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In the world of fashion and design, few people get to see the runway action up close. But Joyce F. Brown, Ph.D., has more than a front-row seat. As president of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), she’s running the show.
In June of 1998, she became the first woman and African American to head the New York City institution, whose graduates include fashion designers Calvin Klein, Byron Lars and Norma Kamali. FIT, a school of art, design, business and technology, is one of the colleges in the State University of New York system.
Of the approximately 130 African Americans who preside over four-year institutions (including historically black colleges and universities), about 25 are women. With her unanimous appointment, Brown has joined a select group of a dozen or so African American women who head predominantly white, four-year institutions.
But Brown’s success didn’t come overnight. "I’m the ‘mail room story,’" says Brown, 52. She started her career in the late ’60s as a clinical psychology graduate student working full time as a financial aid counselor at New York University. "I enjoyed the administrative work I did early on, so I stayed."
Over the next several years, she held a slew of other administration and faculty positions at various New York institutions. In 1983, she was named dean of urban affairs at Bernard Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY). During her four-year tenure, she directed a number of initiatives, including the coordination of the Urban Summit of Big City Mayors. Because of her efforts, she was named acting president of the college in 1990.
Less than a year later-after another candidate was chosen to permanently fill the position-Brown went on to become vice chancellor for urban affairs and development at CUNY, where she led a South African education development program through a consortium of corporate agencies and educational institutions.
In 1993, her role in the program caught the eye of Mayor David N. Dinkins, who named her deputy mayor for public and community affairs in his administration. The following year, she accepted a psychology professorship at CUNY.
The New York native credits her broad background in education and experience working with diverse communities with preparing her for the FIT presidency. Brown’s educational achievement and ability to bring projects to fruition nabbed the attention of its board of trustees. In 1998, it selected her to succeed Allan Herschfield, FIT’s fourth president.
As CEO, Brown-who earns $140,000-is responsible for raising funds, overseeing the administration and faculty, providing vision and being the public face of the university. Her long-term goals include raising $135 million to renovate buildings, expand student housing, and increase FIT’s presence within the fashion and design industry. At press time, she had already secured a commitment for three-fourths of the needed funds from city and state agencies.
Brown is also working to increase diversity efforts, encouraging inner city youth to participate in Saturday Live, FIT’s special