Watkins-Hayes recommended as interim Ford School dean


Provost Laurie McCauley is recommending Celeste M. Watkins-Hayes, associate dean for academic affairs, as the interim dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Watkins-Hayes also is a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, Jean E. Fairfax Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, and professor of sociology, LSA. She is a research and community impact fellow with the Provost’s Anti-Racism Collaborative.

Celeste Watkins-Hayes

Pending Board of Regents approval, her appointment would be effective July 19 and run until a permanent dean is appointed. She succeeds Michael Barr, who stepped down to serve as the next vice chair for supervision of the Federal Reserve.

(Update: The Board of Regents approved Watkins-Hayes’ appointment July 21.)

“I am pleased to recommend Professor Watkins-Hayes as interim dean of the Ford School. She is a distinguished scholar and educator, with broad and robust experience as an administrator,” McCauley said. “I am confident that the school will maintain its momentum during this interim period.”

Watkins-Hayes’ first leadership role in higher education began when she served as the student member of the Board of Trustees of Spelman College from 1993-96.  She was invited to return to the Spelman board in 2009, where she held various leadership roles, and served as the board vice chair from 2014-19.

I am truly honored to serve as interim dean of the Ford School of Public Policy,” Watkins-Hayes said. “In this important moment of transition, I look forward to working closely with our world-class faculty, staff, students, university community and external partners to continue to further the Ford School’s core mission of advancing the public good.”

She began her academic career as an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University in 2003 and rose to associate professor in 2010. Concurrent with her appointment as a faculty member at Northwestern, she had multiple administrative roles, including director of undergraduate studies in the Department of African American studies from 2009-10 and 2016-17, vice chair and director of graduate studies from 2010-11, and department chair of African American studies from 2011-13.

Watkins-Hayes became a professor of sociology and African American studies in 2017, and became the associate vice president for research in the Office for Research in 2018. In 2020, she joined U-M and became the associate dean for academic affairs in the Ford School in August 2021.

She led the search process for Spelman’s 10th president and authored a highly influential article for Trusteeship Magazine on presidential searches. Watkins-Hayes served on the board of directors of the Detroit Institute of Arts from 2017-21. During that time, she became a founding steering member of the Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums in 2020, with the mission to increase the inclusion of Black perspectives and narratives in North American art museums.  She leads the Data Committee of the BTA, guiding a nationwide effort to collect quantitative and qualitative data on the experiences of black museum trustees.

During her tenure at Northwestern, she was the founding director of ASCEND, a faculty excellence initiative that addresses the needs and aspirations of senior faculty, and was an elected member of the Tenure Committee at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 2016-18 and again in 2020. 

Watkins-Hayes received the Department of Sociology Graduate Mentoring Award at Northwestern in 2019 and the E. LeRoy Hall Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018, the highest teaching award bestowed by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

Shortly after joining U-M in 2020, and along with her role as the Ford School’s associate dean, Watkins-Hayes became the founding director of the Center for Racial Justice at the Ford School. She is a member of the American Sociological Association, American Studies Association, Association of Black Sociologists, International AIDS Society, National Women’s Studies Association, and the Women’s Research Initiative on HIV/AIDS: A Program of the Well Project.

Watkins-Hayes is an internationally known scholar, recognized for her research at the intersection of inequality, public policy and institutions, with a special focus on urban poverty and race, class and gender studies. She has published numerous academic articles, op-eds, and two books: “The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform” in 2009 and “Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality” in 2019.

“Remaking a Life” won seven awards, including her discipline’s highest book honor, the Distinguished Scholarly Book Award from the American Sociological Association in 2021. The project was funded through a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Investigator Award and a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award.

Watkins-Hayes’ third book, “Speechifying: Johnnetta B. Cole’s Lifetime of Speaking Truth to Power,” with Johnnetta B. Cole and Erica Williams, is in production with Duke University Press.

Watkins-Hayes is a Michigan native and a graduate of Southfield High School. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in an independent interdisciplinary major: sociology, economics, and education from Spelman. She received a Master of Arts in sociology followed by a Ph.D. from Harvard University.



  1. Nick Pfost
    on July 20, 2022 at 9:49 am

    👏👏👏 A fabulous choice!

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