University presents honorary doctoral degree to Lily McNair, first woman president of Tuskegee University

From left: George W. Roberts, Lily McNair, Darrell P. Wheeler, Donovan Howard. Photo by Deborah James ’81.

SUNY New Paltz President Darrell P. Wheeler presented an honorary doctoral degree to Lily McNair, Ph.D., former Tuskegee University president and the first woman to hold that role, at a special alumni gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 11, where Dr. McNair resides.

The degree conferral was originally to take place at Commencement 2022, with McNair scheduled to give a Commencement Address to that year’s graduates. She was ultimately unable to travel for that event.

While McNair has enjoyed decades of success and recognition as a higher education leader, her first collegiate teaching position was in New Paltz’s Department of Psychology from 1988-1992.

“We made dear and lifelong friends at SUNY New Paltz,” McNair said during the conferral ceremony. “The students were excited and passionate about their education and were determined to make their marks on the world. I am pleased to see how well many of them have done both professionally and personally. And like those students, I learned early career lessons that have led to many of the accomplishments that are being recognized today.”

Among those accomplishments is McNair’s service as the eighth president in the history of Tuskegee University, a private, historically Black institution in Alabama. She has also held leadership roles at Wagner College and Spelman College, and worked as a faculty member at institutions including the University of Georgia, where she was the first Black woman to obtain tenure and promotion in her department’s history.

During her time at New Paltz, McNair was an accomplished scholar and a valued mentor to students at a time when there were relatively few faculty of color at the University. She was involved in the early days of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, which has grown into a model in the SUNY system for supporting high retention and graduation rates of students of color, and was the first Black person to be on a tenure-track line in the Department of Psychology.

Herself a first-generation college student, McNair earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, cum laude, from Princeton University, and later earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology from Stony Brook University. Her work as a clinical psychologist and researcher has centered on the development and evaluation of community-based interventions to support young people of color.

“In recognition of your life and career achievements, including your faculty roles and university leadership, your service and contributions to SUNY New Paltz that helped launch your trajectory, and for serving as a model for both our underrepresented and broader student populations – today, we celebrate and honor you with this doctoral degree,” said President Wheeler.

The conferral ceremony was attended by McNair’s husband, George W. Roberts, Ph.D., also a former New Paltz faculty member; their daughter, Marguerite; former New Paltz Professor Edward D. Bell, founding director of our Educational Opportunity Program and the SUNY Minority Recruitment Program, and his wife, Wilhelmina Bell ’77, first secretary of the Department of Black Studies; Gweneth Lloyd, director of the University’s Psychological Counseling Center; Kareen Sampson Campbell ’90, international trade analyst for U.S Customs & Border Protection; and Candice Dixon ’73, Alumni Council member and coordinator of alumni gatherings in Atlanta; among other esteemed guests.


About SUNY honorary degrees

Honorary degrees are the highest form of recognition extended by SUNY to persons of state, national and/or international stature whose accomplishments serve as exemplars to students and who elevate the state university as a whole.

The multi-phase review process begins with the campus submitting an extensive nomination package, which goes on to evaluation by the SUNY-wide Honorary Degree Committee, the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees.