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Spelman College Looks to New York for Its New President

Spelman College, the women’s college in Atlanta, has appointed a new president: Mary Schmidt Campbell, an art historian who is a former leader of the Studio Art Museum in Harlem and was dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for nearly a quarter-century.

Spelman’s Board of Trustees voted on Saturday to elect Ms. Campbell to lead the historically black college, succeeding Beverly Daniel Tatum, who is retiring from that post after more than 13 years.

Ms. Campbell, who is 67 and had been dean of the Tisch School for 23 years when she stepped down last year, said in an interview that she had not been looking for a new job. Instead, she said, she was working on a book when she was asked to visit the Spelman campus and consult with faculty members on the college’s arts programs and facilities. She was persuaded to seek the position at Spelman, she said, after several subsequent conversations with the chairwoman of the search committee, who began calling her late last year.

While Spelman is very different from New York University, Ms. Campbell said she understands the issues the college faces through her experiences at Swarthmore College — as a student and later as a member of the Board of Managers for a dozen years. Swarthmore, she said, is “very attentive to academic issues and attracting and retaining the best students and faculty.”

Running the Studio Art Museum for a decade also lends some valuable experience, Ms. Campbell said. Her goal during her tenure there was to create a “first-rate black museum that is sustainable over the long run.”

But Spelman’s role in Atlanta is very different from the one that similar institutions play in New York, she said: “I know a lot about the cultural community in New York, and it is jam-packed. The challenge is to distinguish yourself in this dense culture.”

“In Atlanta, schools like Spelman are important mainstays in the civic and cultural community,” she said. Ms. Tatum, she said, “has made Spelman vital to the Atlanta civic community. It’s really a gem, a treasure.”

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