To the Williams community,
Yesterday we shared the news that Mike Reed ’75, former Williams trustee and vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, had passed away. I write now with a fuller commemoration of Mike, who did so much to transform his alma mater and our world for the better.
Mike first came to Williams as a student in 1971. He had attended a large city high school in Cleveland, and in hindsight described his initial adjustment to Williams as challenging. He told Williams Magazine that he ultimately found strength and purpose on the track team, where he shone as an All-American hurdler and relay racer (with fellow runner and later his fellow Trustee, Jimmy Lee ’75). “I experienced confidence, success and peace of mind when I was running,” Mike said. Many years later he still expressed pride that, “you can come here and know that you’re going to get the absolute best education and that you can also participate at the highest level possible.”
After graduation, Mike earned his M.A. in educational psychology from Howard University and started his career as an educational psychologist at the Children’s Residential Treatment Center in Washington, DC. In 1981, though, he returned to Williams as assistant director of admissions. Starting in 1984, he continued his admission work while also serving as assistant director of alumni relations.
In 1985, Mike left Williams once again, to assume a series of increasingly senior roles at A Better Chance and INROADS, national organizations devoted to supporting the leadership skills and contributions of young people of color. For his extraordinary work in this area, Williams recognized Mike with a Bicentennial Medal in 1993, at a ceremony where he shared the stage with award-winning playwright August Wilson and Preston Washington ’70, the longtime president and CEO of Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement. In the college citation, Mike was lauded for the way his efforts “consistently targeted one of our society’s most pressing needs—the social, economic, and developmental well-being of our young people.”
He held that focus throughout his career. After INROADS, Mike founded Consulting Works LLC, which provided organizational and management consulting services to the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Then, in 2006, President Morty Schapiro recruited Mike away from his seat as a Williams Trustee, to assume the newly-created campus role of vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity—a major priority in the college’s diversity action plan.
As Morty noted at the time “I cannot imagine anyone better suited for this important position. In addition to all his experience, Mike loves Williams. That love doesn’t blind him, however, to the ways that the College could do better and I expect him to be for all of us both nurturing and challenging.” Mike was extremely adept at combining those qualities, and his resulting contributions were numerous. One highlight was his leadership of the Multicultural Center, which he helped transform and get rededicated as the Davis Center. His vision for the Center shaped Williams’ support of diverse students and culture for many years afterward. Similarly, he created the Diversity Action Research Team, whose data-informed approach to DEI and campus climate issues also continues to define Williams’ efforts to this day. And he created the important position of associate dean for institutional diversity, currently held by Professor of Chemistry Christopher Goh.
There were many other contributions, too: Mike was a co-founder of Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO), which promotes innovation in DEI work in higher education, and was instrumental in convening the original Creating Connections Consortium—a group of liberal arts colleges and universities that work to increase the presence within higher education of people from historically underrepresented groups.
Mike’s successor at Williams, Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99, says of him, “This week, we lost a giant—a fierce advocate for education and opportunity. Mike was unabashed in his quest for racial equity in the academy, and gave selflessly in order to open pathways for people from groups that have been historically oppressed. He was also the quintessential mentor, supporting dozens of aspiring and sitting chief diversity officers and helping to shape the role at institutions around the nation.”
Mike’s many contributions at Williams also included serving as interim vice president for alumni relations and development. His remarkable ability to excel in almost any setting was rooted in extraordinary people skills. Keli Gail, who as Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees worked closely with Mike for many years, puts it this way: “Among Mike’s many gifts to Williams was his easygoing demeanor, which was most welcome when we were grappling with tough issues on senior staff. His infectious laugh lightened the often-heavy work, whether it was making hard choices during the 2008 economic downturn or building our inaugural diversity, equity, and inclusion office, which became a model throughout higher education. And his talent for connecting with people was tremendous, too: You could never really keep him in conversation while walking across campus, because he was constantly stopping to greet everyone he ran into.”
In 2014, Mike left Williams employment one last time, to assume the roles of vice president for institutional initiatives and chief diversity officer at Dickinson College, where former Williams dean and professor of biology Nancy Roseman had become president. He was later recruited to Bowdoin College, where he once again inaugurated the role of senior vice president for inclusion and diversity. At both schools, like everyplace Mike went, he created change for the better: Dickinson experienced historic growth in its faculty diversity under his leadership, just as Williams had done earlier. And at Bowdoin Mike enhanced the school’s recruitment and hiring processes while also launching a number of key social justice initiatives.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Mike also found ways to support the vision of an excellent and inclusive Williams through his alumni volunteer work, including time as class vice president and steering committee chair of the Williams Black Alumni Network (WBAN). He was elected by his fellow alumni to a seat on the college’s Board of Trustees, where he served from 2004 to 2006, before stepping down in order to assume the vice presidency.
WBAN founder and fellow former Williams trustee Robin Powell Mandjes ’82 remembers Mike’s contributions to fellow alumni: “Mike Reed and I were longstanding friends, connected by our dedication to the college. When some of us, while still undergraduates, wanted to build relationships with African American alumni, Mike provided strategic advice and tactical support, which contributed to the successful launch of the Black Alumni Network. In the decades that followed, he continued to be a visible and thoughtful leader in the Williams community, as well as a deeply valued advisor to the college’s leadership.”
We will share any details about memorial gatherings once they are available. Already, far more people have paid heartfelt tribute to Mike Reed than I could quote in a single message. He did so much for Williams and for a more inclusive world, and in the process epitomized many of our community’s best qualities. We mourn his passing and offer condolences to his family members, colleagues and friends.