Douglas Joseph Bennet Jr. (June 23, 1938 – June 10, 2018) was an American political official and college president. He was the fifteenth president of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, from 1995 to 2007. Before that, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in the Clinton Administration (1993–95) and Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs in the Carter administration (1977–79), was the President and CEO of National Public Radio (1983–93), and ran the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Carter (1979–81).
Born in Orange, New Jersey, to Douglas Joseph Bennet, Sr. and Phoebe Benedict Bennet, Bennet grew up in Lyme, Connecticut, and attended the local public schools. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wesleyan University in 1959, an M.A. in history from the University of California, Berkeley in 1960, and a doctorate in history from Harvard University in 1968.
He was an assistant to Ambassador Chester Bowles in the 1960s. In 1970, he announced his candidacy for the Democratic primary for Connecticut’s 2nd congressional district, which was vacated by the death of Congressman William St. Onge.
He later served on the staffs of Missouri Senator Thomas F. Eagleton, Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, and Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff. In 1977, Bennet became United States Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs.
Bennet succeeded John J. Gilligan as the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development in 1979, where he served for two years. After heading a private research institute, he was named head of NPR in 1983. In 1993, President Bill Clinton named Bennet as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, where he served until 1995.
In April 1995, Bennet succeeded William Chace, becoming the fifteenth president of Wesleyan University. Bennet developed Wesleyan’s first comprehensive strategic plan, “Strategy for Wesleyan,” adopted in 1998. He renewed the institution’s strategic vision, in 2005, with a new plan, “Engaged with the World.” The “Strategy for Wesleyan” defined key institutional priorities: an expansion of the faculty in order to extend scholarship and teaching in new and interdisciplinary areas; a reaffirmation of the University’s commitment to need-blind admission; and a program of campus renewal. “Engaged with the World” included further and continuing curricular innovations and renewed commitments to science and international studies.
A history-making $281 million fundraising campaign supported these priorities and enabled Wesleyan to create 140 new scholarships, add 20 new faculty positions and six endowed professorships, and embark on more than $200 million in renovation and construction projects on campus. Bennet also sought better and increased collaboration with the city of Middletown. Under his guidance, Wesleyan participated actively in the city’s development efforts, which resulted in, among other things, a new hotel downtown and the Green Street Arts Center, “a community arts center meant to help revitalize the city’s North End.”
On May 4, 2006, Bennet announced that he would step down as president following the 2006-2007 academic year. The last several years of his twelve-year presidency were contentious in some respects, with opposition by a minority in the student body on certain matters. Some students believed Bennet’s fundraising priorities conflicted with the interests and needs of the student body, and the university’s mission of education. A student movement came to a head in December 2004, when approximately 250 students (of more than 2,700 undergraduates) protested in front of the administrative building South College, where Bennet’s office was located, demanding that he address student concerns. On March 26, 2007, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees announced that Michael S. Roth would succeed Bennet as president for the 2007-2008 academic year.