Honorary Degree Recipient
MICHAEL L. LOMAX
Doctor of Humane Letters
Michael Lomax is a professor turned politician turned university president who has led a revival of New Orleans’s Dillard University. In February, his career in higher education leadership took another dramatic step when Lomax was named president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.
When Lomax assumed Dillard’s presidency in 1997, the historically black institution had a long and distinguished tradition, but flagging enrollment and aging facilities. During Lomax’s first five years on the job, he increased enrollment by 44 percent and led an aggressive renovation program to improve the living and learning environment for Dillard students.
Lomax is an eloquent and indefatigable advocate for the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. As a member of a Presidential board of advisors, in congressional testimony, and in his efforts at Dillard, Lomax argues that such institutions must honor their traditions of excellence while re-imagining their roles for changing times. His knowledge of the subject runs deep. Lomax matriculated at Atlanta’s Morehouse College at age 16, continuing a 130-year family tradition of pursuing education at historically black colleges.
Another lasting thread in Lomax’s career is civic engagement. In his current role at Dillard, he helped launch a partnership with public schools through leadership in the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation, which is dedicated to strengthening curriculum and helping to prepare urban youth for college. Earlier, during his 12-year career as chair of the commissioner’s board for Georgia’s largest and most populous county, Lomax oversaw an annual budget in excess of a half-billion dollars and 5,000 county employees. He was the state’s first African American in such a role.
He juggled his civic role with his academic life as a professor of literature at Emory University, thriving on the endless challenges of balancing two demanding roles. While difficult, Lomax told Emory Magazine, he believed that the work was in some sense a fulfillment of the promise of the Civil Rights Movement. “I was too young to participate in the sit-ins and the marches in any really meaningful way,” he told the magazine. “… but I was old enough to be a part of the revolution which really realized the goals of the [movement].”
Lomax is founding chairman of Atlanta’s National Black Arts Festival and has served on the boards of the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Carter Center of Emory University, the United Way of America, Teach for America and many others. In addition to Morehouse, Lomax has received degrees from Columbia and Emory University. He is a specialist in African American literature, particularly the Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, and taught the subject at Morehouse and Spelman colleges, Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia.