President Helldobler Honored with Prestigious Diversity Award

The American Council on Education (ACE) announced today that Richard Helldobler, president of William Paterson University, is the recipient of the 2024 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award.

The award is named in honor of the late Reginald Wilson, who was senior scholar emeritus at ACE and founding director of ACE’s Office of Minority Concerns, and is presented annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions and demonstrated sustained commitment to diversity in higher education. The award is to be presented at the Council of Fellows Weekend in Washington, DC.

Helldobler, a first-generation college graduate and son of immigrants, has advocated for traditionally underrepresented college students over his more than 30 years in higher education and continues to mentor others as an alumnus of the ACE Fellows Program and as a member of the ACE Council of Fellows.

“Richard Helldobler has been committed to equity and inclusion throughout his career in public higher education,” said Ted Mitchell, president of ACE. “He is not only expanding access for students at William Paterson, he is serving as a mentor to the future leaders of higher education and challenging all of us to rethink systems that create barriers for underrepresented populations in higher education and beyond.”

“I am honored and humbled to be recognized with this award, named for Reginald Wilson, a true pioneer in supporting diverse student populations,” Helldobler said. “I am grateful to ACE, which provides a strong and supportive platform for everyone in American higher education involved in this important and necessary work, and I want to thank all of the great colleagues who I have had the privilege to work with throughout my career, particularly here at William Paterson University. I believe we are advancing ACE’s mission and honoring Dr. Wilson’s legacy by removing barriers to success for the historically underrepresented populations who are changing the social fabric of our state and our nation.”

Since becoming president of William Paterson in 2018, Helldobler created the chief diversity officer role, now a cabinet position, and led creation of the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, Black Cultural Center, and Center for Latinidad for students. He has also overseen the launch of a host of new diversity and inclusion initiatives across the institution, such as the Council for Equity and Justice, a pre-doctoral fellowship program to advance underrepresented faculty, and the Annual President’s Diversity Lecture series.

In 2020, Helldobler oversaw a Campaign for Scholarships which raised $16 million from a diverse group of more than 4,500 alumni, friends, foundation, staff, and current and former faculty donors. He continues to make student scholarships a priority, and under his tenure, the number of scholarships has increased 25 percent, delivering 50 percent more scholarship dollars to support William Paterson students.

As the first openly gay president of a public college or university in both New Jersey and Illinois, represented by his term as interim president of Northeastern Illinois University, Helldobler is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ communities. At William Paterson, he launched Lavender Graduation, one of many LGBTQ support initiatives that earned the institution status as an LGBTQ-friendly institution with a 4.5/5 Campus Pride Index rating. Working with a larger group of queer leaders he was a driving force in creating LGBTQ Leaders in Higher Education, from the group formerly known as LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education, to reflect a stronger focus on mentoring and developing LGBTQ leadership at all levels across postsecondary education.

A former chair of the Council of Fellows, Helldobler received the ACE Fellows Service Award in 2015. Additionally he is a graduate of Harvard University’s Institutional Executive Management Program and was invited to be part of a think tank at the University of Pennsylvania on the changing nature of public higher education.

A former professional dancer and theatre director, Helldobler earned his PhD in theatre and master of arts in speech and theatre from Bowling Green State University, and a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from the University of Toledo.‚Äč