Douglas A. Hicks Selected as 19th President of Davidson College
Davidson College Trustees today unanimously named religion scholar Douglas A. Hicks as the college’s 19th president. Hicks, Dean of Oxford College of Emory University, returns to where it began. He is a Davidson alum who earned a Harvard University doctorate degree and built a career of leadership roles in higher education that stretch from upstate New York to Georgia.
Hicks will take office Aug. 1.
“Davidson changed my life,” Hicks said. “There, I grew up. I had the opportunity to learn in new ways, to meet students from across the country, to play varsity baseball in my first year, to study abroad in Madrid, to meet an incredible group of friends and to be challenged by wonderful teacher-mentors, whom I consider lifelong friends. I’m excited to return as president and even more excited about the future that we will build at Davidson.”
Alison Hall Mauzé, chair of Davidson’s board of trustees, said Hicks brings an extraordinary combination of experience and skills to this moment in Davidson’s history.
“Doug learned and led at some of our nation’s top liberal arts colleges,” Mauzé said. “He began his teaching at one of the country’s first leadership schools and led the faculty at a prestigious university. As the Dean of Oxford College, at Emory, he has strengthened the sense of community and propelled initiatives that are in sync with Davidson’s priorities and collaborative work, including reckoning with historical ties to enslavement and creating new approaches to preparing students for careers in a complex and changing world. He understands where we are now and has charted a path ahead.”
Hicks, 54, earned a Master of Divinity degree at Duke University and master’s and doctorate degrees in religion and economics at Harvard. He has written or edited nine books as well as articles for scholarly and public audiences. His teaching, in leadership studies and religion, began at the University of Richmond, where he later served as founding director of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. He moved to Colgate University to serve as provost and dean of the faculty, the university’s chief academic officer, before accepting the role of dean at Oxford in 2016.
“Doug is a leader who brings a range of voices around the table who represent the community around us, not just demographically, but in thought, in political ideology, to just how we think about the world,” said Teresa Rivero, lead senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and an Emory trustee. “It takes a nuanced leader to be comfortable in that messiness. He will step into that role and be a leader, not just for the Davidson community. He will have an impact on how higher ed institutions model this for the rest of the country.”
Hicks succeeds Carol Quillen, who announced in August that she is stepping down after 11 years as president.
Where We Are Headed
Hicks’s ties to Davidson, founded by Presbyterians, include that he is an ordained Presbyterian minister. His selection, though, is the first since the college’s trustees removed the requirement of that denomination for the president.
“I can say with confidence that this has been the most wide-open search in the history of the college, and in 2022, that’s as it should be. We could have selected any candidate in the world,” Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and chair of the search committee, said. “Doug emerged out of that competition as the absolute right candidate with the best combination of qualifications and characteristics to best guide Davidson in its next chapter.”
The search committee of trustees, students, faculty and staff held eight forums, virtually and in-person, since last fall to gather ideas from the Davidson campus, alums and friends of the college on the qualities needed in the next president. A search firm assisted the committee in identifying candidates, screening them and, then, conducting extensive interviews with, and research on, the finalists. The board of trustees approved the search committee’s recommendation of Hicks this morning.
When Hicks was a senior at Davidson, he served as chair of the Solidarity Committee, a group devoted to social justice. The group organized a Martin Luther King Day event, which included keynote remarks by a first-year student named Anthony Foxx, the search committee chair—another circle for Hicks that loops back to Davidson.
Hicks will be joined on campus by his spouse, Catherine Bagwell, a professor of psychology specializing in child and adolescent development, as well as their son, Noah, who starts in the fall at the California Institute of Technology, and daughter, Ada, who will begin her sophomore year of high school in August.
Oxford College, which Hicks leads, is Emory’s original campus and, now, a highly selective, two-year liberal arts institution whose graduates segue to another college within Emory for their final two years. Oxford’s parallels to Davidson, founded one year apart, range from the symbolic, such as historic debate society buildings that face each other at the center of campus, to meeting tough, contemporary challenges for higher education.
Hicks is a co-leader for all of Emory in memorializing the enslaved people whose labor helped build the Oxford campus, a project that parallels Davidson’s efforts toward a similar commemoration. He doubled the diversity of Oxford’s faculty and leads a student body that is more than two-thirds domestic students of color or international students. He secured the first naming of an Emory University academic building after a Black leader, the late Judge Horace Johnson, a friend and mentor. Those endeavors are rooted in the scholarship and work Hicks has done in the distinctive combination of religion and economics.
His undergraduate thesis at Davidson was titled, “Poverty in Charlotte, North Carolina.” His doctoral dissertation at Harvard focused on a theologically informed approach to inequality and becoming a more just society.
“These are similar commitments that I learned at Davidson in economics, in Spanish and in religion,” Hicks said. “They’re commitments that I learned on campus. They’re commitments that led me into the work that I do. I write on religious ethics. I write on moral equality and economic equality. And I write on religious diversity and how we, as a diverse and devout America, can live together with mutual respect.”
Those multiple aspirations, he said, weave into one.
“I could name professors at Davidson who helped me to fit those things together, and it’s important work, I believe, with civic implications,” he said. “And I also believe it informs my leadership of a college, because we also embody those values. We deal with inequalities. We help prepare students from various backgrounds to go out and to create a society of equals and to give everyone—more than equal opportunity—equal capacities to make a difference in the world. I’m deeply motivated by what I study, which is how we can build a more equal and just society, starting right here on campus.”
Paul Gomez, a biology major in the class of 2022 and a member of the search committee, emphasized Hicks’s record of listening and acting on the insights that he gathers.
“He really understands Davidson,” Gomez said, “from an academic level, where we’re not just in the classroom, but we are students who want to go out into the community.”
Davidson muscled up its Matthews Center for Career Development in recent years, expanding the resources and opportunities to secure internships and other experiences that build more technical skills that employers need on day one. The college also opened, in the town of Davidson, the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a nexus of local businesses and Davidson students and faculty working together on business ideas and startups.
Along a similar timeline, Hicks secured a Mellon Foundation grant to fund Emory’s “Humanities Pathways” program, which he co-leads. Faculty complete workshops and redevelop courses around the idea of helping humanities students experience a variety of career paths, often with help from alums in those fields.
“I can say with confidence that this has been the most wide-open search in the history of the college, and in 2022, that’s as it should be. We could have selected any candidate in the world, Doug emerged out of that competition as the absolute right candidate with the best combination of qualifications and characteristics to best guide Davidson in its next chapter.”
Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and chair of the search committee
“This program shows and connects students to the myriad career possibilities with a liberal arts degree, from business and science to finance or health care,” said Erika James, dean of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and former dean of Emory’s Goizueta Business School. “Doug has a clear vision for preparing students for leadership and recognizes the importance of both the liberal arts’ depth and the value of experiential learning.”
Hicks has followed the efforts and debates within higher education institutions, including Davidson, to be accountable in the present for what transpired through history while continuing to look forward toward fulfilling higher ed’s mission within a rapidly evolving economy and world.
“For me, tradition and progress are not opposites,” Hicks said. “They’re in tension with one another, and Davidson has such a rich and complex tradition. And yet we have one of the brightest futures of any college in the United States. So I want to understand and get back up to speed with what’s going on across campus today, and I want to take us to the next level of where Davidson is called to be, not for today, not for the class of 1990, but for the future.”