WPU’s Helldobler receives diversity award from American Council on Education

Richard Helldobler.

The American Council on Education announced this week that William Paterson University President Richard Helldobler 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. It 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, D.C.

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,” ACE President Ted Mitchell said. “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.”

Helldobler was grateful for the recognition.

“I am honored and humbled to be recognized with this award, named for Reginald Wilson, a true pioneer in supporting diverse student populations,” he 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 that 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%, delivering 50% 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.