Trustee Profile Marc Johnson: Paving a Purposeful Path

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Higher education executive and strategist Marc Johnson brings innovative ideas about the future of higher ed to Board of Trustees

When reflecting on his journey to date, Marc Johnson credits the transformative experience he had as an undergraduate at Morehouse College—an HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia where he was born and raised for a dozen years—as fueling his long-standing interest in 
higher education.

“I have always endeavored to do work that would provide to others some semblance of the experience I had—[one that] put me on the life trajectory I wanted,” says Johnson, the senior director of University initiatives at Southern New Hampshire University (and former associate dean at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, from which he earned both his EdM and EdD). Johnson, after being tapped for the wealth of professional experience he brings to the position, joined the William James Board of Trustees in January 2021.

Compelled by the College’s deep and genuine interest in meeting the needs of underserved communities, Johnson came on board during the pandemic—a period in which myriad disparities, among them a dearth of mental health and wellness opportunities in the Black community, were revealed.

“There’s a well-documented need [for more resources],” says Johnson, underscoring the consistent endeavor across campus to speak to the issue. “There’s not just a mental health crisis, there is acknowledgment of the reality that [challenges] affect communities and individuals differently as a result of their lived experience,” says Johnson who sees the College working not only to understand, but also to invest in, these differences.

He remains confident there are several pressing issues facing higher education today that, if attended to in some meaningful way, stand to yield significant positive results—chief among them, “long-standing educational outcome disparities [for] underrepresented and/or underserved groups, in particular racial and ethnic minorities,” Johnson says in a nod to college attendance, success, and graduation rates—all of which are lower for Black students when compared with their white and Asian peers.

In his role as trustee, Johnson is using his expertise to help drive important conversations, one of which hinges upon a collective wrestling with what the future of higher education is going to look like in the wake of dramatic changes to learning such as artificial intelligence.

“Being at the front of the line, or at least constantly raising our hands to ask questions and really challenging ourselves to think about how we can leverage this inevitability, [is essential] to driving the kind of learning outcomes that we want,” says Johnson of a fundamental way in which trustees, in collaboration with senior leadership, are tasked with ushering institutions like William James College into the future.

At present, Johnson remains adamant that figuring out how to drive resources, in a world where colleges and universities are increasingly at the whim of the number of students interested in going to college, is essential. “We have to find some stability, so that perhaps tuition isn’t the main thing institutions are relying on to remain solvent,” he says.

In coming full circle, Johnson points to some taken-for-granted values he is proud his parents worked hard to impart about the importance of giving back. 

“At the end of my life, I would like to be able to look back and point to examples of how I either did or tried to make others' lives better, outside of my family,” he said, citing an obligation to facilitate the way for others whenever possible—another major takeaway from his time at Morehouse.

“I’ll always be interested in doing more,” says Johnson, who when asked what he likes best about being a trustee at William James College, points to the opportunity to work alongside dedicated, thoughtful colleagues to advance the College's mission during a time where status-quo approaches and tried-and-true strategies are not enough. “I like being on a team that acknowledges the challenges the college faces and really leans into our responsibility to help steer it toward a sustainable future.”


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