Dr. Robert E. Johnson was appointed as the sixth president of Western New England University in 2020, charged with leading the institution as it embarks on its second century.
His unyielding belief in higher education as a public good and as a path for transforming individual lives has led him to dedicate his 30-year career to preparing students to adapt and succeed in a dynamic future—one where jobs, as we know them, may no longer exist; career mobility is the norm; and individuals are responsible for continuously adding and creating new value.
A future-focused thought leader and commentator on issues concerning the future of work, agile mind education and the agile university, and the sense of humanity imperative, Dr. Johnson believes students, through higher education, must develop divergent thinking skills, social and emotional intelligence, empathy, and a sense of humanity. These uniquely human capacities cannot be replicated by technology and, when paired with an entrepreneurial outlook and a value-creation orientation, are the hallmarks of success in a complex, hyper-connected world.
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 his commitment to service and transforming the next generation of leaders, influencing his fundamental conviction that 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 others to do the same.
Dr. Johnson is a member of the Council on Competitiveness serving on its National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers. He serves on the executive committee and as vice chair of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the boards of MGH Institute of Health Professions and the New England Council, the Intentional Endowments Network steering committee, and as a member of the Leadership in the Age of Personalization Consortium. Past service includes the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, vice chair of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and chair of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. He co-founded the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute.
Dr. Johnson’s leadership career spans nonprofit colleges and universities in the Northeast and Midwest, including 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, 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 as the youngest person holding major senior administrative roles.