Dr. Carolyn F. Blakely is a lifelong educator and chancellor emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She developed the Honors College at the university and served as Dean. At the request of students, it was renamed in her honor. Her contributions to the community, education, and civic organizations have impacted countless individuals in Arkansas and beyond.
She was born in Magnolia and raised by her grandmother after her mother’s death. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school. She attended Arkansas AM&N College, later renamed to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and went on to earn her master’s degree in English at Atlanta University. She became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree in English at Oklahoma State University.
She took teaching positions in various universities, but returned to her alma mater as a member of the English department. She eventually made her way into the administration, serving as interim vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and later, interim chancellor, and finally Interim Chair of the Department of English, Theater and Mass Communications. She became the first woman to serve as chancellor of a publicly supported, four-year institution of higher education in Arkansas.
She was part of a group that founded the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra, which was formed out of the public school’s String Music Program. Blakely had established an instrument rental program, which encouraged students to participate in the school orchestra class with the end goal of having students who could play with a professional orchestra.
Blakely has also been named one of Arkansas “Top 100 Women” three times; was elected president of the National Association of African-American Honors Programs, and received the NAACP Education Award. She has also served on the boards of several community and civic organizations, including the Arkansas Schools for the Blind and Deaf, Arkansas Humanities Council, United Way, Arkansas Community Foundation Board, the Susan G. Komen board, and the Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Advisory Board.