Elizabeth L. Hillman, President of Mills College, has been appointed President and Executive Secretary of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan.
The board made the position official Thursday, announcing that Hillman, 54, who served as a US Air Force space operations officer in the 1990s before becoming a law professor in the 2000s, would be the third person to lead the organization and would begin in October. She replaces one of the museum’s founders, Alice M. Greenwald, who said in December she was stepping down after 16 years there.
Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who serves as the institution’s chair, said in a statement that Hillman “brings a rare set of skills from her experience as a college president, leading large institutions during challenging times, as a veteran still trusted by our armed forces, as a historian whose deep sense of service stems from a lifelong commitment to learning, and as a trailblazer who has fought for justice and equality throughout her career.”
Other board members celebrated Hillman’s military experience, such as Adm. William H. McRaven, a retired trustee, who said in a statement that this background prepared her “to lead this institution and to fulfill this sacred responsibility” to ensure that new generations understand what happened in 2001.
“With the selection of Beth Hillman,” Greenwald said in a statement, “both the museum and memorial will continue to thrive in service to our nation as a pioneering place of remembrance, education and inspiration.”
Still, Hillman is an unconventional choice to lead an organization that has struggled to sustain its heavy spending, win back viewership and retain employees in recent years. She has never worked for a museum, and while she was president of Mills College in California, the college merged with Northeastern University because of low enrollment and tight finances. In July, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution calling for an investigation into the merger, calling it “sudden, confusing and conducted with very little transparency.”
When you consider making changes in institutions, Hillman said in an interview, “there are some implications that are sometimes hard on people.”
“I’m really happy with the results,” she added. “We saved jobs and created new avenues for students.”
When a recruitment firm approached Hillman to ask if she would be interested in running the institution, she had not yet visited the galleries, but was quick to correct that.
“It’s a remarkable story of resilience,” Hillman said as she reflected on her visit, adding that she wanted to see the museum “continue to tell the powerful and impactful story of 9/11 to new audiences.” reach.”
Critics of the museum’s past leadership were cautiously optimistic that Hillman’s outsider’s perspective and background in military justice — she had experience of sexual violence and gender issues in the military — would help the curators write the institution’s next chapter. After all, little has changed at the site’s galleries since it opened in 2014.
Elizabeth Miller, the daughter of a firefighter who died on 9/11 and a former museum employee, said Hillman should think again about how the day’s story is told. “Most of the time, change can be uncomfortable,” she said. “But I want to go to a museum where messages of peace and inclusivity are present.”