader in higher education, to become interim president of Conn, effective July 1, 2023.
Wong will succeed Katherine Bergeron, whose nearly decade-long tenure as Conn’s 11th president concludes June 30. He will serve until the College’s 12th president is selected and assumes office.
Wong, a former president of San Francisco State University and Northern Michigan University and a former interim president of the University of Southern Colorado, has been a member of Conn’s Board of Trustees since 2019. He will resign his role as a recently re-elected trustee and serve on the Board in an ex officio capacity, as is customary, until the 12th president is appointed.
In his announcement to the Conn community, Debo P. Adegbile ’91, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, said, “Les has deep experience in higher education leadership and a strong understanding of Connecticut College through his Board of Trustees service and committee-related work. As a member of the Board of Trustees since 2019, Les is well known to many in the Conn community. His commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been evident throughout his academic career. Due to his extensive presidential leadership experience and knowledge of Connecticut College, Les is uniquely positioned to assume this important role.”
In his initial message to the Conn community, Wong said, “It is such an honor to be named interim president of Connecticut College. Since I joined the Board in 2019, the faculty, staff, students, administrators and alumni have shown me the resolve, the persistence and the spirit that are needed for a great college to confront whatever comes before it.”
He added, “As a steward of this institution, I believe we have a tremendous opportunity at hand, particularly in executing our strategic plan, Building on Strength, which will guide me during my role as interim president. This role requires considerable listening and dialogue as well as a willingness to engage ideas and aspirations of everyone at Conn.”
As a member of the Board of Trustees since 2019, Wong has served on the Executive Committee, chaired the Faculty-Trustee Liaison Committee and served as vice chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs. He received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from Washington State University and previously served as president of San Francisco State University and Northern Michigan University for a combined total of 15 years. Before these roles, he served as vice president of Academic Affairs of Valley City State University and as interim president, provost and academic vice president of the University of Southern Colorado. He is married to Phyllis Michael Wong, who is the author of the award-winning non-fiction book We Kept Our Towns Going.
Wong, who identifies as a person of Mexican and Chinese ancestry, has served on the NCAA’s Task Force on Equity and Inclusion. He led a national effort to admit Mexican universities into Division II of the NCAA and since 1985 has worked closely with the State Department to promote U.S.-China relations as well as the well-being of Chinese Americans. He also led California’s statewide effort to expand Project Rebound, a social justice initiative that helps formerly incarcerated students to earn college degrees.
With Conn’s interim president position now filled, the Board of Trustees will turn its full attention to the search for the College’s 12th president. A 15-member search committee of trustees, faculty, staff and students plans by late June to select a national executive search firm that specializes in higher education. The firm’s first steps will include seeking input from a cross-section of senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and other friends and supporters of the College.
Connecticut College will host a series of seven public lectures, “Pathways to the Professoriate,” given by professors of higher education, including its own associate dean of institutional equity and inclusion, who will speak of their journeys in the academy and their research interests.
The fundamental objective of the College’s MMUF Program, an initiative designed to support students’ pathways to Ph.D. programs and careers in the professoriate, is to address the underrepresentation of faculty from historically marginalized groups.
Monday, Sept. 11 Frederick-Douglass Knowles, II, associate professor of English at Three Rivers Community College, is a poet, professor and activist involved in community education, AIDS activism and the performing arts. Knowles, the author of “Black Rose City,” will discuss his journey in the academy and his research interests. Black Rose City is a collection of poems exploring the underpinnings of interpersonal relationships in communities isolated by socio-political barriers and reflecting the memories of a city youth growing up in the urban neighborhoods of Norwich, Connecticut, whose citizens refer to it as Rose City, after its official flower. 7 p.m., Ernst Common Room, Blaustein Humanities Center
Monday, Sept. 25 Mark Anthony Neal is professor of African & African American studies at Duke University, where he offers courses on black masculinity, popular culture, and digital humanities, including signature courses on Michael Jackson & the Black Performance Tradition, and The History of Hip-Hop, which he co-teaches with Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder. He is the author of several books, including “What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture,” “Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic,” and “Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities.” 7 p.m., Ernst Common Room, Blaustein Humanities Center
Thursday, Oct. 5 Dr. Trimiko Melancon, a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, is an associate professor of English, African American studies, and women’s studies, and co-director of the Women’s Studies Program at Loyola University. She is the author of “Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation” (Temple University Press) and editor of “Black Female Sexualities” (Rutgers University Press). 7 p.m., Cro’s Nest, College Center at Crozier-Williams
Monday, Oct. 9 Professor Lyrical (Dr. Peter Plourde) is an artist and educator known for using the positive aspects of Hip Hop culture to strengthen student’s learning abilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Lyrical is an associate professor at The University of the District of Columbia. He will discuss his journey in the academy and demonstrate how he uses principles of Hip Hop to teach STEM fields. 7 p.m., Hood Dining Room, Blaustein Humanities Center
Monday, Oct. 25 Dr. Yaba Blay uses personal and social narratives to disrupt fundamental assumptions about cultures and identities. The Dan Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science at North Carolina Central University, Dr. Blay is one of today’s leading voices on colorism and global skin color politics. Her book, “(1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race,” explores the interconnected nuances of skin color politics and Black racial identity, and challenges narrow perceptions of Blackness as both an identity and lived reality. 7 p.m., College Center at Crozier-Williams, 1941 Room
Tuesday, Nov. 7 Dr. Henryatta L. Ballah, assistant professor of history at Connecticut College, is the author of "Listen, Politics is Not for Children: Adult Authority, Social Conflicts and Youth Survival Strategies in Post-Civil War Liberia." This work explores the historical economic, social and political experiences of Liberian youth since the beginning of the Republic in 1847. Known for an infectious teaching style that is student-centered, Dr. Ballah will discuss her journey in the academy and her research interests. 7 p.m., Ernst Common Room, Blaustein Humanities Center
Monday, Dec. 4 B. Afeni McNeely Cobham, curator of the Sankofa Lecture Series, has served as a faculty member for over 15 years at various institutions and is currently the associate dean of institutional equity and inclusion at Connecticut College. Dr. McNeely Cobham’s research focuses on race, identity and culture in American higher education and the influence of Hip Hop culture in socio-political ideologies. Her most recent study, “Sisters Rap the Blues: Examining the Perceived Impact of Rap Music on Black Women College Students,” addresses the impact of popular culture on college-age students. 7 p.m., College Center at Crozier-Williams Cro’s Nest