Vassar Today

Vassar Welcomes Judy

By Samantha Soper '91

Within weeks of Dean Colton Johnson’s departure, Vassar welcomed Judy “J.J.” Jackson as its new dean of the college.

Previously held by Professor of English Johnson, who returned to teaching this year after 10 years, the dean of the college oversees those offices that assist students with all aspects of their life on campus, including academic and career advising, off-campus study, religious and spiritual life, campus security, and health and disability services.

Jackson has extensive experience working directly with students in higher education; she hopes to facilitate efforts at Vassar to find connections and strengthen bonds between students’ academic and non-academic experiences on campus.

Jackson stayed close to her childhood home of Robersonville, North Carolina, when she earned her B.A. in French language and literature from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. She later spent four years at Bucknell University, working toward a master’s degree in Francophone-African literature, geography, and foreign policy, while serving as adviser to minority and foreign students. It was this early position as an administrator that gave Jackson the spark of an idea that has kept her career focused on a specific goal—to someday be a college president. From that moment on, she has been methodical about exposing herself to a breadth of institutions in order to garner as much experience in every aspect of higher education as possible.

In 1990, Jackson received her master’s degree (after a couple of interruptions—residence abroad, the birth of her children Steve and Heather) from Bucknell, while also working at the Cornell University College of Engineering in the office of advising, counseling, and minority programs. Jackson went on to spend 11 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), where she served as associate dean of undergraduate education and student affairs and director of minority education, and later as ombudsman in the president’s office, capping off her career at M.I.T. as special adviser to the provost on faculty diversity. While at M.I.T., she earned a doctorate in adminstration, planning, and social policy, with a concentration in higher education, from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. At each of these institutions, Jackson continued to be instrumental in the development and administration of student services and minority education.

After so many years at a large research institution such as M.I.T., Jackson strategically took a short-term position at Babson College. As executive assistant to the president and clerk of the corporation, she was exposed to the inner workings of a president’s office as she oversaw budgets, worked with the board of trustees, and assisted with the implementation of a new governance structure. From that small college in Massachusetts, Jackson set out to again broaden her experience by accepting the position of associate vice president for student affairs at New York University.

So of all the large and small, research and liberal arts institutions where she has worked, what does she think of Vassar? Jackson replied that her first impression of the college was one of “dignity in both the people and landscape and buildings. There is a higher cadre of existence here—thoughtfulness and reflection.” She especially sees this in the students. “Vassar affords more respect to students than any other school I’ve worked. And it shows in that the students are present, conscious, aware.”

Jackson credits her upbringing to her success. Growing up in a small town taught Jackson the importance of creating and maintaining relationships, and she now takes pride in her ability to bring people together in both her personal and professional lives. Another teaching from her childhood comes from her mother. “She was fond of saying, ‘You have more time than anything else.’” This is an important credo for Jackson, who stresses that in life it is more important “what you do, than when you do it. So it’s never too late to become what you strive to be.”

Regarding Jackson’s arrival on campus, President Frances Fergusson remarked, “We are fortunate to attract J.J. Jackson to Vassar. She’s a wonderful woman, brimming with good ideas and immense enthusiasm. I look forward to many good years of working together.”