Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D.
Chancellor, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Dr. Robert E. Johnson is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a Tier 1 national research university providing a private college educational experience and public university value. Prior to his 2017 appointment, he was president of Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts for seven years, leading the college’s evolution into an adaptive, nimble, and entrepreneurial institution that is a model for colleges and universities across the United States. His unyielding belief in higher education as a public good has led him to dedicate more than a quarter century to ensuring educational opportunity that transforms lives.
A thought leader and commentator on issues related to the future of work, Dr. Johnson believes higher education must foster in students an "Agile Mind" to develop divergent thinking skills, social and emotional intelligence, empathy, and an entrepreneurial outlook that are the hallmarks of future success. By nurturing these uniquely human capacities that cannot be replicated by technology, this education provides the foundation for graduates to add value in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) future.
A Detroit native, Dr. Johnson was inspired to attend Morehouse College by his late uncle Robert E. Johnson Jr., associate publisher and executive editor of JET Magazine and Morehouse classmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He encouraged Dr. Johnson’s commitment to service and transforming the next generation of leaders, influencing his fundamental belief that a sense of humanity and civility must be central to all we do. As educated and engaged citizens on a planet with more than seven billion people, we are privileged and thus have a social responsibility not only to leave the world better than we found it but to inspire the next generation of leaders.
Dr. Johnson is a member of the Council on Competitiveness and serves on the executive committee of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the board of MGH Institute of Health Professions, International Endowment Network steering committee. He has also served on the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, as vice chair of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and as chair of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Johnson’s career spans more than 30 years of multi-sector non-profit higher education leadership experience. He has led or held senior administrative positions at colleges and universities in the Northeast and Midwest, spanning public, private, urban, rural, small and large institutions, with enrollments from 2,000 to more than 25,000 students. This experience includes public research universities, one of the nation’s largest single-campus community colleges that is also a League for Innovation institution, a large Catholic university, a historically Black university, and a turn-around and transformation of a small private college. His career reflects several firsts—not only as an African-American leader but also the youngest person holding major senior administrative roles.
A proponent of innovation and entrepreneurship, hallmarks of his leadership include: elevated institutional stature; improved institutional profile and competitive market position; national recognition; enrollment growth and resource development success; and fast-tracked facilities and infrastructure upgrades. His “firsts” in establishing new centers and institutes include the first-in-the nation Yunus Social Business Centre, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) at Becker College, and the Center for Marine Environmental Research Innovation and Technology (MERIT Center) at UMass Dartmouth. He has engaged in future-focused thought leadership around the Future of Work, the Agile Mind, and the Agile University; and innovating for social impact when leading one of the first higher education institutions in the nation to achieve a 100% social impact goal for its endowment.
He has been instrumental in convening transformational conversations with industry, government, and academe that stimulated growth and regional economic opportunity, such as the Mass Impact Summit in 2010 that led to the creation of MassDiGI in 2011, and the Catching the Next Wave: Building the Blue Economy Through Innovation and Collaboration symposium in 2018 that led to the creation of the MERIT Center to support regional job growth and economic development. Dr. Johnson holds a doctorate in higher education administration from Touro University International, formerly a division of Touro College, New York; a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Cincinnati; and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Morehouse College. He is married to Michelle Jones-Johnson. They have two children, Jasmine and Alex.
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is part of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system. A Tier 1 National Research University located on 710 scenic acres on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts, it has nearly 9,000 students in undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs; a 400-member faculty that produces $27 million annually in research activity; and more than 50,000 alumni. UMass Dartmouth generates nearly $500 million of regional economic activity annually.