Dr. Charles Menifield (Fellow since 2018) was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta on a farm. He attended an all-black elementary and high school in Mound Bayou. In the 7th grade, he was placed in a class with the “more gifted” students and remained with the cohort until he graduated. When asked about his academic preparation, Dr. Menifield replied, “It was expected that the majority of my class cohort would go to college and most of us did just so. After high school, I matriculated at Mississippi State University for my bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy and administration. When I started college, it was a very difficult transition for me. After my first semester, I was at risk of failing. After I saw my grades, I decided that I wasn’t returning to the farm and ‘buckled down.’ It still took me another semester to learn how to study and excel, but after my third semester, I consistently made As and Bs. In fact, I only had one C (in trigonometry) in my last two years. As a result, I was able to get into graduate school and completed the degree in 2 years. I was selected as the outstanding MPA student when I graduated."
Dr. Menifield attended the University of Missouri doctoral program in political science on a four-year scholarship. He finished his Ph.D. degree in four years and after spending 10 straight years in college, he started his professional career at Murray State University as an assistant professor. After three years, Dr. Menifield returned to Mississippi State University. Menifield left the academy and worked with the Congressional Budget Office before returning to the University of Memphis where he remained a professor for 9 years. He left Memphis and went to the University of Missouri for 5 years as the associate dean in the School of Public Affairs. More recently, Menifield served as dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University – Newark for five years and is currently dean emeritus.
At Rutgers, Menifield learned very quickly that personal opinions were not as relevant as the views of his stakeholders. He explains, “A true leader has to be inclusive and decisions have to reflect those of the stakeholders and follow the directions of the strategic plan.” When his term as dean ended, Menifield reflected by asking, “Did I make a difference? And whose life did I improve as a result of my decisions?” As SPAA Dean, critical decisions involved shifting funds from one place to another, and budgetary decisions rested on achieving moral outcomes. As a leader, Menifield asserts that the consequences rest where finite funds were spent. When asked about his management style as an open-door servant leader, he points out, “I believe in an open-door servant model of leadership. In order to know your community, you have to spend a lot of time conversing with different types of people in different roles. Those in your charge need to believe that their voices are heard and see changes in policies that reflect those voices. A leader also needs to recognize that they cannot do everything. Hence, they have to select persons who have leadership qualities to manage various components of the organization. If due diligence occurs, there is no reason for micro-management. You have to trust your appointment and trust the ability of the person to complete their tasks efficiently and effectively.”
As dean, Menifield convened a group of modern-day leaders - Deans of the Big Ten School of Public Affairs – during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within this distinguished group, the Big Ten leaders shared campus ideas and strategies to support faculty, staff, and students when the campus went online during the pandemic. As campuses reopened, the Big Ten leaders pivoted to address significant issues on campus. Moving forward, Menifield believes that convening leaders is a great idea. While we manage small groups as leaders, we live in a global society, and we have a responsibility to our greater community. He affirms, “If I could speak with a leader about DEIA, it would be Martin Luther King Jr. Many of his presentations called for inclusivity, equality, equity, and love of fellow man. His presentations and meetings with national leaders facilitated the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1968, and many other laws at the state and local level.”
Charles is chair of the 2023 Philip J. Rutledge Social Equity Leadership Award.