Cross, Dolores E. 1938–
Dolores E. Cross 1938–
Dolores Cross, president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, has had a long and prestigious career in education. Before taking the helm at Morris Brown in 1999, Cross was president of Chicago State University for nine years. Her outstanding performance at Chicago State has been noted in a wide range of publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education. Previously, Cross held teaching and administrative posts at such institutions as the University of Minnesota, the City University of New York, Claremont Graduate School, and Northwestern University. She also was a member of New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s cabinet, with responsibility for higher education.
Cross was an early proponent of multicultural education, and throughout her career has fought for educational access for all. In her 1977 book, Teaching in a Multicultural Society, Cross called upon teachers to foster respect for diverse cultures: “[T]eachers and other educational personnel must assume the professional mandate to initiate and maintain a multicultural approach in their professional practice,” Cross wrote. “Implicit in such an approach is the responsibility to transmit the traditions of all cultures—equally and respectfully. Students must be taught not only to cherish their own ways of life but also to respect those of others.”
Cross was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in a housing project there. “I didn’t have a soap-opera view of life,” Cross told Muriel Whetstone of Essence. “Igrew up knowing it wasn’t going to be easy, but my mother called great women to my attention—women like Marian Anderson and Lena Horne.” Cross was married soon after she graduated from high school, and had two children, Jane and Thomas, by the time she was 21. She did not let early motherhood derail her dreams of higher education, however. It took her eight years, but she managed to complete her bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey—all the while holding down a part-time or full-time job. “I’ve worked as a secretary and a clerk typist. I once ran a mail service out of my home,” she was quoted as saying in Essence. “I know how it is to have other things vying for your attention.” Cross went on to earn a master’s degree from Hofstra University in 1968, and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1971. Years later, as president of Chicago State University, she told Muriel Whetstone of Essence, “A young black mother may not be able to attend college in a traditional manner, but despite other responsibilities, it can be done.”
Cross began her career in education by teaching kindergarten and special education classes in Newark, New York City, and Brentwood, Long Island. She was also head teacher of the School for the Emotionally Disabled at Hofstra University. In 1970, Cross accepted a position as assistant professor in education, as well as director of master of arts in teaching, at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. During her time at Northwestern, Cross co-wrote the book Teaching in a Multicultural Society: Perspectives and Professional
Born Dolores E. Cross, Newark NJ, August 29, 1938; daughter of Ozie Johnson Tucker and Charles Tucker; divorced; children: Thomas Edwin Jr., Jane Ellen. Education: B.S., Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ, 1963; M.S., Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, 1968; Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 1971.
Career: Assistant professor in education and director of master of arts in teaching, Northwestern University, 1970-74; associate professor in education and director of teacher education, ClaremontCraduateSchool, 1974-78; vice chancellor for student affairs and special programs, City University of New York, 1978-81; president, New York State Higher Education Service Corp., 1981-88; associate provost and associate vice president for academic affairs, University of Minnesota, 1988-90; president, Chicago State University, 1990-97; head of the GE Fund, beginning in 1997; GE Fund Distinguished Professor in Leadership and Diversity at the City University of New York; president, Morris Brown College, 1999-.
Selected awards Honorary degrees from Marymount College, SkidmoreCollege, Hofstra University, and Elmhurst College; “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” Award from Women Executives in State Government; Muriel Silverberg Award from the NAACP.
Addresses: Office —Office of the President, Morris Brown College, Atlanta, GA.
Strategies, an early work on the value of multicultural education. In the book, published in 1977, Cross asserted, “Our specific aim is to help teachers and administrators, as well as the students and parents they serve, to see each other not as abstractions (or stereotypes) but as real, discrete beings…and to discern a common humanity among the various groups—national and international.”
In 1974, Cross moved to Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, California, where she was associate professor in education and director of teacher education. Four years later, Cross became vice chancellor for student affairs and special programs at City University of New York. In 1981, she was appointed president of the New York State Higher Education Service Corporation—a position in Governor Mario Cuomo’s cabinet. While in this position, Cross decided to take up running as a hobby.
Seven years later, Cross became assistant vice-president for academic affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter, she decided to try running marathons. “I was 49 years old and thinking about turning 50,” Cross told Leslie Lindeman of Runner’s World. “I didn’t want that to happen before I had run my first marathon.” She was not content with competing in only one marathon, however. In 1989, Cross ran in three of them.
In 1990, Cross was appointed president of Chicago State University. By accepting this position, Cross not only became the first female president of a four-year state college in Illinois, but also the only African American president of a public university in Illinois. Chicago State, a commuter school of mostly economically and educationally disadvantaged students, was built on the site of an old railroad yard on Chicago’s south side. The typical student, Leslie Lindeman wrote in Runner’s World, “is 30 years old, has children and a job and is the first from his or her family to attend college…. Most have neither the proper academic preparation for college nor the means to pay for it. What they do have, according to Cross, is ‘potential and determination.’”
As president of Chicago State, Cross faced enormous challenges. Only 19 percent of first-year students returned for their sophomore year, and only 18 percent of students managed to complete a degree in five years. In addition, enrollment at the school had dropped significantly. “I wanted to improve our success rate, our image, and the teaching and learning environment,” Cross was quoted as saying in Ebony.
Cross immediately set ambitious goals: ensuring that 75 percent of incoming students graduated within seven years, and raising the number of returning freshmen to 50 percent. In her first days on the job, she initiated a faculty phone drive that resulted in an unprecedented turnaround in enrollment. Within a year, enrollment had increased 20 percent.
As president, Cross oversaw a $30 million expansion of the university, including the construction of its first residential hall and a multi-million-dollar technology infrastructure linking all the buildings on campus. She also established the Gwendolyn Brooks Center of Arts and was instrumental in bringing many talented artists and musicians to the university. Cross’ impressive performance as president did not go unnoticed. Among other publications, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted her achievements in an article entitled, “Under a new president, a turnabout at Chicago State.”
During her time in Chicago, Cross rose to national prominence as a policy-maker in education. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a steering committee member of the America Reads initiative, and was elected vice-chair of the American Association of Higher Education. She was also appointed a senior associate for the American Council on Education’s project to assist historically black colleges in South Africa.
In 1997, Cross left Chicago to take a position as head of the GE Fund in Fairfield, Connecticut. The GE Fund, General Electric’s charitable foundation, dispenses $30 million in grants annually. “Dolores Cross is uniquely qualified to lead the GE Fund into the 21st century,” John F. Welch, GE Chairman and CEO, was quoted as saying in a press release about her appointment. “Her entire career has been focused on increasing educational access and educational opportunity.” The decision to leave Chicago was “one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my life,” Cross told Jet. She accepted the position because “I will be able to assist institutions like CSU in achieving greater heights of excellence.” Later, Cross became the GE Fund Distinguished Professor in Leadership and Diversity at the City University of New York. During this time, Cross began working on an autobiographical manuscript on leadership, entitled Breaking the Wall: A Runner’s Diary.
In 1999, Cross became the first female president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. Morris Brown, founded by the African Methodist Episcopal church in 1881, is Georgia’s only college established by African Americans. “I think Morris Brown has an opportunity to become a model of how a historically black college can operate,” Cross remarked to Jet.
From the beginning, Morris Brown College has enrolled a large number of academically and economically disadvantaged students. According to “The Morris Brown Story,” a brief history of the college on its website, “What began as a survival strategy of Morris Brown in 1881 became the liberation cry for black masses and the country at large in the 1960s.” The college still prides itself on accommodating students from weak academic backgrounds, while still challenging its most advanced students.
In the president’s message available on Morris Brown’s website, Cross explained her theory of the “learning tree,” which she called “a vision for tomorrow.” During a business meeting in Newark, Cross wrote, she visited the housing project where she had grown up. The courtyard, once lush with trees and bushes, was now paved in concrete. “My eyes fixed on a mature tree not far from what had been my front steps,” Cross wrote. “The roots of the tree had broken through the cement wall around it, as if, to my thinking, struggling to be free…. The tree had been for me a metaphor for overcoming the odds and achieving a personal best.” This “learning tree” is central to Cross’ vision for the future of the college. “Morris Brown is embarking on an ambitious venture—the creation of an envied educational program whose core is the success of its students,” Cross wrote in her president’s message. “These vibrant programs center around the ‘learning tree’ and involve pre-college, in-college and after-college endeavors.”
Cross has received numerous awards during her career, including honorary degrees from Marymount College, Skidmore College, Hofstra University, and Elmhurst College. She has also been recognized with the “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” Award from Women Executives in State Government. Her writings have appeared in numerous higher education publications, as well as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebony, and the Chicago Defender.
Jet, Jan. 11, 1999; June 23, 1997.
Essence, April 1992.
PR Newswire, June 5, 1997.
Runner’s World, April 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Morris Brown College webpage at www.morrisbrown.edu.
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