With a long list of accomplishments and a lasting legacy in the world of higher education, it’s no surprise that Del Mar’s Dr. Marvalene Hughes was recently honored with a biographical book.
Translated in English, the book is called, “World Women University President: Dr. Marvalene Hughes.” The book, which is written in Mandarin and is part of a series on women university presidents around the world, covers Hughes’ childhood through her decades-long career.
The book is written by Dr. Yunrong Han from the Communication University of China in Beijing and Dr. Hong Dai from Dillard University in New Orleans.
“There have been other things written, but to have another country do it is a very, very special honor,” Hughes said with a smile. “But I wish I could speak Mandarin. That’s the only thing in my educational career that I consider to be my shortfall.”
Hughes has worked in higher education for more than four decades.
Born in Alabama, Hughes was one of nine children. Her father was an entrepreneur and farmer. Her mother was an elementary school principal.
“They were just smart people,” she said.
With a passion for education like her mother, Hughes earned a doctorate in administration and counseling from Florida State University, after studying at Tuskegee University, New York University and Columbia University.
She started her career as an associate professor in the early 1970s at Eckerd College, a private liberal arts college in Florida.
After a couple of years, Hughes relocated to the West Coast, where she settled in Del Mar. She served as a counselor and professor at San Diego State University, eventually becoming director of counseling services and placement. She worked at the university for 14 years until 1986, when she left San Diego for Arizona State University.
Hughes served as associate vice president for student affairs at Arizona State University for two years before becoming vice president for student affairs at the University of Toledo for another two years. In 1990, she became vice president for student affairs and vice provost and professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, where she worked for four years.
Hughes became the first black and the first female president of California State University, Stanislaus, where she served for 11 years. During her tenure she tripled the university’s capital construction, expanded enrollment and was awarded Legislators’ Choice for President of the Year.
“I enjoy being able to impact people in positive ways and see the results,” Hughes said. “You can do that at best, on the university level, as president. You can see it in the classroom, but when you become president, you can see it walking around.”
In 2005, and just one month prior to Hurricane Katrina, Hughes became the first female president of Dillard University, a historically black liberal arts college in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the university.
During her time at Dillard, Hughes raised more money than had been raised in the history of its existence. Through fundraising, the university reconstructed all the previously existing buildings and built two new buildings. Upon leaving Dillard in 2011, Hughes submitted an application to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and was awarded $25 million, which was permanently deposited in the university’s endowment.
During this period, she also wrote a proposal and trained more than 50 mentees who were placed in presidencies under her leadership. In 2010, she was named Mentor of the Year from a pool of more than 3,500 university presidents in the United States.
“I had done a lot for presidents, nationally,” said Hughes, who moved back to Del Mar in 2012.
Throughout her career, Hughes has been very involved in a number of associations and organizations advancing higher education.
Among those, she has been a frequent participant and speaker at the World Women University Presidents Forum.
The Communication University of China launched the World Women University Presidents Forum in 2001 to bring women university presidents from all over the world together, and create an international platform where they can communicate and collaborate.
The conference is held every two years. Hughes has attended every one. In that time, she has become very close with many of the women, particularly Professor Liu Jinan, the former honorary president of the Communication University of China.
“Women in China and I connected with each other,” Hughes said. “They have visited me at every home I’ve had.”
With a strong connection to China, Hughes agreed to the book, which stemmed from the university more than a year ago. Dai, one of the authors, and Dr. Ning Fu, an author and scholar from Harvard University, presented Hughes with the finished book on the day before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
“It’s overwhelming that they would come this far to bring this gift,” Hughes said.
Continuing her commitment to higher education, Hughes is currently encouraging research at her alma mater.
As the title sponsor, she helped launch the Marvalene Hughes Research in Education Conference at Florida State University. The annual conference facilitates research at the university’s College of Education.
“The research is so good, and they have so many students involved in it,” said Hughes, who also serves on Florida State University’s Foundation Board of Trustees.
Hughes has also funded research focused on African American males and their place in society. A conference on the issue launched last fall at Florida State University.
With a plan to triple funds for the project through grants, Hughes hopes to achieve “truth” and “understanding.”
“I want to understand it,” Hughes said. “I want to understand why they get demotivated so early, why they tend to be punished by our policing services around the United States, why the world and black men have converged in a way that’s destructive for them.
“I would have done it for any group that had been distinguished this way. I know that there’s something interactive going on that needs to be understood.”