Presidential Lecture: Dr. Walter Bumphus Discusses 'Then and Now' Regarding Diversity in Higher Ed

Mar 8, 2017

Credit Photo Provided

On Sounds Good, Chad Lampe speaks with Dr. Walter Bumphus, CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges and current Murray State University Regent, in the last interview of a series ahead of Thursday’s Presidential Lecture at MSU.

Dr. Bumphus has more than 40 years of experience in higher education administration. He started his career at the age of 24 as director of minority of affairs at Murray State University, from 1972 to 1974. Next, he became the dean of students at East Arkansas Community College.

“Quite honestly, there weren’t very many people of color doing what I was doing at that point in time, so I didn’t have many role models,” said Bumphus. “Over the years, I’ve seen a significant increase in those folks who have decided to have careers working in higher education, especially those leaders of color,” Bumphus said.

Bumphus says he did encounter discrimination and blatant racism at the outset of his career. One of his first experiences, he says, was in Arkansas where he and his wife tried to buy a house.

“Every place we went they would tell us that the house was no longer on the market, it had just sold,” Bumphus said. “And yet I had members of the staff that I was hiring, we were a brand new community college, and my staff were all saying they were able to buy houses and yet I couldn’t as their supervisor.”

Bumphus’ career next led him to Maryland in 1978 as vice president and dean of students at Howard Community College. In that community housing issues persisted.

The only home they could find was a double wide trailer. His daughters also experienced exclusion from little league and other activities. Later, Bumphus threatened to leave the city, and the college’s board chairman then found someone to build the family a home.  

Despite cases of racism, he says he and his wife were treated well and had a good experience in Maryland. Bumphus’ career then led him to Texas and Baton Rouge serving as president of the respective institutions.

Later, as chairman of the education department at the University of Texas at Austin, Bumphus found it challenging to recruit people to high salary positions because they were concerned whether their families would be accepted in a southern community. He says on top of convincing them of the quality of the university, he would also have to convince them they would have a good quality of life.

Bumphus hopes that people walk away from the presidential lecture with a grasp on the opportunities available to them at Murray State. The 2017 Murray State University Presidential Lecture begins at 8:00 p.m. March 9 at the CFSB Center.