NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
William Lawrence Pollard
Dr. William Lawrence Pollard is a seasoned social work professional and dedicated educator who currently serves as president of Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York (LUNY). During a career spanning more than four decades, Dr. Pollard has held numerous senior- level, higher education positions in both the public and private arenas. Throughout his professional life, he has championed issues such as diversity and inclusiveness, increased higher education access for the disenfranchised, and greater training opportunities for the next generation of minority social workers.
Dr. Pollard was born and raised in segregated Raleigh, North Carolina and prides himself on being a child of the modern civil rights movement. As a high school student, a young Pollard volunteered in a summer youth program that placed him at the Greely Presbyterian Church community center in St. Louis Missouri, where he helped staff the bible school and coach youth – league baseball. While there he encountered youths from the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects and noted the same social inequities in their lives that he had known from his own upbringing in the Walnut Terrace housing projects of the impoverished 4th Ward.
As an undergraduate at Shaw University, founding home of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Pollard was a foot soldier in nightly protest marches where he banded together with other student activists in seeking admittance to segregated hotels, theaters and other establishments. He also went on to serve as a community organizer for the North Carolina Fund - an innovative state program aimed at reduction of minority poverty and furthering civil rights through advancements in education, healthcare, job training, housing, and community development. He was trained on housing codes and regulations to better organize 4th Ward denizens to advocate for improvements to their substandard housing. During a door-to-door community mobilization campaign, he and his fellow volunteers were, at times, dismissed as outside agitators; however, their efforts would ultimately pay off as they were able to marshal hundreds of community partners to a rally on urban renewal.
It was these experiences as a change agent that sparked a lifelong commitment to social and community activism and led Pollard to major in community organization at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, where he received his Masters in Social Work in 1969. Graduating during the tumult of the Vietnam War, a serendipitous quirk of fate - in the form of an occupational deferment to teach In the Department of Sociology at Livingstone College -afforded him the opportunity to effect change through the teaching enterprise. It was not long after beginning to teach that he realized that he had found his life's calling.
He subsequently began his doctoral work in policy and planning at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. While conducting his research, Pollard provided leadership to the nascent Social Work program at Livingstone College and began to develop a richer form of activist leadership that would prove to be a hallmark of his career. During this time he served on several Boards and explored the possibility of a political career. He completed his doctoral work in 1976 and his dissertation, entitled "Black Welfare Developments in the Southeast, 1890 – 1915," was reviewed by a committee which included the late John Hope Franklin, the brilliant historian and educator who, in 1956, became the first African-American department chair at a major college when he was named chairman of Brooklyn College's history department.
After five years of teaching at Livingstone College and the completion of his doctoral studies, Dr. Pollard joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work where he taught both graduate and undergraduate content on social work, with a special interest in social welfare policy and history. While at Pittsburgh, he was mentored by a warm and supportive faculty and staff that recognized his potential. He was asked to chair the Community Organization Skill Set in the School of Social Work, encouraged by Professor Charlotte Dunmore to publish his dissertation, and with the support of his then Dean David Epperson, went on to serve both the city of Pittsburgh and the State of Pennsylvania on various Boards. Those experiences garnered him a perspective that tempered his thirst for immediate change with the knowledge that some change is incremental.
After six transformational years, in 1982 Dr. Pollard left Pittsburgh to provide leadership for the development of a new School of Social Work at Grambling State University. Over the next seven years, Dr. Pollard assembled a faculty, recruited students, built agency relationships in northern Louisiana and guided the development of a curriculum that tailored the School's emphasis to its location in a rural and predominantly black region and state. The School was admitted to candidacy by the Council on Social Work Education and accredited shortly thereafter.
In 1989, Dr. Pollard assumed the deanship of the School of Social Work at Syracuse University. His activist leadership style came to the forefront as he helmed several initiatives over the next thirteen years. Among them: Dr. Pollard led the School in its development of a student-centered program, the School of Social Work was relocated from the fringes of the campus to the main quad of the University, an active alumni association was established, and the School embarked on a fund raising campaign that led to two of its largest gifts all in excess of 1 million dollars. After serving as dean of the Syracuse University School of Social Work for 10 years, Dr. Pollard became the founding dean of the School of Human Services and Health Professions, where he was responsible for creating a new entity that united the College of Nursing, College of Human Development and the School of Social Work.
In 2002, he was appointed president of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) - the only public university in Washington, D.C. and the nation's only urban land grant university. As president of UDC, Dr. Pollard established a student counseling center that provided academic and mental health counseling which was credited with significantly increasing student success and retention. He was also instrumental in obtaining a $3 million dollar allocation from former District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams that permitted the recruitment and hiring of new faculty in areas of greatest need. He furthermore developed strong alumni and community involvement with the University.
Dr. Pollard went on to serve as vice president for the Office of Access and the Advancement of Public Black Colleges and Universities for the National Association for State Universities and Land Grant Colleges where he worked to promote public universities, especially the 1890s land - grant institutions which provided for the education and training of African-Americans in the South, from 2007 to 2008.
The Board of Trustees of The City University of New York appointed Dr. Pollard as president of Medgar Evers College on June 22, 2009; he began serving as president on August 1, 2009. Since then, he has consistently engaged students through town hall meetings and special drop-in hours, met with community leaders, and worked with faculty, staff, and alumni in his efforts to transform the College into the most student-centered campus within CUNY and beyond. Among other long-term goals, Dr. Pollard has endeavored to increase the amount of student space on campus, develop co-curricular vehicles that foster academic excellence, and increase the College's retention rate. For his efforts, Dr. Pollard has already been honored by The Black Star News.
Dr. Pollard's many awards and honors include the Social Worker of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers, Central New York Chapter; recognition as co-founder of the Syracuse Onondaga Dialog on Race; the Citizen of the Year Award from Temple Adath Yeshurun; and the inter-Religious Council Leadership Award. He has published numerous articles and papers in professional journals and lectured extensively on cultural and racial diversity in venues across the country.
Active in his community, Dr. Pollard has served in several prominent organizations, including: the Board of Directors of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, membership of the Leadership Greater Washington Class of 2006, and service on the advisory boards of the Federal City Council and the D.C. Board of Trade, Dr. Pollard was also a trustee at John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church in Washington, D,C.; a member of the Board of Directors of American Humanics of Kansas City; a trustee at Livingstone College; and was an active member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. He currently serves as the Co-Chair of the New York City Haitian Community Hope and Healing Fund, which was created to provide financial and other resources to local nonprofit organizations that support Haitian-American New Yorkers in the wake of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.