Spikes, Dolores 1936–
Dolores Spikes 1936–
Dr. Dolores Richard Spikes, president of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (UMES), has dedicated her life to making the dream of a college education a reality for as many people as possible. For most of her career, she has worked at historically black land-grant universities, which by definition of the 1890 Act which established them are committed to access and opportunity for all.
“Teaching was my first love, though there were other options for me in 1957 with a mathematics degree,” she told The Oval Message (the UMES alumni magazine). Although she has had many job offers from industry throughout her career, Spikes chose to remain within academia, as an educator and later as an administrator. “I wanted to work at a historically black college, to give something back and to make a difference in terms of enabling people to get a better education,” she explained to The Oval Message
Among her many accomplishments over the course of her career, Spikes has achieved a great number of “firsts.” In 1971, she was the first African American to receive a doctorate in mathematics from Louisiana State University. Later, as president of the Southern University System, Spikes became the first female to lead a public college or university in Louisiana, as well as the first woman in the United States to head a university system.
Dolores Margaret Richard was born on August 24, 1936, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She credits her parents, Lawrence Richard and Margaret Patterson Richard, as the single greatest influence on her life. “My father had a fourth-grade education, but he loved to read. He loved education so much that even after his daughters finished college, he went back to get his GED,” she told The Oval Message. Her mother, who had a tenth-grade education, had a similar attitude. “We never talked about whether we were going to college. We always knew we were going, even though my parents didn’t know where the money was coming from,” Spikes recalled.
After graduating from high school, Spikes earned a scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—a historically black land-grant college where she would later become a professor, and eventually chancellor. To help pay her expenses, Spikes’ father volunteered for overtime hours. “I couldn’t do that much socializing … it was very important to keep up my grades,” she told The Oval Message Nevertheless, she found time to participate in the student government association, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and several honorary fraternities. “I was a typical student. People will not believe it when I say it, but I am basically shy and quiet,” she said in the Oval Message.
At a Glance…
Born Dolores Margaret Rifchard, August 24, 1936, Baton Rouge Louisiana; daughter of Lawrence Granville Richard and Margaret Patterson Richard; married Hermon Spikes, 1958; one daughter; Rhonda Kathleen Spikes-Pete, Education; attended schools in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; B.S. summa cum laude in mathematics, Southern University, 1957; M.S; in mathematics, University of Illinois at Urbana, 1958; Ph.D. in pure mathematics, with a speciality in commutative ring theory, Louisiana State University, 1971.
Career : Biology/chemistry/sciertce teacher, Mossville High School, Calcasien Parish, Louisiana,: 1958-61. Became assistant professor of mathematics, Southern University, 1961; later became associate professor, then full professor of mathematics. Assistant to the chancellor for Southern University at Baton Rouge, 1982-85; later became executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern University-Baton Rouge; chantellor for Southern University-Baton Rouge; chancellor, Southern University-New Orleans. President of the Southern University and A&M College System, 1988-96. President of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 1996-.
Member : Vice Chair, Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities; President Clinton’s Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board; Board of Visitors for the United States Naval Academy; Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000.
Addresses: Office— University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Princess Anne, MD 21853-1299.
While studying at Southern University, she met fellow mathematics major Hermon Spikes in a class on world literature. Their relationship continued after she graduated with a B.S. in mathematics, summa cum laude, in 1957, and moved to Urbana, Illinois, to pursue an M.S. in mathematics. “While I was away in graduate school at the University of Illinois, Hermon sent me a ring in the mail. We married two weeks after I received the master’s degree,” Spikes recalled in The Oval Message. The couple have one daughter, Rhonda, who later followed in her parents’ footsteps by graduating from Southern University.
In 1958, Spikes returned to Louisiana, where she accepted a position teaching biology, chemistry, and general science at Mossville High School in Calcasien Parish. Three years later, Spikes joined the faculty of Southern University as an assistant professor of mathematics. Over the next few decades, she moved through the ranks to become an associate professor and finally full professor of mathematics.
During this time, Spikes began her doctoral studies at Louisiana State University—despite the pressures of work, study, marriage, and taking care of a young daughter. “It was a very busy time,” she told The Oval Message “My husband pitched in, but I got very little sleep.” After writing a dissertation on “Semi-Valuations and Groups of Divisibility,” Spikes earned her Ph.D. in pure mathematics, with a speciality in commutative ring theory, in 1971. She was the first African American, as well as the first Southern University graduate, to receive a doctorate in mathematics from LSU.
During the eighties, Spikes began to move from academic to administrative positions. From 1982 to 1985, she served as assistant to the chancellor for Southern University at Baton Rouge; later, she became executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for academic affairs. In the late eighties, she served as chancellor for Southern University-Baton Rouge and Southern University-New Orleans. Finally, in 1988, she was appointed president of the Southern University and A&M College System, one of the largest predominantly black public university systems in the United States. As president, Spikes became not only the first female to lead a public college or university in Louisiana, but also the first woman in the United States to head a university system.
For Spikes, the fact that she—a Southern University graduate—could rise to this prestigious position proved the importance of the college’s mission. “Southern (University) represents hope,” she told Black Women in America “It represents a way to open the doors of America to countless young people who would otherwise be shut out.”
Meanwhile, Spikes’ leadership in education began to be noticed on a national scale, in 1994, President Bill Clinton named Spikes to his board of advisors on historically black colleges and universities. Two years later, Spikes was named vice chair of the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, a body charged with defining the direction that public universities should go in the future.
In a press statement issued by the Kellogg Commission, Spikes wrote about the problems facing historically black land-grant colleges—often called “the 1890s,” after the 1890 act that established them. “Together with other historically black colleges and universities, in some southern states they still contribute to the production of almost 50 percent of African American baccalaureates.…,” she wrote. “If the universe of land-grant institutions faces a crisis, then how much more pronounced is that crisis for the 1890s!”
In 1996, after more than three decades as part of the Southern University System, Spikes left to become president of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. Spikes’ predecessor, Dr. William P. Hytche, told The Oval Message, “I do not know of anyone more suitable to move this campus to the next level… the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents pulled a coup in persuading a person who heads the only historically black system of higher education with close to 20,000 students to accept the presidency of UMES.”
Like Southern University, UMES—located in Princess Anne, Maryland—is a historically black land-grant university. Founded in 1886, UMES had 2900 undergraduates, 300 graduate students, 150 full-time faculty members, and an operating budget of $53.4 million in 1997. The university grants degrees in the arts and sciences, agriculture, and business; it also offers a number of programs geared to the needs of the specific needs of region, such as construction management, airway science, criminal justice, and hotel and restaurant management.
From November 4-9, 1997, UMES held a series of events to celebrate Spikes’ inauguration—including an inaugural ceremony, dinner and ball, as well as a concert, several receptions, and an ethnic festival. More than 2000 invitations were sent to Spikes’ friends and associates. “The invitation list was just unreal,” Brenda Anderson, co-chairwoman of the inaugural committee, told The Daily Times. “Dr. Spikes knows everybody in the world.” It was the first formal inauguration in the school’s 111-year history, and according to The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland), was organized “with the reluctant participation of President Dolores R. Spikes.”
In her inaugural speech, Spikes stressed that the college should remain true to its land-grant origins, emphasizing educational access as well as applied research and service to the public. “We will expand out extension and outreach efforts. We will become an integral part of the future’s learning society and we will place the student at the heart of all institutional concerns,” she said in The Daily News
As president, Spikes has drawn up a long list of educational priorities, including an emphasis on communication skills; increased emphasis on fine arts and greater exposure to the classics in music, art, and literature; and addressing incidents of improper language or behavior. “Everyone should assist in teaching civility to our students,” she told The Oval Message
In addition to her responsibilities as president, Spikes serves on several boards and commissions. In 1997, President Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors. Since moving to Maryland, she was also appointed to the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000. In her spare time, Spikes enjoys reading, and collecting coins and figurines.
In her role as president of UMES, Spikes strives to inspire everyone who works at the university to work towards high standards. “The highest of expectations will be placed, not just on academics, but also on student life, student services, and extracurricular activities,” she told The Oval Message “We will be adamant about helping our students mature in character, intellect, and culture.”
Black Women in America, edited by Darlene Clark, 1993, pp. 1097-8.
The Daily News,(Salisbury, Maryland), October, 21, 1997, p. 5.
The Oval Message,(UMES alumni magazine), Fall 1997, pp. 2-5; Winter 1997, p. 3.
“Announcement of Kellogg Commission” (press re lease), January 30, 1996, www.intervisage.com/kellogg/announcements/index/html.
“Dr. Dolores Richard-Spikes” (biography), www.umes.umd.edu/president/presidentbio.html.
“President Clinton names Dr. Dolores Spikes to U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors” (pressrelease), March 12, 1997.
"Spikes, Dolores 1936–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/spikes-dolores-1936
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