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More minorities now leading Mass. colleges

Kenneth J. Cooper | 3/4/2009, 3:52 a.m.

Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm based in downtown Boston, was involved in recruiting half of the private-college presidents — Crutcher at Wheaton, Chen at the College of Optometry and Guerrero at Cambridge.

John Isaacson, a principal of the firm, said that the colleges among its clients retain “a serious interest” in diversity, but the hiring of minority presidents in this state — as in the nation — has hit a plateau.

“Almost always the [search] committee has an interest in diversity,” Isaacson said. “They’ll be pretty explicit about there being a diverse pool.”

For some professors and administrators of color, a presidency represents a destination job at the end of a career in academia.

Charles Desmond, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, said three factors figure in preparing minorities to lead campuses. Two are scholarly work in a rigorous academic discipline and access to the traditional career ladder, which runs from department chair to dean to provost.

Mentoring, he said, is the third crucial factor.

“Historically, minorities have been outside that structure,” Desmond said.

That structure has been expanding in ways that have had results, though not enough to significantly rebalance the composition of campus leaders in the state or country.

Mohler-Faria of Bridgewater and Crutcher of Wheaton said they benefited from informal mentoring by white men who had experience as college presidents. In the case of  Mohler-Faria, the mentor was James F. Hall, when he was president of Cape Cod Community College.

Both Mohler-Faria and Turner of Urban College benefited from a Harvard University program, the Institute for Education Management and Senior Executives.

Motley of UMass-Boston and Mohler-Faria also participated in another intensive institute designed specifically to increase the numbers of college presidents of color. The Millennium Leadership Initiative has held that summer program in Washington, D.C., for a decade, with support from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

So far, about 40 participants have later moved into a top campus job, said Gladys Styles Johnston, a cofounder of the program and former chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Three other African Americans from the state have participated in the leadership institute: Donnie Perkins, dean and director of diversity and affirmative action at Northeastern University; Adrenrele Awotona, director of the Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters at UMass-Boston; and Byron S. Bullock, associate vice chancellor for student affairs at UMass-Amherst.

Without mentioning those or any other names, Mohler-Faria predicted: “There’s a second tier of professionals, black and Hispanic, who are ready to lead some of these institutions, and I hope they become presidents. I’m hopeful.”