First African-American, Gay President of Pugent Sound University, Isiaah Crawford:
Has Had a Meteoric Career, Breaking Boundaries
By Gene J. Koprowski
Isaiah Crawford has notched many “firsts” during his astonishing career. He was the first member of his family to finish college. The initial one to launch a professional career, as a clinical psychologist. Now he’s making national news as the first African-American LGBT president of a prestigious academic institution, the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Wash.
Crawford, age 55, views his impressive curriculum vitae with gentlemanly humility, saying his career is an “a living example of the transformative power of education, particularly a liberal-arts education.”
Taking up his position last spring, after arriving on campus from Seattle University, where he was provost, he was received as something of a rock star on campus. Town residents in Tacoma greeted him by name while walking their dogs when they spotted him on the street.
The students there, in the college town, were equally enthused. One young lady, Rachel Askew, president of the school’s Black Student Union, claimed Crawford’s hiring demonstrated that school leaders were truly listening to student demands.
A National Statement
“This is a statement,” Askew told reporters. “This is a statement to liberal arts universities across the country. This is a statement to historically all-white colleges in America that black leadership is not just for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). ”
Crawford is now eagerly leading a sterling, regional institution with a “strong reputation for academic and scholarly excellence.”
He’s also taking his time to understand the local culture and find his place as an authentic leader and community member. “I’m a psychologist, I want to understand the people that make up the community,” Crawford told the local media.
Crawford was born in Washington D.C. and raised in St. Louis. He earned his degrees at top liberal arts colleges in the midwest run by the Jesuits, as a number of profiles of him have observed. His bachelor’s degree is from St. Louis University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees are from DePaul University. He became an academic all-star early on, becoming a tenured professor, chairman of the Department of Psychology, and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, by the late 1980s. He maintained a private clinical psychology practice in Chicago from 1987 through 2002, a fifteen-year-span of time.
It was nearly eight years ago that he was hired as provost for Seattle University, where he directed the Division of Academic Affairs and the university’s schools and colleges, libraries, enrollment, information technology, institutional research, and offices supporting academic achievement. He also headed the school’s international engagement efforts.
Crawford was selected by the university’s board of directors after a national, nine-month search. He beat out competitors from all across the country.
The Tacoma search committee consisted of school trustees, faculty, staff, alumni – and even parent and student representatives. The panel members interviewed candidates and made a private recommendation to the board of trustees. The board approved Crawford’s appointment.
According to university insiders, Crawford truly impressed the search committee with his candor, collaborative consciousness, and commitment to the community. He also displayed a passionate belief in the of a liberal arts, according to a presss release from the school, given to Ebanman Magazine.
In the statement released by the university, search committee chair Robert Pohlad commented that Crawford’s appointment as president is truly a “natural extension of our mission and values and is an exciting next step for the school that is looking to build its reputation as a national leader among liberal arts colleges.”
Pohlad, chairman of the Puget Sound Board of Trustees and parent of a Puget Sound alumnus, announced Crawford’s selection on campus to an intimate group of students and staff.
According to Crawford, he brings several “levels of diversity” to the position to help him deal with black students, gay students, and others who may feel that they are underrepresented in the higher echelons of higher education. He said students were “brave” for bringing their demands for a black leader at the helm of the college.
“I get it,” he said. “I’m empathetic to it.” He applauded students for being “brave” and vocalizing their concerns.
Crawford relocated from Seattle to Tacoma with his life partner, Kent Korneisel, an optometrist. A formal installation was held for him last summer at the university.
He’s the 14th president of Puget Sound University. The school has a very prestigious 128-year-history, and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, thus its strong focus on social justice issues. There are approximately 2600 students there drawn from 44 states across the U.S., and tuition is about $43,000 a year. Famous alumni include Darby Stanchfield (1993), a television actress who appeared on Mad Men and Scandal, and Roald Reitan, a Metropolitan Opera star, as well as the governor of the state of Alaska, Sean Parnell.
Crawford’s career has touched on issues of concern to the gay community, including spending many years during the 1980s working on “HIV/AIDS-related issues, including helping young men develop strategies to maintain and protect their health at that time.” Later, at Loyola, he worked on and wrote about issues concerning human sexuality in general. So far at Pugent Sound, the university has helped him highlight his expertise in “health promotion,” and made him and his partner feel welcome there. During an introduction ceremony there last summer, the students gave them a standing ovation. “It was a great, great moment for me and my partner,” Crawford told reporters. “It’s something we will always remember.”
Dr. Crawford fits right in with that community of achievers, having earned three national awards from the American Psychological Association (APA) and being the lead author on many scholarly journal articles. In addition to his role at the university, Crawford serves board of directors for Independent Colleges of Washington, the Northwest Conference, Providence St. Joseph Health (Renton), and The ROPA Corporation (St. Louis, Mo.). He is a member of the Northwest Committee of the Metropolitan Opera National Council and Seattle Art Museum Education & Community Engagement Committee.
–Gene J. Koprowski is an Emmy Award-nominated journalist for his interactive TV writing/producing for Fox News (2008).