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Jay Bernhardt Named 13th President of Emerson College

Dear members of the Emerson community:

I am delighted to announce that Dr. Jay M. Bernhardt, currently the Dean of the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of its Center for Health Communication has been named the 13th president of Emerson College following a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees.  Dr. Bernhardt will officially join the College in his new role in June 2023.

Dr. Bernhardt is a transformational leader whose entire academic and professional career has focused on the powerful ways that communication of all types influence modern society. In addition to leadership roles in four top-tier colleges and professional success working for the Centers for Disease Control, he comes to Emerson with a record of innovation in communication and the arts, as well as a proven commitment to fostering an inclusive higher education ecosystem. 

I want to thank the dedicated members of the Presidential Search Committee and the many individuals across the Emerson community, who participated in the search process.  It was important that the search process cast a wide net; reflect the priorities of Emerson students, faculty and staff; and align with the long-term needs of the College.  As a result, we conducted a comprehensive and international search process that identified candidates from higher education and industry.  Among those candidates, Dr. Bernhardt stood out as someone whose talents and passion both align with and will further our mission of educating leaders of the future, who will advance society through communication and the arts.

Since 2016, Dr. Bernhardt has led Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas, one of the country’s largest and most comprehensive communication colleges. Under his leadership, the college advanced interdisciplinary innovation, expanded its undergraduate enrollment, added new faculty positions, improved its four-year undergraduate graduation rate to over 80%, raised more than $145 million in funding (achieving a capital campaign goal several years early), and increased funding levels for graduate students. Dr. Bernhardt oversaw the creation of numerous new academic centers, programs, and institutes in diverse areas such as media engagement, sports communication, stuttering, immersive media, entertainment industries, media data and analytics, and global sustainability, as well as developed a new residential program in New York City and significantly expanded their program in Los Angeles.

Dr. Bernhardt established the college’s first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. His team significantly increased its representation of diverse faculty and students and took important steps to advance a curricula and culture that fostered equity and inclusivity.  The college conducted regular qualitative and quantitative studies to assess climate, service quality, equity, and progress toward goals. Results were shared with the faculty and staff to ensure transparency, influence strategic planning and maximize community engagement. 

Throughout the search process, Dr. Bernhardt expressed admiration for Emerson’s unique focus on the role that arts, communication, and related disciplines play in fostering community, overcoming obstacles, and creating a more equitable society. It was clear to the search committee that Dr. Bernhardt’s academic and professional interests and his values were well aligned with Emerson’s mission and focus. During his tenure at Moody College, Dr. Bernhardt was known for his transparency, community engagement, and collaboration; we are confident that he will intently focus on building relationships with students, faculty, and staff, as well as fostering connections with our alumni as he plans for the long-term future of the college.    

Before serving as Dean and Professor at The University of Texas at Austin, Bernhardt served as a Professor, Department Chair, and Founding Center Director at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He previously served on the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta, and the University of Georgia in Athens. From 2005 to 2010, Bernhardt served as Director of the National Center for Health Marketing at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading the CDC’s work in health communication, marketing, media, and strategic partnerships. A respected scholar and innovative practitioner applying communication marketing and media to public health, Dean Bernhardt has authored more than 100 scholarly publications and is a sought-after speaker. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a focus on health communication, and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Dr. Bernhardt will be visiting the Boston campus in late January when there will be an opportunity for our entire community to hear from him during an in-person event on January 25 at Emerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre.  More details on that event will be forthcoming.

I would be remiss if I did not take this moment to express my deepest gratitude to Interim President Bill Gilligan for his continued steady leadership of Emerson College during this transitional period. His commitment to the College and his unwavering focus on our success gave us the incredible gift of time to conduct a fulsome search that yielded this outstanding result.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Bernhardt to the Emerson community. I believe that as each of you has the opportunity to get to know him, you will share my enthusiasm and confidence that there is no better leader to build on the strong foundation we’ve paved together to propel Emerson into a bright and successful tomorrow.


Eric Alexander ‘78
Chair, Presidential Search Committee and
Chair, Board of Trustees

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