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Retirements Mean No More Female College Presidents in ND


The first two women to lead college campuses in North Dakota are retiring in June, leaving no females in a president’s role.

Both Lake Region State President Sharon Etemad and Valley City State President Ellen Chaffee will be succeeded by men, as were three other women who recently held presidencies in the state’s university system.

Chaffee, who is retiring after 15 years, has called attention to the lack of women in campus leadership roles.

“It’s a consequence of inattention, simply not noticing,” she said. “And not realizing that the times and the circumstances in North Dakota require special effort to attract strong candidates, especially in underrepresented groups.”

Chancellor Bill Goetz said he has stressed to presidential search committees that universities need diversity in their administration. “We need to be very focused on diversity and make sure we keep that in mind as these searches take place,” he said.

However, selecting a president comes down to who applies and who is the most qualified, Goetz said. Seven presidential searches in North Dakota since 2006 attracted applications from 171 men and 14 women.

Women also have been underrepresented on the state Board of Higher Education, the body that hires university presidents, Chaffee said.

Only two of the board’s eight voting members are women, Sue Andrews and Pam Kostelecky. In the past 30 years, women made up the majority on the board once, in 1996-97.

Cynthia Kaldor, chairwoman of the board the year women held a majority, said there should be an effort to recruit women and minorities to apply for board positions.

“It’s important to have a good representation of women on the board because I do believe women bring a different perspective,” she said.

For a time, nearly half of North Dakota’s 11 campuses were led by women. But there have been few female applicants for college president positions since then, including in recent searches at the University of North Dakota and Dickinson State. At UND, five of the 42 applicants were women and two of them became semifinalists.

“In the UND search, we were eager to have women applicants,” said Bev Clayburgh, a search committee member and former Board of Higher Education member. “I just don’t think there are as many in the pipeline.”

Colleges nationwide struggle with having diversity in their administrative positions, Goetz said.

“This is not an issue that’s unique to North Dakota,” he said.

A 2006 survey by the American Council on Education found that men held 77 percent of college presidencies nationally. Women were least likely to lead doctorate-granting universities and most likely to lead community colleges.

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