Leonard Haynes is focused on education.
Since earning his master’s degree in history from Carnegie Mellon University in 1969, Haynes has been a professor, an education administrator at the highest levels of the federal government, a lauded champion of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the acting president of one.
“I was able to strengthen my capability of focusing,” Haynes recalled of his time at CMU. “And that’s very important. When you focus, you can finish what you start. And I attribute that to my experience at Carnegie Mellon.”
Recently retired from the U.S. Department of Education, Haynes maintains an office in Washington D.C., where he continues to work, teach and advise on education. His contributions have paid dividends for thousands of students throughout America.
When he retired in 2016 after almost 30 years of public service, he received letters of congratulation from U.S. presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush.
“Educational uplift and community service have been consistent themes characterizing [his] idealism as a graduate student as well as his distinguished career as an administrator in higher education,” said Thomas Bogger, who after earning his master’s degree in history with Haynes in 1969, would go on to become the first black Ph.D. graduate at the University of Virginia.
He and Haynes graduated from CMU amid the Civil Rights Movement in America. Haynes’ parents, both educators, had been involved in the movement and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Dr. Haynes comes from a family of educators and believes all citizens must place a high value on the importance of getting a good education if the common good is to advance,” said Robert Lewis, former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Policy Analysis and Forecasting Group.
Haynes deepened this interest in access to education while pursuing his doctorate in higher education administration at Ohio State University, where his dissertation focused on the effects of desegregation on public black colleges.
“I was really interested in seeing what I could do to make a positive contribution in the public black college arena,” he said. “And either I could become the president of one of those schools, or become influential in helping them move forward, helping them with their legal battles — all of that is what guided me.”
Haynes is an adjunct professor for OSU’s Washington Academic Internship Program in which he advises student fellows. Trevor Brown, dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at OSU, calls Haynes the “Swiss Army Knife of D.C. expertise and experience, academic distinction and classroom excellence.”
After earning his Ph.D. in 1975, Haynes taught at various institutions, including Howard University, the University of Maryland and George Washington University. Later, he was appointed acting president of Grambling State University for a year.
As Louisiana’s first black assistant superintendent for elementary and secondary education, Haynes was in Quebec, recruiting French teachers in the late 1980s. He vividly remembers receiving a call in Canada from the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
“They wanted to talk to me about joining the administration, and I said, ‘Really?’” he recalled. “It was minus 28 degrees that day!”
That call led to Haynes’ appointment at the U.S. Department of Education as assistant secretary of postsecondary education and director of academic programs for the United States Information Agency (USIA). He oversaw the Fulbright Program, which offers grants to study, teach and conduct research for U.S. citizens to go abroad and for non-U.S. citizens to come to the United States. Under President George W. Bush, he returned to the U.S. Department of Education as special assistant to the secretary. In 2003, he was appointed director of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and was a strong advocate for creativity and innovation.
“Dr. Haynes leads by example,” said Lewis, who served as Haynes’ deputy director for three years. “He feels everyone is capable of making a positive contribution and that an effective leader cannot be successful without good fellowship.”
Bogger, a professor emeritus at Norfolk State University, agrees with Lewis.
“The enthusiasm he exudes undoubtedly motivates those around him,” Bogger said.
Haynes became the executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Office of the Secretary, formalizing his long-standing commitment as a champion of HBCUs.
“I played a key role in making sure [HBCUs] got their support and spent the money they were supposed to spend wisely,” he explained.
In 2010, under the Obama administration, Haynes became senior director of Institutional Services in the Office of Postsecondary Education, overseeing more than a $1 billion in discretionary grant programs. It was from this position that he retired in 2016.
In part because of his renowned international reputation, he has received 14 honorary degrees, including one from Ohio State, and he proudly adds that he has been happily married for 48 years and is the father of four successful children and a grandparent of six.
He has a sense of accomplishment in his legacy. “When I retired, it was just amazing,” he said. “When you are known for trying to make a positive contribution to advance education, devoted your life to it, you live long after you’re gone.”
His devotion has not ended. In addition to his work with OSU, Haynes is a trustee of Fielding Graduate University, serves as senior adviser to the president of Grambling State, and is a senior fellow for the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metro Area.
His “retirement” philosophy reflects a life spent serving others: “If I have the time, I’ll give it to you,” he said simply.