dr Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education researcher whose work on racial equality and teacher preparation has received national recognition, will be the next provost and vice president of academic affairs at Western Michigan University.
Vasquez Helig, who is currently the dean of the School of Education at the University of Kentucky, is scheduled to take up his new role in January.
“We are very pleased that Dr. Vasquez Heilig brings his experience and track record to advance Western Michigan University’s mission as our academic leader,” said Dr. Edward Montgomery, President of WMU. “He is a proven scholar who has also been promoted to leadership positions at major public universities in three states, including Kentucky’s flagship institution. He delivers outstanding results in increasing enrollment, increasing student and faculty diversity, developing innovative programs and building beneficial partnerships inside and outside the academy,” added Montgomery.
The election of Vasquez Heilig as Provost is a turning point for WMU, say university leaders, who point to his tenure in the UK, where he strategically increased student enrollment at the College of Education by 63 percent, noting that his efforts have focused on increasing diversity among teachers. For example, under his leadership, the enrollment in pre-teacher majors grew by 275%, and he intended to recruit a color faculty for the university.
His presence — along with Montgomery, who is African American — is rare in academia, where few black university presidents at research universities have also garnered a person of color as their provost and vice president for academic affairs — a strategic position — regarded as the second most important job an institution.
It is also unprecedented to have an education policy expert as a provost at a large research institution that has a student population of approximately 24,000.
“When we Dr. When we recruited Vasquez Helig to the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, we knew he was a rising academic star,” said Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, President of Talladega College, a historically black institution in Alabama. Vincent worked with Vasquez at UT-Austin and later at UK.
“In those 16 years he distinguished himself as a scholar, academic leader and civil rights activist. I witnessed firsthand how Dean Vasquez Helig led the College of Education at the University of Kentucky with an unwavering commitment to excellence and equity. He will do the same as a provost at Western Michigan University.”
In conversation with Diverse, Vasquez Helig said he is excited for the opportunity to return “home” to the state of Michigan, noting that his mother is a WMU graduate student.
“I left Michigan 23 years ago and had an academic leadership tour of Texas, California and Kentucky, but it feels so good to go home and minister in my home state,” said Vazquez Helig, who is pursuing his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan received and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Education Administration and Policy Analysis and a master’s degree in Sociology from Stanford University.
WMU, he noted, is a “university on the rise,” noting a $550 million donation to the university last year — the largest philanthropic donation to a public university in US history.
He said the opportunity to learn from Montgomery, who has led WMU for the past five years, is something he is looking forward to, even as he reflects on his three years as head of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky thinks back
“I was drawn to Kentucy because their faculty and leadership are true innovators,” he said, adding that he cites growing interest in teacher preparation programs — amid a national teacher-shortage crisis — as one of his many achievements.
He also said he was encouraged that the number of students of color in the teacher education program had increased from 12 in 2019 to 50 students today.
“We know that black students do better when they have black teachers,” he said, adding that there is a commitment from university management, faculty and staff in the UK to increase diversity.
Vazquez Heilig is active in several professional organizations, including the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), and was recently recognized with the Linda C. Hillman Social and Racial Justice Award.