'Hip-Hop Prez' Rejuvenates a College, Using a Personal Touch

'Hip-Hop Prez' Rejuvenates a College, Using a Personal Touch 1

Stephen B. Thornton for The Chronicle

"This to me is a ministry," says Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College, a small, private, historically black institution.

Walter M. Kimbrough isn't shy about giving out his cellphone number. A dozen or more times a day, students text the president of Philander Smith College. They e-mail him and drop by his office. When student-government leaders need a ride to a conference in New Orleans, 445 miles away, he drives the rented van.

That level of access is at the heart of Mr. Kimbrough's recruiting pitch for the small, private institution here that he is working to rebuild after some difficult years. He