John N. Gardner
Executive Chair and Founder
John Gardner is an educator, university professor, and administrator, non-profit organization founder, author, public speaker, consultant, public intellectual and thought leader, change agent, student retention specialist, first-year, sophomore, transfer, and senior year students’ advocate, and initiator and scholar of multiple undergraduate education reform movements. He serves as Founder and Executive Chair of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. The Institute was founded by John and his wife, Betsy O. Barefoot, in October 1999.
John N. Gardner, is the product of an early life of privilege in a family of affluence, into which he was adopted, and which was an unlikely foundation for him to become a leading national and global higher educator to advance the cause of social justice for undergraduate college and university students.
As a “child of the 60’s” he came of age during the turmoil of the civil rights, the anti-war, the students’ rights, and the women’s rights movements. A period in which he also served in the United States military, all of which combined to have a great influence on him.
He was powerfully introduced to the legacies of slavery and both de facto and de jure racial segregation during his tour of active-duty military service stationed in South Carolina. During this time he began his teaching career in a rural, public, open admissions two-year campus of the University of South Carolina. His military and early college teaching experiences combined to give him a sense of mission. Because of these formative experiences, he resolved to pursue a career in which he could contribute to increasing opportunities and upward social mobility for the students he was coming to know in his classes and in his work in the Air Force.
Another hugely influential early experience was his own civil rights work leading to being fired from his first full-time experience in higher education. This increased his resolve to pursue social justice and to create a life that would enable him to accumulate experience, wisdom, power, and imprimatur to influence undergraduate education practices.
Another hugely influential early experience was his own civil rights work leading to being fired from his first full-time experience in higher education. This increased his resolve to pursue social justice and to create a life that would enable him to accumulate experience, wisdom, power, and imprimatur to influence undergraduate education practices. These experiences led to the creation of the Gardner Institute where he continues to work with his colleagues to practice the Institute’s signature focus on innovation to improve student outcomes. As our country has become more polarized and defensive about work around so-called “divisive concepts” John and his colleagues are undeterred in their pursuit of the advancement of social justice for all college and university students.
John continues in full-time service in pursuit of these causes. He actively advises individual campuses in the processes offered by the Gardner Institute; works with his colleagues in the development of new innovative practices; hosts a weekly podcast series, and is an active writer and speaker on topics in higher education. He is deeply involved with several high-priority Gardner Institute projects, one enhancing the roles of boards of trustees to advance student success and another developing a new model for creating state systems for improved transfer student outcomes.
And for those visitors to our website who wish a review of John’s more traditional academic career and accomplishments, those bona fides please read here.