Professional News

College of Education dean receives national educational equity award

UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig
Julian Vasquez Heilig. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 28, 2022) — University of Kentucky College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig is the 2023 Linda C. Tillman Social and Racial Justice Award recipient.  

This top honor from the University Council for Educational Administration recognizes Vasquez Heilig’s dynamic voice for equity in education in the U.S. and around the world, while honoring its namesake, Linda C. Tillman, for her work to diversify educational leadership and mentor students and faculty of color. 

Vasquez Heilig is known for his scholarship addressing the racial inequities that plague America’s education system, as well as his passion for moving ideas from journals into the national conversation. He has been ranked among the nation’s top public influencers in education since 2014.  

“Julian has elevated the College of Education’s role in addressing topics prominent in the public discourse and his work is helping shape policy to bridge divides,” said Linda C. Tillman, professor emerita of educational leadership in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently a distinguished visiting professor at Loyola Marymount University. “His ability to make academic research useful and relevant to racial and social justice in schools and communities is integral to UCEA and the University of Kentucky’s mission.” 

Vasquez Heilig has studied faculty diversity levels at colleges and universities across the nation, finding the composition of faculty across the country is not keeping pace with the diversity of the U.S. population. Despite the trend, he has worked to attract diverse applicants to positions at UK, with faculty of color now representing almost 29% of the College of Education. Under his leadership, the diversity among incoming students has also grown, with this year’s incoming freshman students of color more than tripling since 2019. Vasquez Heilig also named the college’s first associate dean for Inclusion and Internationalization. 

“It is important students have access to diverse faculty in college. We can also influence the diversity of teachers in schools by making sure our teacher preparation programs are attracting students of color. Diversifying education at all levels has been at the heart of Dr. Linda C. Tillman’s career. I am honored to receive this award named for her and pledge to continue seeking ways to carry forward this work,” Vasquez Heilig said. 

In addition to helping grow and diversify the college’s students and faculty, Vasquez Heilig has spearheaded an array of initiatives designed to create more diverse and equitable systems and practices in education. 

He launched a groundbreaking collaboration between the UK College of Education and the nation’s largest and most preeminent civil rights organization to develop a national education, advocacy and research initiative focused on educational equity, civil rights and social justice. Formed in 2019, the Education and Civil Rights Initiative in Collaboration with the NAACP employs education and civil rights scholars to launch rapid responses to issues arising in local, state and national education contexts. Through this initiative, the UK College of Education has emerged as a voice on a range of issues, from bridging the digital and health divide for students of color during the COVID-19 pandemic to guiding youth on searching for justice while balancing school, work, friendships, family and their personal well-being.  

The collaboration draws upon Vasquez Heilig’s history of leadership in the NAACP, as a volunteer in Texas and NAACP education chair in California, where he also served on the NAACP executive committee. He currently serves on the executive committee and as education co-chair for the Kentucky NAACP.  

Vasquez Heilig creates opportunities for the next generation of educational leaders to continue his influence through his mentorship of graduate scholars and creation of new pathways to influence trends in education. During his tenure as dean, faculty in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation launched an innovative doctoral specialization at the UK College of Education that is preparing scholars for diversity, equity and inclusion senior leadership roles in higher education settings and related fields. The Ph.D. in Studies in Higher Education Specialization in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was created in collaboration with INSIGHT Into Diversity, a magazine and online news source covering higher education. 

Vasquez Heilig frequently serves as a source for news media, bringing his research to audiences outside academia. He also reaches audiences through speaking engagements and continuing to teach while serving as an administrator, including co-teaching Introduction to Education: Identity, Ideology, and Inclusion with Associate Dean Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Ph.D., and Professor Cheryl Matias, Ph.D. The course helps prepare pre-service teachers for inclusion-focused issues and ideas they may encounter in the classroom.  

A prolific scholar, in the last decade alone, Vasquez Heilig has published more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, chapters and reports on issues such as racial equity, accountability, school choice and teacher preparation. Recently, his essay, “Scrutinizing the School Choice Equity Ethos for Black Parents,” published in “Public Education: Defending an American Cornerstone,” provided analysis of whether the privatization of schooling leads to gains in student achievement and an increase in opportunity for students of color.  

He has been honored with more than 30 teaching, research and service recognitions, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship and being named Diversity in Education Magazine Multicultural Champion of 2015. Legislators commended his impact in education through the passage of California Assembly Resolution 1459. He currently serves as co-education chair for the Kentucky State Conference of the NAACP and on the boards of the Schott Foundation and the Network for Public Education. He is a member of the steering committee for Education Deans for Justice and Equity. 

Vasquez Heilig received his Ph.D. in educational administration and policy analysis and a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University. He also earned a master’s in higher education and a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.