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Ribeau, Sidney

Sidney Ribeau


University administrator, educator

Sidney Ribeau is one of the most respected university administrators in the United States. After nearly twenty years as a professor and administrator in the California State University system, Ribeau became president of Ohio's Bowling Green State University in 1995. Over the course of his thirteen-year tenure there, he overhauled the school's academic programs, revitalized its aging campus, attracted more than $100 million in donations, and raised enrollment to record levels. In May of 2008 Ribeau announced that he was leaving Bowling Green to become the sixteenth president of Howard University in Washington, DC.

Born Sidney Allen Ribeau in Detroit, Michigan, he graduated from that city's Mackenzie High School in 1965. He then entered Wayne State University, also in Detroit. After receiving a bachelor's degree in English and speech education from that institution in 1971, he began graduate studies in interpersonal and group communications at the University of Illinois, which granted him a master's degree in 1973 and a PhD six years later. His doctoral dissertation, titled "Rhetorical Vision—Black Social Reality," was a comparison of the rhetorical strategies employed during the civil rights struggle by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the one hand, and the more militant Malcolm X, on the other.

Ribeau began his academic career in 1976, while he was still working on his dissertation, with a post at California State University-Los Angeles. After teaching there for eleven years as a professor of communication studies, he moved to California State University-San Bernardino, where he served for three years, from 1987 to 1990, as the dean of undergraduate studies. He then became dean of the College of Liberal Arts at California State Polytechnic University-San Luis Obispo, where he remained until 1992, when he became vice president for academic affairs at the university's branch campus in Pomona. As Ribeau moved upward through the administrative ranks of the California State system, he began to acquire a national reputation for administrative efficiency. By the 1990s, he was receiving employment offers from schools across the country. When one of these, Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio, offered him the position of president and chief executive officer in 1995, he accepted. The thirteen years—from 1995 to 2008—he would spend at BGSU solidified his reputation and established him as one of the country's most talented university administrators.

There is no question that Ribeau succeeded in transforming nearly every aspect of academic life at BGSU. Under his tenure, for example, an ambitious campaign to raise $120 million for capital improvements exceeded this goal by a wide margin, thanks in part to a single gift of $8 million, the largest in the school's history. Ribeau was also instrumental in allocating those funds to an array of badly needed infrastructure improvements on the school's aging campus, including renovations to the student union, a new performing arts center, and a new sports arena. These upgrades helped to boost the school's enrollment in 2006-07 to more than twenty-one thousand students—a record.

Ribeau also pursued less tangible improvements, revamping the school's curriculum to reflect a new emphasis on ethics, personal character, and civic involvement. Two programs designed by Ribeau became cornerstones of the new curriculum. One was a new class called BGeXperience. Required of all incoming students, the class aims to promote critical thinking about ethics and values. The second program, known as the President's Leadership Academy, encourages civic involvement and volunteerism. Ribeau has repeatedly stated that one of his major goals as an educator is to give students the resources they need to build and sustain a sense of community, both on campus and after graduation. These two programs can be seen as part of that larger effort, as can Ribeau's decision to establish innovative "learning communities" in dormitories across campus. According to the BGSU Web site, learning communities offer students with similar interests an opportunity to live together and "work closely with outstanding faculty members who teach classes and have offices right in the residence hall." America's Best Colleges 2008, an influential guide published by U.S. News & World Report, highlighted BGSU's learning communities as one of the school's major strengths.

Ribeau's tenure at BGSU was not without occasional controversy. In October of 2004, for example, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a position in the BGSU student-affairs office had been given to Ribeau's wife, Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, without the usual preliminaries of soliciting applications and screening applicants. Whetsel-Ribeau, wrote Piper Fogg and John Gravois in the Chronicle, "was invited to apply and did not have to compete with other job applicants" for the $66,000-per-year position. The controversy over this possible conflict of interest soon dissipated, however, after Ribeau emphasized that he had no direct oversight of the student-affairs division.

On May 7, 2008, Ribeau announced that he was leaving BGSU to become president of Howard University, arguably the nation's leading black-majority institution. Reaction on the Bowling Green campus, according to Meghan Gilbert in the Toledo Blade, was a mixture of pride and sadness. On the one hand, Kerm Stroh, a former trustee and a major donor, told Gilbert that Ribeau was an "exceptional leader" whose departure represented "a big loss" for the school. Faculty member Patrick Pauken, on the other hand, remarked to Gilbert, "I'm thrilled for him [Ribeau]," adding that the Howard presidency was "a huge gig." Howard, for its part, issued a press release praising Ribeau's efforts at Bowling Green to create "an academic environment that develops culturally literate, technologically sophisticated, productive citizens." The release went on to quote search committee cochair (and former U.S. Secretary of State) Colin L. Powell's characterization of Ribeau as "a charismatic executive who works effectively inside and outside the institution he heads."

At a Glance …

Born Sidney Allen Ribeau in 1947(?), in Detroit, MI; married Paula Whetsel; children: three. Education: Wayne State University, BA, English and speech education, 1971; University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, MA, interpersonal and group communications, 1973, PhD, 1979.

Career: California State University-Los Angeles, professor of communication studies, 1976-87; California State University-San Bernardino, dean of undergraduate studies, 1987-90; California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, 1990-92; California Polytechnic State University-Pomona, vice president for academic affairs, 1992-95; Bowling Green State University, president and chief executive officer, 1995-2008; Howard University, president, 2008—.

Memberships: Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, board of trustees; National Collegiate Athletic Association, board of directors; Worthington Industries, board of directors; The Andersons Inc., board of directors; Convergys Inc., board of directors; Regional Growth Partnership, board of trustees; Toledo Symphony, board of trustees.

Awards: President's Award, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 2003.

Addresses: Office—Office of the President, Howard University, 2400 Sixth St. NW, Ste. 402, Washington, DC 20059-0002.

Ribeau's predecessor at Howard, H. Patrick Swygert, had announced in April of 2007—after the faculty senate council criticized what it called, according to the Washington Post, "an intolerable condition of incompetence and dysfunction at the highest level"—that he would retire the next year. At the start of his new position in 2008, Ribeau faced a variety of new challenges at Howard, an urban institution of approximately 10,500 students. After several years of funding problems and low morale at the historic institution, Ribeau's administrative talents would likely be put to good use.

Selected writings

(With Michael L. Hecht and Ronald L. Jackson) African American Communication: Exploring Identity and Culture, second edition, Erlbaum Associates, 2003.



Chronicle of Higher Education, October 8, 2004.

Toledo Blade, May 8, 2008.

Washington Post, April 28, 2007, p. B1.


"Biography of Dr. Ribeau," Bowling Green State University, June 5, 2006, (accessed July 15, 2008).

"Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau—Biography," Howard University, May 7, 2008, (accessed July 15, 2008).

"Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau Named 16th President of Howard University," May 7, 2008, (accessed July 15, 2008).

"Learning Communities At-a-Glance," Bowling Green State University, (accessed July 16, 2008).

"Rhetoric and Public Address: Abstracts of Doctoral Dissertations Published in Dissertation Abstracts International, January through June 1980," Education Resources Information Center, (accessed July 16, 2008).

—R. Anthony Kugler

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