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A Tribute to Judy McLaughlin

An important voice in higher education leadership, McLaughlin retired at the end of the academic year
Judith McLaughlin
Judy McLaughlin
Photo: Kent Dayton

Integral to solidifying HGSE’s place in the education leadership landscape, Senior Lecturer Judith Block McLaughlin, Ed.D.'83, retires as an innovator in the field of higher education. The chair for the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents and co-chair of Crisis Leadership in Higher Education, McLaughlin has worked with more than 1,700 college and university presidents to prepare for the challenges that come with leading institutions of higher learning.

McLauglin created Harvard’s Presidents-in-Residence program in 2001, which has brought HGSE students in direct contact with dozens of presidents sharing real-world insight into leadership challenges at colleges and universities across the country. A valued teacher, mentor, and friend, McLaughlin also served as faculty co-chair of HGSE’s Online Master’s in Educational Leadership and faculty director of the Higher Education Program the Field Experience Program.

On her retirement from HGSE, we share career highlights and comments delivered by colleagues at a year-end party in her honor.

Tribute to Judith McLaughlin

By Francesa Purcell

I have had the very good fortune to work closely with Judy since I started at HGSE four years ago which is not a very long time compared to how long many people here have known and worked with her. We have Judy’s family with us today (husband, children, and of course granddaughter Leia), Judy’s classmates from when she was a student here, former Presidents-in-Residence, and friends and colleagues from HGSE, NEASC, the New England Board of Higher Education, and more. All a testament to Judy’s unrelenting commitment to build connections and community throughout her career.

Before I even arrived on campus to begin my new job here, Judy reached out to welcome me, to ask me if I needed anything, and to offer any assistance in acclimating to life at HGSE. I thought that was nice but to be really honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I knew that Judy was a major figure at HGSE – the founder and long-term faculty chair of the higher education program, that she was heavily involved in MA public higher education as a trustee at Bridgewater State and chaired the MA Public Education Nominating Council, and that she had a very strong national reputation amongst college and university presidents in regard to her work around executive leadership. For example on that last one, a few months before starting this job, I was at an event with Jack DeGioia, President of Georgetown University for the past 22 years. When I told Jack I was coming to HGSE, he broke into a huge smile and said, “Does that mean you’ll be working with Judy McLaughlin?” and when I told him I would, he gave high praise and credit to Judy about his long and successful tenure. Jack has not been the only college president to mention Judy’s critical role in their careers.

All this to say, I was a little nervous about how things would play out with Judy and let me just cut to the chase and say that Judy has been nothing less than a supportive, encouraging, and strategic colleague and mentor with whom I have come to deeply admire and trust. Not only does she give great advice and knows this place and the people in it cold, but she is also warm, witty, and engaging. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to Judy, ‘Can we jump on a call for 10 minutes so I can run something by you?’ To which Judy always agrees, and an hour later we are happily chatting away about any number of subjects. Judy’s generosity, reliability, and friendship have been a true gift to me and I’m going to guess to many others here today as well.

As many of you know, Bridget announced last month the creation of the Judith Block McLaughlin endowed Presidents-in-Residence program.  It was Judy’s idea 20 years ago to invite a recently retired president into the classroom so that students could get to know what leadership is really like and recently retired presidents could finally be with a receptive group of people eager to hear what they would say.  I am thrilled this incredible learning experience will continue in Judy’s name.  

I often joke with Judy that my job is to try to carry on her good work but it’s not actually a joke.  It’s true. Another more recent example is that Judy, along with Irvin Scott, are the faculty co-chairs who spearheaded HGSE’s new online master’s program. We have just finished our first year and could not be more pleased with how things have unfolded due in large part to Judy’s tremendous efforts over the past few years. Judy knows how to get things done and done well.

Lastly, while Judy is a wonderful colleague, effective administrator, and famed college president whisperer, I have seen day in and day out that her highest priority has always been the students, so I want to add “beloved teacher” to this list. I see the care that Judy puts into her classes, the intentionality she puts into her advising, and the support that she provides for alums. Alexis Redding and I regularly express our gratitude for Judy’s work over the years cultivating the student experience because we have inherited a strong and vibrant higher education community that is the envy of many.

So Judy, while I theoretically understand you are retiring, I will still be calling you for those “10-minute strategy sessions” but for this moment everyone, let’s toast Judy’s legacy with tremendous gratitude. Cheers!


1972–74: Serves as the dean of student affairs at Wheelock College 

1974–76: Serves as the dean of student affairs at Mount Vernon College 

1976–79: Is executive director of the National Academy of Education

1983: Receives Ed.D. from HGSE and begins teaching at Harvard

1985: Publishes An Education of Value with Lazerson and McPherson

1990: Publishes Choosing a College President: Opportunities and Constraints with Reisman

1990: Launches Harvard Seminar for New Presidents.

1996: Publishes Leadership Transitions: The New College President

2001: Starts HGSE Presidents-in-Residence program

2004: Publishes Leadership Amidst Controversy, Presidential Perspectives

2006: Receives honorary degree at Stonehill College

2007: Appointed by governor Deval Patrick to chair Massachusetts Public Education Nominating Council

2010: Receives honorary degree at Bridgewater State College

2022: Receives Council of Independent Colleges Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service in Higher Education

2023: Presidents-in-Residence program is named in her honor

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