President of Bennett College Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins stepping down

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Phyllis Worthy Dawkins has left Bennett College after three years as president of the beleaguered local school.

The college late Friday announced the departure of Dawkins, who was hired as provost in 2015 before becoming interim president in 2016 and permanent president a year later.

It’s unclear if Dawkins resigned, was fired or was asked to step down.

A news release gave no reason for her sudden departure and said only that Dawkins “will be leaving her position as of (Friday).”

In a text message to the News & Record, Dawkins declined to comment other than to say, “Give me time to digest what happened today.”

Bennett — one of just two historically black colleges for women in the nation — also announced Friday that Gwendolyn O’Neal will serve as interim president effective immediately.* In a news release, the college said it hopes to hire a permanent president by the start of the new academic year in August.

O’Neal is a retired college professor and former chairwoman of UNCG’s consumer, apparel and retail studies department. She’s a Bennett alumna who was on the faculty at Bennett College before moving over to UNCG. In April, O’Neal was one of four Bennett alumnae named to the Bennett Re-Engineering Committee charged with charting a course forward for the college.

In a news release, state Sen. Gladys Robinson, chairwoman of the college’s Board of Trustees, thanked Dawkins “for her time and contribution to Bennett College, especially her leadership during challenging times. … We look forward to securing new leadership that will take the college to the next level.”

News of Dawkins’ departure came as a surprise to Yvonne Johnson, a Bennett alum, the city’s mayor pro tem and one of two co-chairs of the re-engineering committee. (Tom Ross, the former UNC System and Davidson College president, is the group’s other leader.)

“We had no idea,” Johnson said. She added that a college trustee called her Friday afternoon to tell her about the changeover in the president’s office.

The committee had not discussed Dawkins’ performance or the presidency, Johnson said.

“That’s the board’s job. We did not do that,” Johnson said. “We looked at the whole college to see what sort of things need to be done.”

An Asheville native, Dawkins got her bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and a doctorate in adapted physical education from The Ohio State University. Then she started to climb the academic ladder, from professor to dean to provost.