Yancy, Dorothy Cowser 1944–

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Dorothy Cowser Yancy 1944

Educational administrator, educator, labor activist

Began Career as History Instructor

Became Smith University President

Became First Female President of CIAA

Selected writings


When Dorothy Cowser Yancy graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in 1964, little did she know that she would return thirty years later as its leader and as the first woman president of that school. The upward mobility that characterizes her career made her appointment no surprise, however, as Yancy demonstrated consistently that she could be successful in all of her efforts. In her short career at Johnson C. Smith, she has moved the school into a high-tech environment, and she has provided the financial backing necessary for an effective academic institution to prosper.

Born on April 18, 1944, in Cherokee City, Alabama, Dorothy Cowser Yancy is the daughter of Linnie Bell Covington Cowser and Howard Cowser. Both parents were drop-outs, but made sure that each of their four children, who also worked on the family farm, attained degrees. Impressed by one of her elementary school teachers, a Mrs. Simmons, who had graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, Yancy decided to study at that institution. Originally planning to become a chemist, Yancy soon changed her mind. She told Ebony, When I went to sleep in chemistry class my first week, I knew it wasnt my calling. She graduated in 1964 with an A.B. degree in history and social science.

Began Career as History Instructor

She continued her education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and received her M.A. degree in history in 1965. In 1978 Yancy received her Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University. She continued to strengthen her academic background by undertaking additional study at the University of Singapore, Hampton University, Northeastern Illinois University (in Chicago), Northwestern University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Yancy enhanced her academic credentials further, receiving a certificate in management development from Harvard University. In addition, she earned certifications in labor arbitration and mediation.

Yancy joined the faculty at Albany State College (now University) in Georgia and served as instructor in history from 1965 to 1967. Continuing in that field, she moved to Hampton Institute (now University) in Virginia where she was instructor from 1967 to 1969.

At a Glance

Born on April 18, 1944, in Cherokee City, AL; daughter of Linnie Bell Covington Cowser and Howard Cowser; divorced; children: Yvonne. Education: Johnson C. Smith University, AB, 1964; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, 1965; Atlanta University, PhD, 1978.

Career: Albany State College, instructor of history, 1965-67; Hampton Institute, instructor of history, 1967-69; Evanston Township High School, teacher, 1969-71; Barat College, director of black studies, 1971-72; Georgia Institute of Technology, assistant professor, 1972-78, associate professor, 1978-88, professor, 1988-94; Johnson C. Smith University, professor, president, 1994.

Selected memberships: Association for the Study of Afro-American Life & History; labor panel, American Arbitration Assn, 1980; mediator, Mediation Research & Education Project, Northwestern Univ, 1988; Arbitration Panel, Board of Regents, State Univ System of FL & AFSCME, 1988; chair, Woman Power Commission, The Links, Inc, 1990-94; Johnson C. Smith Univ, board of trustees, 1991-94.

Selected awards: Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Georgia Institute of Technology, 1985; inducted, National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame in Education; named Black Issues Twentieth Century Educator; Lifetime Achievement Award, North Carolina 4-H Club; W. E. B. Du Bois Award, Assn of Social and Behavioral Scientists; Maya Angelou Tribute to Achievement, College Fund/UNCF; named 2000 Person of Prominence, Charlotte Post, 2000.

Addresses: Office President, Johnson C. Smith University, 100 Beatties Ford Rd, Charlotte, NC 28216.

In 1968 she became a Fulbright Hayes Scholar at the University of Singapore. Yancy left higher education to teach in the Evanston Township High School in Illinois from 1969 to 1971. She returned to higher education, working in the 1971-72 academic year as director of the Afro-American Studies Program at Barat College. She returned to Georgia and became assistant professor of history, technology and society in the School of Management at Georgia Institute of Technology from 1972 to 1978. She was promoted to associate professor in 1978 and held that rank until 1988, when she was promoted to full professor. She was also associate director of the School of Social Sciences. Yancy was the first black to be promoted and tenured at Georgia Tech. In 1991, while still at Georgia Tech, she was the first black American lecturer at the Academy of Public Administration and Social Studies of the Small Hural and Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

Other awards came to Yancy while she was at Georgia Tech. For example, she received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award in 1985, was named Undergraduate Faculty Member of the Year by the Georgia Tech Student Government, and was named Outstanding Faculty Member of the Georgia Tech Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in 1977. In 1988 Newsweek on Campus selected her as One of the Six Best Teachers in the U.S. Then for the 1992-93 school year, the Georgia Tech Student Government Association named her Undergraduate Faculty Member of the Year.

Became Smith University President

Yancy returned to her alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University, on March 1, 1994, when she was named interim president. When the Board of Trustees elected her as the institutions twelfth president on October 7th of that year, it also made her the first woman to hold that post. She moved promptly to position the institution for phenomenal growth and progress. Although the previous administration set a $50 million goal for the schools capital campaign for the 1990s, she exceeded that when she raised $63.8 million. For her outstanding accomplishment, she was heralded as one of the nations best fund raisers. Determined to secure the institutions financial base, Yancy more than doubled the $14 million endowment, raising it to $30 million.

The digital divide was an important issue for Johnson C. Smith. During a three-year period of strategic planning in technology and faculty/staff development, Yancy initiated an integrated approach to liberal arts education. Then she led the school to become the nations first Laptop university among the historically-black colleges and universities (HBCUs). To achieve this designation, the university issued IBM Thinkpads to the entire student body. When she testified before Congress in 2000 on the status of technology in higher education, she gained national recognition for the technology program she had initiated at Johnson C. Smith. Her work up to this point led Black Issues in Higher Education in 1999 to name her one of the top educators of the twentieth century. The local community acknowledged her work as well, when the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Community Relations Committee named her educator of the year in December of 2001.

Her years on the faculty at various institutions served as reminders of the importance of the faculty; consequently, Yancy concentrated on education reform and on building a strong academic team. By 2002 Johnson C. Smith had a highly qualified faculty, of which 76 percent held terminal degrees and 72 percent doctorates. She awarded faculty incentives to encourage greater participation in fund raising through grants. As a result, the amount of funds the institutions receives for grants has tripled. Student applications to the school have also tripled during her tenure.

Yancey worked to create an infrastructure in which new, innovative programs would prosper at the university. To do this, she initiated a renovation and construction project that resulted in state-of-the art facilities. For example, Yancy built a new technology center, renovated and expanded the library and made it a state-of-the-art information and technology resource, and built a new track/stadium/academic complex. Scheduled for immediate restoration was historic Davis House, which would house the Community Outreach Program. She also began a $6.6 million restoration project for Biddle Hall, the universitys landmark. Biddle would house all administrative offices, such as Academic Affairs, Business Affairs, Student Affairs, the Registrars Office, the Presidents Office, and the Honors Center.

In 1998 Yancy wrote about her innovative approach in Black Issues in Higher Education. The stewardship of my alma mater, she wrote, while forward looking, had been anchored in the past. While I have not cast aside the legacy of the previous eleven presidents, I know that I must consider the needs of the students, meeting with a planning group and taking action in light of the changes that the university has faced.

Became First Female President of CIAA

When Yancy became the first female black president of Johnson C. Smith, she also became the only female member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) board. Since then, she has been elected CIAA secretary and then vice president. She also served on the constitution and personnel committees. In 2001 she was elected to a two-year term as president of the organization, the first female in the organization to reach this post.

Yancy has made her mark on civic and professional groups, as well as in the academic world. In 1981 she became the first black appointed Special Master for the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission. A member of numerous organizations, she has demonstrated her leadership ability in professional and service organizations, serving as president of such groups as the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists and the Atlanta Chapter of the Industrial Relations Research Association and on the Executive Council for the Links, Incorporated. In addition, she was a member of the People to People Delegation of Labor Experts that visited the Soviet Union and Europe in 1988 and London, Berlin, and Moscow in 1990.

Yancy is divorced and has one daughter, Yvonne. She has published widely, writing more than forty articles and labor arbitration case studies. She has continued to make her mark on advancing twenty-first century higher education. As she wrote in Black Issues in Higher Education, I envision that Johnson C. Smith University would exemplify a spirit of discovery, intellectualism, and commitment to service.

Selected writings

William Edward Burghardt Du BoisAtlanta Years, Journal of Negro History, 1978.

Public Sector Bargaining in the South, Industrial Relations Association Proceedings, 1979.

Dorothy Bolden, Organizer of Domestic Workers, Sage, 1989.

Contributor, Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Carlson, 1993.



Notable Black American Women, Book III, Gale, 2003.

Whos Who Among African Americans, 16th ed. Gale, 2003.


Black Issues in Higher Education, May 14, 1998.

College Planning & Management, June 2003.

Ebony, February 2003.


Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy, Johnson C. Smith University, www.jcsu.edu/yancy.html (May 29, 2002).


Additional information for this profile was obtained in the The Twelfth President, James B. Duke Library, Johnson C. Smith University, and an e-mail interview with Jessie Carney Smith on June 25, 2002 and July 9, 2002.

Jessie Carney Smith and Jennifer M. York