BU Names Melissa L. Gilliam 11th President

The following email was sent out to all members of the Boston University community on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, from Ahmass L. Fakahany, Chair of Boston University’s Board of Trustees

Dear Members of the Boston University Community,

On behalf of the University’s Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee, it is my privilege and honor to share that we have chosen Dr. Melissa L. Gilliam, the executive vice president and provost of The Ohio State University, as the eleventh president of Boston University. She will assume the post on July 1, 2024.

A highly regarded leader in multiple spaces—from academics, research, and medicine to global affairs, community outreach, and inclusion—with more than 16 successful years at the University of Chicago prior to her appointment at Ohio State, Dr. Gilliam will usher Boston University into a new era of transformational impact.

Dr. Gilliam is an esteemed and award-winning interdisciplinary researcher in medicine, public health, and the humanities. At Ohio State, she serves as the chief academic officer and oversees the Office of Academic Affairs, including undergraduate education, graduate education, international affairs, diversity and inclusion, external engagement, online learning, and information technology. She is the first woman of color to serve in that role at Ohio State. Like BU, Ohio State is a member of the Association of American Universities, an elite organization of leading public and private universities, and the twelfth-largest research university in the country with nearly $1.4 billion in research expenditures. With her experience serving such a comprehensive institution, steering a ship of Boston University’s magnitude and complexity will present familiar opportunities and challenges.

As a veteran administrator, educator, scholar, research scientist, and physician, Dr. Gilliam has deep experience elevating institutional reputations, advancing programs of global impact, recruiting and developing outstanding faculty, strengthening student education, propelling major inclusion initiatives, and harnessing the power of collaboration to confront society’s most pressing challenges. 

Through her leadership roles at one of the nation’s largest public land-grant institutions, Dr. Gilliam also has built productive partnerships with state, local, federal, and international government organizations; the private sector; and global foundations to advance academic excellence, expand opportunity, drive investment, and change the lives of students, community members, and individuals in countries around the world. As an example of her work at Ohio State aligning with BU’s vision and strategy to become more accessible to more students, Dr. Gilliam has placed a keen focus on issues of access, affordability, and reducing student debt.

Dr. Gilliam’s appointment concludes a rigorous, global, yearlong search for a worthy successor to Dr. Robert A. Brown who, during his remarkable eighteen-year tenure as president, quadrupled the University’s endowment, opened its doors to a more diverse student body, and established BU as a leading, private, urban research institution with global reach and impact.

In choosing Dr. Gilliam, the board took its time considering a selection of top-tier candidates from across a highly competitive landscape for talent and an ever-evolving industry environment to find the perfect leadership fit for Boston University. While we conducted this important work, we elected to put in place a highly capable and ideal interim leader—Ken Freeman—to bridge this transition period and provide continuity and stability while maintaining momentum. President Ad Interim Freeman will remain at his post until Dr. Gilliam takes over next July.

As an institution, we knew our platform was strong, thanks to the efforts of prior leadership, and ready for our breakout next stage. The board was committed to finding a transformative leader who would build on that success and significantly augment BU’s potential on campus and around the world. We sought a committed candidate who possessed the forward leadership arc, vision, and dedication for the next 10 years, and who would leverage our comparative advantage and build on the great momentum we have established to define new opportunities and the next stage for the University.

As part of the search process, we consulted more than 300 people with ties to Boston University—students, faculty, staff, donors, and alumni—who shared the characteristics and qualifications they hoped to see in their next president. The resulting presidential profile pointed to a leader who would enhance BU’s reputation and research strength and craft a unique platform for addressing society’s essential problems and needs. We sought an influential figure with balance in sciences and humanities and interdisciplinary foresight, and a scholar who could invigorate BU’s full range of stakeholders and ignite the student and alumni base. Finally, we desired a leader who was well connected in academic circles and could bring BU forward in those networks.

Dr. Gilliam embodies all these qualities and more. I want to personally thank Antoinette “Tonie” Leatherberry, the Chair of the Presidential Search Committee and all the committee members for their diligence and dedication to this complex and crucial mission that will shape the University’s trajectory for years to come.

Prior to joining Ohio State, Dr. Gilliam spent the majority of her career at the University of Chicago, where she was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics, the Ellen H. Block Distinguished Service Professor of Health Justice, and vice provost. In the latter role, she developed and led the university’s faculty development and hiring programs. She also developed and led the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts, which included new bridge programs, a Diversity & Inclusion Planning Toolkit, the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellows Program, and inclusion workshops.

Dr. Gilliam’s scholarship focuses on developing biomedical and innovative interventions to promote adolescent health and wellbeing. Her research funders include the National Institutes of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Irving Harris Foundation. Among her many awards and honors, Dr. Gilliam is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the American Gynecological Club, and the American Gynecological & Obstetrical Society. She received the King Arts Center Legacy Award in 2022, was named a Centennial Scholar of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago, and received the Chicago Urban League Innovator Award, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee Service Award, and the Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Award. She has published over 100 articles in her field.

Dr. Gilliam earned her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Yale University, a Master of Arts in philosophy and politics from the University of Oxford, a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard University, and a Master of Public Health from the University of Illinois Chicago. She completed an internship in general surgery at the University of Chicago and her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. A native of Washington, D.C., Dr. Gilliam is the daughter of the late, world-renowned abstract painter Sam Gilliam and the pioneering journalist at the Washington Post Dorothy Butler Gilliam.

Dr. Gilliam will be the first female president of Boston University and first person of color to lead our proud 184-year-old research institution. We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her to our community, one that is in continual ascension and shimmering with promise.


Ahmass L. Fakahany
Chair, Board of Trustees

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