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President Ben Vinson III Makes Significant Changes to His Cabinet

Howard University President Ben Vinson III has appointed Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Odalys M. Diaz Piñeiro and others to key positions, focusing on strategic initiatives. As they express commitment to Howard’s mission, students anticipate positive impacts but emphasize accountability.

Howard University President Ben Vinson III in a 2023 sit-down interview with The Hilltop after beginning his tenure on Sept. 1. (Jacob Hanesworth/The Hilltop)

Howard University President Ben Vinson III has made significant appointments to his cabinet following his Nov. 4 inauguration. Additionally, there have been University-wide leadership updates in the Office of Corporate Relations, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Chief Strategy Officer.

Vinson introduced two new cabinet members to the Howard community on Oct. 27. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Vinson’s senior advisor for strategic initiatives, and Odalys M. Diaz Piñeiro, his chief of staff.

In an interview, Zeleza, who worked with Vinson at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) as one of his associate provosts, said he was “beyond excited” when approached about assuming his new role at Howard.

According to an Oct. 27 press release, his role will be centered around “the provision of high-level advice and comprehensive research” to help inform decision-making by the president and critical strategic initiatives and projects. 

Zeleza not only valued being at Howard due to what the university stands for but also emphasized a feeling of belonging as someone within the African diaspora.

“My history, humanity, values and interests I didn’t have to justify that. And therefore, when you don’t have to justify yourself you can actually bring your gifts and talents,” he said.

Piñeiro also shared her keenness about joining the Howard community, emphasizing the university’s unique mission. 

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In her new role, Piñeiro is responsible for overseeing policy issues and management of the staff assigned to the Office of the President, according to the same press release. This will also include organizing and managing “priority projects and initiatives.”

She expressed her eagerness to be a contributor to “the next iteration of Howard” under the new leadership of Vinson. 

“I think for me its mission to really uplift individuals, families, whole communities, particularly those in the African diaspora, was particularly interesting to me,” Piñeiro said, whose family immigrated from Cuba. “And it’s not just like a mission statement. It’s part of the DNA of the universe.” 

Zeleza and Piñeiro expressed their commitment to furthering Vinson’s vision of “maximum strength at every level of the institution.”

Zeleza was appointed on Oct. 27 and Piñero began her role on Nov. 20.

Vinson expressed his confidence in the talent of the new appointees in the press release.

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“I’m extremely pleased to see such a talented and proven group of individuals taking on key roles within our University,” Vinson said. “At Howard University, we are charged with shaping some of our world’s brightest minds while carrying out exemplary service to our community locally and abroad.”

Vinson also made numerous other leadership changes in addition to the two new cabinet members.

Dr. Calvin J. Hadley is now assistant provost for academic partnerships and student engagement after serving as senior advisor to the president for strategic initiatives, where he will be “leading the ideation, development, and establishment of various strategic academic partnerships with leaders in the industry,” according to the press release. 

Latrice Byam is now the executive director of academic planning and curriculum for the Office of the Provost after serving as executive director of admissions with the Office of Enrollment Management. 

Christina Harper is now the assistant vice president of strategy after serving as director of strategy and communications in the Office of the Senior Vice President.

Allison Bryant is now vice president of corporate relations in the Office of Corporate Relations after serving as chief of staff to now President Emeritus Wayne A. I. Frederick. 

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Dr. Greg Carr, a tenured associate professor in the Afro-American studies department who has been teaching at Howard for more than 23 years, is familiar with Zeleza’s academic work and thinks this can play a role in the university’s future. 

“If his appointment of Paul Zeleza is any indication of what he’s thinking in addition to what he’s said publicly, I think we can look for some interesting new energy around globalizing Howard’s reach,” Carr said. 

Although Carr felt it was too soon to conclude about these new additions, he emphasized the importance of the new administration listening to those who have been at Howard for a long time as a way to start.

“I think regardless of the talents, abilities and desires that any new senior administration brings to the table, there has to be a balancing of the new vision and the deep commitments of the people that have been there long term,” Carr said. 

“Anybody new to the institution would do well to spend some time not only listening to the folk that have been here but working to enhance everyone’s contribution in ways that build morale, support and a sense of community,” he added. 

Gillian Joseph, a sophomore TV and film major from Brooklyn, New York, thought the new additions were “exciting and sounded promising” for Howard’s future. But Joseph still has some expectations for them as they become acclimated in their positions. 

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“Howard often prides itself on shaping sharp and intelligent minds and molds students into figures within the community; with that being said, I anticipate that the new additions will take into consideration Howard’s student body and hear their concerns about their feelings of neglect,” Joseph said. 

Joseph mentioned taking heed of the College of Fine Arts and School of Communications concerns and assisting “working-class upperclassmen” with the off-campus housing process. 

“I also hope there is an incentive for Howard to continue to emphasize its position as a socially and politically progressive institution by supporting the scholars attending Howard,” Joseph said. 

Zeleza shared his gratitude for the opportunity to work for “somebody who is truly, truly committed to academic excellence, operational excellence, service excellence,” in Vinson. 

“The opportunity to work with the new President with visionary leadership and this history. I mean, what else would you want?” he said. 

He most recently served as North Star Distinguished Professor and associate provost at CWRU. Zeleza, however, has held various positions globally including his previous position as vice chancellor and professor of social studies at the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi. 

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Zeleza has worked with numerous universities in six countries on three continents including the Caribbean. He has held academic and administrative positions in Canada, where he was college principal at Trent University, center director for African studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and academic vice president for academic affairs at Quinnipiac University.

Piñeiro also expressed her alignment with Vinson’s goals and facilitating his future endeavors. 

“Our duties really are aligned with the president’s priorities,” she said. “And so I think he’s been very clear about the fact that really what we’re working on at this point right now is ensuring that we have a way of developing systems and processes and projects that open up possibilities that allow people to function at their maximum level and that is at every level.”

Before joining the Howard community, Piñeiro served as chief of staff to President La Jerne Terry Cornish at Ithaca College. In her previous role, she worked with the vice presidents to help organize, focus and implement the college’s broad strategic work, according to the press release. 

In the past, she has held positions as senior administrator and advisor to two college presidents at the City University of New York system, the president’s deputy chief of staff and director of strategic initiatives at Queens College, and the president’s director of special projects at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College.

To support Vinson in achieving this vision, Zeleza emphasized providing students with “a rigorous, transformative, supportive environment for them to learn” and “continuing on the journey of growth.” 

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Piñeiro shared insight on how her immigrant background has provided her with a unique perspective that has ultimately prepared her for her new role.

“My family came here because of the promise that education. You know that this country brings in terms of being able to be mobile, to uplift yourself, to uplift your family, to uplift your community,” she said. “And education is a cornerstone of what enables you to do that.”

She expressed that her background has made her “deeply committed” to opening doors for students like her.

Zeleza shared similar sentiments stating that Howard reflects the same diversity that he experienced living in South Africa.

“This is the first institution, as I said, in 45 years of being in North America that has the kind of diversity that I’m really used to. And that I was always aspiring to have in my daily professional life,” he said. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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***Correction: A previous version of this article implied that President Vinson made appointments in the Office of Corporate Relations, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Chief Strategy Officer. This story and graphic have been updated for clarity to avoid any misleading information regarding cabinet appointments made by President Ben Vinson III in comparison to those made by the University.***


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