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Despite Harvard’s Historic Move, Appointment of Women, Minority President Is Lacking, Says Study

In a historical first, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, has been named the 28th president of Harvard University. According to a press release issued on the university’s Web site, Faust, a Civil War scholar, was confirmed by the Board of Overseers on Sunday.


“This is a great day, and a historic day, for Harvard,” said James R. Houghton, the senior member of the Harvard Corporation and chair of the presidential search committee. “We share with Drew an enthusiastic commitment to building on Harvard’s strengths, to bridging traditional boundaries, and to embracing a world full of new possibilities.”

This high-profile appointment comes on the heels of a report being released today by the American Council on Education which shows that although the proportion of women presidents more than doubled, from 10 percent of all presidents to 23 percent, in the past 20 years, the rate of change has slowed since the late 1990s.

According to “The American College President: 2007 Edition,” women continued to be least likely to be president of doctoral-granting institutions, although the proportion of women presiding over such institutions increased from nearly 4 percent in 1986 to 13 percent in 1998, with little progress since then.

In the past 20 years, the percentage of women among minority presidents has increased. More than one-third of Hispanic presidents, and nearly one-third of presidents who are African-American, were women, compared with only 22 percent of Whites, says the report.

“Women have made significant inroads into the senior leadership of American higher education, but parity for women presidents has yet to be reached. If the proportion of women who serve as senior administrators and as full-time faculty provides a standard for equity, then women remain underrepresented as presidents,” the report says.

For people of color, the rate of progress was even slower than for women. The percentage of minority presidents stood at 10.7 percent in 1995, 11.3 percent in 1998, and 12.8 percent in 2001, says Jacqueline King, director, Center for Policy Analysis at ACE.

When historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges are excluded, less than 10 percent of colleges and universities are led by people of color. In 2006, just 6 percent of all presidents were African-American, 5 percent were Hispanic, 1 percent were Asian American, 1 percent were American Indian, and 2 percent were identified as “other.” 

Minority presidents were highly represented at public master’s, baccalaureate and specialty institutions, where they led more than 20 percent of institutions in those categories. Minorities were least well represented at private doctoral-granting and master’s institutions, where they led only 5 percent of institutions, the report says.

“We conclude that as demands of presidential roles have grown, [college] boards are looking at seasoned track records of potential candidates,” says King, the co-author of the report. “But this may have contributed to a slower rate of diversity as younger people of color are finding it hard to amass the experience.”

King adds the search for leadership will likely get more competitive as half of presidents over 60 will likely to retire within the next decade. “There needs to be a broadening pool of candidates and more open boards,” she says.

Dr. James C. Renick, senior vice president at ACE, says this turnover in leadership would be a challenge but provide opportunities for greater diversity in leadership.

“As students and faculty on campuses become more diverse, so must our leaders,” Renick says. “We need to learn more about individuals in senior executive positions. A diverse candidate must be propelled to assume these positions.”

The report also highlights the increasing demands of the presidency, including fund raising, accountability/assessment, capital improvement, and technology planning.  Academic issues have been delegated more to provosts, according to one-third of the presidents surveyed.

The study was based on the results of a survey of 2,148 presidents of public and private colleges and universities across the country. For more information, go to

Patricia McGuire, president, Trinity University, says, “By illustrating the nature of pressure [the report] raises questions on how the next generation will view the job. It is a prestigious role, but comes with a lot of high pressure.”

Meanwhile, back at Harvard, Faust said Harvard had rededicated its role in the academic community at every level: with the undergraduate low-income initiative, with the commitment to bring women and minorities into science and into the professoriate more broadly, and with the school’s efforts to make the professional schools more affordable.

“I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago,” Faust said. “I am a historian. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the past, and about how it shapes the future. No university in the country, perhaps the world, has as remarkable a past as this one. And now our shared enterprise is to make Harvard’s future even more remarkable than its past.”

By Shilpa Banerji


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