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More blacks are leading colleges

Program opens doors for women and minority administrators

Kenneth J. Cooper | 4/1/2015, 11:34 a.m.
For nearly three decades, the number of women who serve as college presidents or chancellors has grown slowly, from 10 ...
Trinity College President Joanne Berger.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney had been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University for nearly four years when she considered entering a new program that grooms female and minority administrators for college and university presidencies.

“I actually had to wrestle with myself about my ambitions,” Berger-Sweeney recalled. “But once I decided to join the program, I was actually articulating to myself that I had an ambition to be a college or university president.”

The neuroscientist set her sights on achieving that goal within 18 months. It did not take that long. A year after starting the program, Berger-Sweeney was appointed to lead Trinity College in Hartford, where she has been president since last July.

“I am the first woman president and the first president of color. They got a two-fer,” Berger-Sweeney said with a laugh.

Breaking through

For nearly three decades, the number of women who serve as college presidents or chancellors has grown slowly, from 10 percent in 1986 to 26 percent in 2011, according to the American Council of Education, known as ACE. Its latest survey estimates 13 percent were of color in 2011, and 4 percent were women of color.

In 2013, ACE launched a leadership program designed to increase the number of women and people of color in presidencies. Berger Sweeney joined the first of three groups to go through the mentoring and skill-building, which lasted six to eight months.

Of the 66 participants, eight have since become presidents, according to Kim Bobby, the program’s director. All eight are people of color, five of them women. One is Roslyn Artis of historically black Florida Memorial College, an African American.

Bobby said another eight have advanced to higher positions, such as executive vice chancellor, vice president and vice dean.

“Based on our experience so far, we’re proud to see that we’ve had so many advance, and all of them are people of color — the men too,” Bobby said.

The new female presidents at historically black colleges, besides Artis at Florida Memorial, include Elmira Magnum, the first woman to lead Florida A & M University on a permanent basis, and Pamela Hammond, the interim leader at Virginia State University.

Anthony Owens, national communications director of the United Negro College Fund, said women hold eight of 37 of presidencies at member colleges, or 22 percent. That level is slightly below the 26 percent for women nationwide, but way above the 4 percent for women of color.

“It’s wonderful to have leadership at the top,” said Catherine Hill, vice president of research at the American Association of University Women. “We also want to see leadership throughout the ranks of full professor, throughout the ranks of administration.”

Hill and Berger-Sweeney identified the same crimp in the pipeline that prevents more women from reaching the top — getting promoted to full professor.

“If you don’t get through that process, you’re not going to be considered for the presidency,” Hill said.

Survey data from the American Association of University Professors show that only 9 percent of women in academia were full professors in 2013-14, Hill said.