Celeste Watkins-Hayes named interim dean of the Ford School

July 15, 2022

Sociologist Celeste Watkins-Hayes, currently the associate dean for academic affairs, will become interim dean of the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, pending Board of Regents approval at its July meeting.

Watkins-Hayes also serves as University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, Jean E. Fairfax Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, and professor of sociology (LSA). She is the founding director of the Ford School's Center for Racial Justice and a research and community impact fellow with the provost's Anti-Racism Collaborative.

Her appointment will be effective July 19, 2022, and run until a permanent dean is appointed. She succeeds Michael S. Barr, who stepped down to serve as governor and vice chair for supervision of the Federal Reserve. Barr will take an unpaid leave of absence from the University of Michigan, retaining his faculty appointments in public policy and law, and planning to return to the faculty after serving his term on the Fed’s Board of Governors.

"I am pleased to recommend Professor Watkins-Hayes as interim dean of the Ford School,” said U-M Provost Laurie McCauley. “She is a distinguished scholar and educator, with broad and robust experience as an administrator. I am confident that the school will maintain its momentum during this interim period."

"I am truly honored to serve as interim dean of the Ford School of Public Policy," said Watkins-Hayes. "In this important moment of transition, I look forward to working closely with our world-class faculty, staff, students, university community, and external partners to continue to further the Ford School's core mission of advancing the public good."

Watkins-Hayes is a Michigan native and received a BA degree, summa cum laude, in an independent interdisciplinary major: sociology, economics, and education from Spelman College in 1996.  In 2000, she received a MA in sociology followed by a PhD from Harvard University in 2003. She began her academic career as an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University in 2003; she rose to associate professor in 2010. Concurrent with her appointment as a faculty member at Northwestern University, she held multiple administrative roles, including director of undergraduate studies in the Department of African American studies from 2009-2010 and 2016-2017, vice chair and director of graduate studies from 2010-2011, and department chair of African American studies from 2011-2013. Professor Watkins-Hayes became a professor of sociology and African American studies in 2017, and became the associate vice president for research in the Office for Research in 2018. In 2020, Professor Watkins-Hayes joined the University of Michigan, and became the associate dean for academic affairs in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in August 2021.

Professor Watkins-Hayes’ first leadership role in higher education began when she served as the student trustee on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College from 1993-1996. She was invited to return to the Spelman board in 2009, where she held various leadership roles, and served as the board vice chair from 2014 through 2019. She led the search process for Spelman’s 10th president and authored a highly influential article for Trusteeship Magazine on presidential searches. Professor Watkins-Hayes served on the board of directors of the Detroit Institute of Arts from 2017-2021. During that time, she became a founding steering member of the Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums (BTA) in 2020, with the mission to increase the inclusion of Black perspectives and narratives in North American art museums. She currently leads the Data Committee of the BTA, guiding a nationwide effort to collect quantitative and qualitative data on the experiences of black museum trustees.

During her tenure at Northwestern, she was the founding director of ASCEND, a faculty excellence initiative that addresses the needs and aspirations of senior faculty, and was an elected member of the Tenure Committee at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 2016-2018 and again in 2020. Professor Watkins-Hayes received the Department of Sociology Graduate Mentoring Award at Northwestern University in 2019 and the E. LeRoy Hall Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018, the highest teaching award bestowed by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

Shortly after joining the University of Michigan in 2020, and along with her role as the Ford School’s associate dean, Professor Watkins-Hayes became the founding director of the Center for Racial Justice at the University of Michigan’s Ford School. She is a member of the American Sociological Association, American Studies Association, Association of Black Sociologists, International AIDS Society, National Women’s Studies Association, and the Women’s Research Initiative on HIV/AIDS: A Program of the Well Project.

Professor Watkins-Hayes is an internationally known scholar, recognized for her research at the intersection of inequality, public policy, and institutions, with a special focus on urban poverty and race, class, and gender studies.  As a part of her research, her funded projects include: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research - Health, Hardship, and Renewal: Economic Survival Strategies among Black Women Living With HIV (2009-2014) and National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities as a co-investigator - Characterizing PrEP Adherence and Patterns of Use in a Diverse Community Cohort of Young Men (2018-2022). She was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award in 2009.

Among Professor Watkins-Hayes’ many accomplishments, she has published two books; including The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform in 2009, and award winning Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality in 2019. The New Welfare Bureaucrats was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Book Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems and published by The University of Chicago Press. Remaking a Life received seven awards, including her discipline’s highest book honor, the Distinguished Scholarly Book Award from the American Sociological Association in 2021. Her third book, Speechifying: Johnnetta B. Cole’s Lifetime of Speaking Truth to Power, with Johnnetta B. Cole and Erica Williams, is currently in production with Duke University Press.

The provost will launch a national search for a permanent dean early in the fall semester.