May 2022 – The Rev. Dr. Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, who was named Interim Dean of Drew Theological School during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, will complete her term on June 1.
Under Johnson-DeBaufre’s leadership as associate dean and then dean, the Theological School was well prepared to pivot seamlessly to remote and asynchronous learning for all students during the pandemic. Building on its wide-reaching curriculum transformation, which launched new vocationally-relevant, student-centered, integrative, multimodal, and flexible programs in 2018, the school had the pedagogical and technological resources in place to welcome students remotely, both near and far.
While Drew is now back in-person, the online options remain for many Theological School programs, expanding Drew’s reach across the globe. The Theological School brand has expanded far beyond the walls of Seminary Hall in ways that were once unimaginable.
Johnson-DeBaufre has been a leader for the Theological School’s signature Partnership for Religion and Education in Prisons Program and cross-cultural travel programs—both relaunched after a hiatus due to the pandemic.
“So many of us—both faculty and students—call Melanie “MJD,” a term of endearment for a colleague and friend who has brought such energy, commitment, and vision to her administrative roles, first as associate dean of academic affairs and then as interim dean,” said Terry Todd, associate professor of American religious studies. “MJD not only held us together during the trying times of the pandemic, she actually turned a crisis into an opportunity. Given what I’ve always known about MJD’s care and concern for students, her investments in faculty development, and her vision for theological education, I’m grateful that she leaves us well-positioned to meet the next set of challenges in this era of extraordinary change.”
While the United Methodist Church continues to chart an uncertain future, Drew saw a 30 percent increase in United Methodist students studying at the Theological School, which has been a leader in seeking inclusive and visionary ways forward for Wesleyan-Methodism.
“Leadership, even on its best day, is hard work,” said Gary Simpson, associate professor of preaching and pastoral formation. “Melanie held the vision of the school throughout the pandemic without losing sight of the reality of circumstances. An advocate for the betterment of Drew, she led with vision, grace, and skill.”
The Theological School welcomed its largest incoming class in over a decade during the fall 2020 semester, an accomplishment directly achieved by Johnson-DeBaufre and her dedicated faculty and staff.
Johnson-DeBaufre joined the Drew faculty in 2005 as a professor of New Testament and early Christianity, and became the associate dean of the Theological School in 2015—the same year she was awarded the distinction of Teacher/Scholar of the Year at the Theo School. She was recently awarded the student-presented Maxine Clarke Beach Excellence in Service Award at the Theological School’s 2022 Convocation ceremony.
Johnson-DeBaufre will take a well-earned sabbatical, returning in August 2023 to resume her position as professor of New Testament and early Christianity. “Drew will benefit from her diligence and wisdom in its next season,” said Simpson.
“The Rev. Dr. Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre provided exceptional leadership as Interim Dean of the Theological School,” said University Provost Jessica Lakin. “She guided the Theological School fearlessly through the pandemic and uncertain political landscapes, while spearheading the path to allow the student body to grow, both on campus and globally, and to increase our collaborative work across Drew’s three schools. We look forward to Melanie’s engagement as an active senior faculty member at the close of her sabbatical. Drew is grateful for her service and dedication to fostering future faith leaders who are rooted, innovative, and courageous.”
The Rev. Dr. Edwin David Aponte will join Drew as the new dean of the Theological School. His term will begin on June 1.
Please join us in thanking Johnson-DeBaufre for her leadership, and wishing her a restful and productive sabbatical.