Laurence Alexander recommended as chancellor of UM-Flint

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A headshot of Laurence Alexander with the UM-Flint stamp
Laurence Alexander's five-year appointment will be effective July 1, pending approval by the Board of Regents at its May 16 meeting on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus.

This article originally appeared in The University Record.

Laurence Alexander, a recognized leader in higher education who for 11 years has served as chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, has been recommended as the next chancellor of the University of Michigan-Flint. 

His five-year appointment will be effective July 1, pending approval by the Board of Regents at its May 16 meeting on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus. He will also serve as an executive officer of the university. 

"We are honored to have Dr. Alexander join the U-M family," President Santa J. Ono said in an email to the Flint campus community. "His exceptional professional experience coupled with his extraordinary achievements as an administrator and university leader make him an outstanding fit for UM-Flint."

A reception to welcome Alexander to the downtown campus will occur at 10 a.m. May 17, in the Grand Ballroom of UM-Flint's Northbank Center, 432 Saginaw St., and is open to UM-Flint students, faculty and staff.

Alexander succeeds Donna Fry, a longtime faculty member and current dean of the College of Health Sciences at UM-Flint, who has served as that campus' interim chancellor since August 2023. The prior chancellor, Debasish Dutta, left UM-Flint in September 2023 for a position at the University of Illinois. 

"Donna Fry has proven herself to be invaluable during this time of transition," Ono said. "I'm deeply grateful that she was willing to step up and provide us much-needed stability and guidance as we searched for the new chancellor." 

Alexander brings more than three decades of combined professional and academic experience as a university chancellor, professor, attorney and journalist. 

"I am thrilled to join the UM-Flint community," said Alexander, whose selection caps a 10-month national search. "I'm pleased to become a part of one of the world's greatest universities.  I've been impressed by the people, existing programs, facilities and the solid foundation that's been laid by previous leadership, and I can't wait to get to campus and build on those things with the experience I've gained throughout my career." 

Under his leadership, UAPB grew enrollment, increased retention and graduation rates, and launched several new academic programs. The university reached higher levels of research investment and grant funding, acquired funding for new construction and renovation, and developed new corporate partnerships that led to multiple major gift donations and increased the endowment by 250 percent. 

He takes the helm at UM-Flint during a time of uncertainty, as the campus in recent years has grappled with declining enrollment and lagging graduation rates. 

In 2022, then-President Mary Sue Coleman ordered leadership at UM-Flint to develop a strategic plan to transform the campus and address an enrollment that had declined 25 percent over the previous seven years, and a six-year graduation rate that ranked at the bottom of Michigan's 15 public universities.

However, that trend has seen a recent uptick. For the first time in nearly a decade, UM-Flint recorded an increase in total fall enrollment last September with more than 6,100 students enrolled at the downtown campus, a gain of 2.4% from the previous year. Likewise, winter enrollment followed suit with an increase of more than 9% from the prior year.

Former Chancellor Dutta led an initial planning phase, and after his departure, Interim Chancellor Fry continued refining the plan and working to integrate academic and student services into the overall strategy. 

The goal of the transformation is to help UM-Flint emerge as an academically strong and financially viable institution that is an undisputed engine for economic growth and social mobility in the region.

"The Board of Regents and I remain firmly committed to a brighter future for the Flint campus. That transformation work will now continue under the leadership of Chancellor Alexander," Ono said in his message. "He is the right person at the right time to lead UM-Flint." 

President Joe Biden appointed Alexander in 2022 to chair the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, a seven-member, presidentially appointed advisory board that ensures the U.S. Agency for International Development brings the assets of U.S. universities to bear on development challenges in agriculture and food security and supports their representation in USAID programming.

Prior to joining the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Alexander served 22 years as a professor and administrator at the University of Florida, where he held key leadership roles, including Provost Administrative Fellow in the Office of Academic Affairs, associate dean of the graduate school, director of the Office of Graduate Minority Programs, chair of the Department of Journalism, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar. 

Alexander received a bachelor's degree in drama and communications from the University of New Orleans, a master's degree in journalism and communications from the University of Florida, a Juris Doctor degree from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in higher education from Florida State University.

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