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If all goes according to plan, by next July Hardin Coleman will be far from email, faculty meetings, and the daily demands of being dean of the BU School of Education.

After leading SED for eight years, Coleman has decided to step down from his administrative role at the end of this academic year so he can pursue his other passions, which include fundraising and bringing a group of 5 to 10 boys from low-income neighborhoods to Wabun, a canoe and wilderness camp Coleman attended as a boy. The camp, which is about 300 miles north of Toronto, trains children to become leaders.

After a sabbatical, Coleman plans to return to BU as a professor. His research will focus on the social factors that facilitate minority student achievement. In addition, he will be training future school counselors and teaching family therapy to master’s level students. He’ll also take over as director of SED’s Center for Character & Social Responsibility, which tackles issues of social and emotional character development in schools.

“I’ll be able to focus on things that, as a dean, I value, but that I haven’t had time to follow through on,” he says.

Coleman is credited with transforming SED, not only strengthening the school’s academic programs, but promoting an enhanced research culture. The school’s faculty brought in almost $3 million in research funding six years ago; last year that number had increased to almost $8 million. At the same time, he says, the faculty has remained dedicated to improving the quality of teaching.

“A lot of people think it’s either-or,” Coleman says. “But we can do both.”

“In his eight years leading the School of Education, Dean Coleman has transformed the school by recruiting new faculty members, changing the organizational structure, and making research a priority,” says President Robert A. Brown. “Simultaneously, he is deeply devoted to improving public education, and all his many efforts have reflected that devotion. I greatly admire his commitment to this mission and am grateful for his service.”

Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, says Coleman has been a transformative leader for SED, citing the changes he’s made to the school’s internal structure and organization.

“Under his direction, SED has hired wonderful faculty and made a series of important organizational and pedagogical enhancements to advance as a nationally regarded institution for the training of teachers, counselors, and school administrators,” Morrison says. “The school has also cultivated a number of collaborations with local and global partners to improve the caliber of education and public service we provide to students and families. We look forward to building on the many successes seen during his tenure as dean.”

In addition to his leadership at SED, Coleman has played an active role in improving urban education, particularly in Boston, where he serves as vice chair of the Boston School Committee, a post he was appointed to by Thomas Menino (Hon.’01), then the city’s mayor. He also was cochair of the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee on Improving School Choice and a cochair of the Quality Schools Work Group.

“He has such a deep, abiding commitment to eliminating the achievement gap,” says Michael D. O’Neill, chair of the Boston School Committee. “It’s compelling and addictive when you’re around him.”

Coleman, who grew up in Philadelphia, cites his grandfathers, William Coleman, who started the first Boys Club for “coloreds” in the nation, and Joseph Hardin, a physician in New Orleans who helped provide support and care for the disenfranchised, as inspiration for his commitment to education and public service. His father, William T. Coleman Jr. (Hon.’10), was a junior lawyer on the landmark 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.

Mentor and cheerleader

After working as a religion teacher, counselor, and coach at Quaker schools in Philadelphia, Coleman earned a PhD in counseling psychology from Stanford University, with a focus on multicultural counseling. He then spent 17 years at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, training school counselors, conducting research on the role of cultural identity in student achievement, and as associate dean of outreach and multicultural initiatives in the university’s School of Education before coming to BU in 2008.

“My career is really about, now that we’re integrated, how do we prepare predominantly white institutions to truly serve the disenfranchised,” Coleman says.

It’s a question he’s instilled in his BU faculty as well, not from the top down, but through what he calls shared leadership. “We’re now fully committed to creating equitable access to high-quality education for all children,” Coleman says. “Everyone believed it before, but I think we’re better organized. I facilitated our ability to be better organized to drive that mission to serve all children across learning needs, across the economic spectrum, and we have faculty that value that unambiguously.”

As well as having a positive impact on the school, Coleman has had a personal impact on many of his faculty. Raul Fernandez (COM’00, SED’16), now an SED lecturer, worked at BU for 10 years, first as assistant director of the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground and then as associate director of Student Activities, and was trying to figure out his next career move when he met with Coleman. The dean convinced him to apply for the school’s doctoral program.

When Fernandez’s first advisor left the University soon after he started, Coleman took him on as an advisee, and this past spring, he became the dean’s first “hood”—or doctoral program graduate—at BU.

“He was not just my advisor, but also my committee chair, my mentor, my cheerleader,” Fernandez says. “The meetings I’ve had with him have really helped me decide where I ultimately want to be professionally.”

Now, as a faculty member, he is benefiting from Coleman’s legacy. “He’s gotten us as a school to think about what our role in diversity and inclusion is at the School of Education, at Boston University, and in education more broadly,” he says.

Cathy O’Connor, an SED professor of language education and associate dean for faculty development and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of linguistics, was on the search committee that recommended Coleman as dean. She remembers that many faculty members were puzzled by the idea of “shared governance,” as Coleman explained it back in 2008. “But over the last eight years, we have really changed, organizationally and in terms of how we work together,” she says. “Part of Hardin’s legacy is not just the things he’s accomplished, it’s how those things were accomplished—collectively.”

The dean didn’t learn those leadership skills through any seminar or graduate program. It was those summers in the woods as a boy, canoeing for weeks with a team. “The role of working hard in a group for a common goal, where you’re responsible to get your stuff across the portage and paddle through the day,” Coleman says, “that character-building is very hard to replicate in other settings.”

A Search Advisory Committee has been formed to identify a new dean for SED. Chaired by O’Connor, its members are Kimberly Howard, an SED associate professor of counseling psychology and applied human development and associate dean for faculty affairs; Gene Jarrett, a CAS professor of English and associate dean of the faculty, humanities; Kenneth Lutchen, dean of the College of Engineering; Hee-Young Park, a School of Medicine professor and chair of medical sciences and education and an assistant dean for Graduate Medical Sciences; Scott Seider, an SED associate professor of education; David Somers (GRS’93), a CAS professor and chair of psychological and brain sciences; and Megan Sullivan, a College of General Studies associate professor of rhetoric, associate dean for faculty research and development, and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning. The committee is expected to make its recommendations by mid-March.

Allison Manning can be reached at