New President, New Chapter

Dr. Melissa Gilliam stands with a bright smile on what appears to be a city balcony. The weather is slightly cloudy and overcast.
Dr. Melissa L. Gilliam

After a rigorous and comprehensive search that spanned the nation and the globe, Boston University’s Board of Trustees selected a new leader this fall to help write our next chapter of transformational impact.

Meet Dr. Melissa L. Gilliam.

Dr. Gilliam is a veteran administrator, award-winning interdisciplinary researcher, and esteemed doctor, who currently serves as executive vice president and provost at The Ohio State University.

Dr. Gilliam takes office at BU on July 1, 2024, inheriting a thriving institution that has been in continual ascension, thanks in large part to her predecessor, BU’s 10th president, Robert A. Brown. His remarkable 18-year tenure saw the University quadruple its endowment, open its doors to a more diverse student body, and establish itself as a leading private urban research university.

“It is a testament to Boston University’s accomplishments and momentum that we were able to attract candidates who were so highly qualified and with such enormous capability,” says Ahmass Fakahany (Questrom’79), chair of the BU Board of Trustees. “We are at an incredible juncture, and we’ve earned the right to dream big and to fulfill the potential of this University. Hiring Dr. Melissa Gilliam is a tremendous step in that direction.”

At Ohio State, Dr. Gilliam oversees undergraduate and graduate education, international affairs, diversity and inclusion, external engagement, online learning, and information technology. Like BU, Ohio State is a member of the Association of American Universities, an elite organization of leading public and private universities. With 15 colleges, more than 7,500 faculty members, and over 60,000 students across 6 campuses, Ohio State is the 12th-largest research university in the country, with nearly $1.4 billion in research expenditures. With Dr. Gilliam’s experience serving such a comprehensive and sprawling institution, steering a ship of Boston University’s magnitude and complexity will present familiar opportunities and challenges.

Prior to joining Ohio State, Dr. Gilliam served at the University of Chicago for 16 years—as vice provost, Ellen H. Block Distinguished Service Professor of Health Justice, and professor of obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics. While there, she led the university’s faculty development and hiring programs as well as diversity and inclusion efforts.

Dr. Melissa L. Gilliam, meets with students at the Howard Thurman Center. She Has a bright smile on her face as she engages questions and queries from a diverse audience in the hallway.

Service and community building have been themes throughout Dr. Gilliam’s life, and she says that starts with meeting, and listening, to people inside and outside her orbit.

“I’m really excited about how engaged Boston University is in the city and how engagement has been a hallmark of BU,” Dr. Gilliam says. “I’m looking forward to hearing from people, learning and listening. I lead by listening, collaborating, and empowering other people. That is the best way to run big organizations: to get everyone excited and engaged and doing more than they think they’re capable of doing. This philosophy is core to shared governance, an essential component of a thriving university.”

Dr. Gilliam earned her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Yale University, Master of Arts in philosophy and politics from the University of Oxford, Doctor of Medicine from Harvard University, and Master of Public Health from the University of Illinois Chicago. She completed an internship in general surgery at the University of Chicago and her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University.

Despite her highly accomplished background in science and medicine, she says she was also raised to embrace the societal importance of arts and culture. Her late father was a pioneering abstract painter known for a career of continuous experimentation and innovation. And her mother was a trailblazing journalist and the first Black female reporter hired by the Washington Post.

Gilliam will be the first female president of Boston University and first person of color to lead our 184-year-old research institution. A choice that makes history, a choice that forges our future.