The Majority Of America’s Top-Ranked Colleges Will Be Led By A Woman Or Person Of Color This Fall

Eleven of America’s top 20 colleges, as ranked by Forbes, will be headed by a woman or person of color by next fall, marking an important step in the growing number of presidents at the nation’s most prestigious institutions. A new leadership profile has emerged after a flurry of presidents, resignations, resignations and changes at prestigious universities over the past 18 months.

The eleven organizations are:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which appointed Sally Kornbluth as its new president, starting this January;
  • Harvard University, which recently hired Claudine Gay, the first black person and second woman to be named university president, to replace Lawrence Bacow;
  • University of California, Berkeley, where Carol Christ has been president since 2017;
  • Columbia University, where Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, will soon be its first female president;
  • University of Pennsylvania, chaired by M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill;
  • Dartmouth College, where Sian Leah Beilock will become its first woman president;
  • Cornell University, where Martha E. Pollack is serving as its 14th president;
  • Brown University, with Christina Paxson as its 19th president;
  • Rice University, which hired Michael DesRoches to be its president in 2022. He is the first black person to lead that institution;
  • Williams College, where Maud Mandel began her term as president in 2018;
  • University of California, San Diego, under the leadership of Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, an Indian-American scientist, who was appointed chancellor in 2012.

One indication of the growth of this leadership is that six of the eight Ivy League institutions, all of which made it. Forbes‘ top 20, will be led by a woman, the first time in the history of schools that many women have served.

As another point of historical comparison, of the eleven top 20 schools that will be supported by a woman or person of color in the fall, the semester of 2023 will begin, only four – Harvard, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, and University of California. , San Diego – had such leadership ten years ago.

And looking back at all the top 20 institutions, ten years ago in 2013, only five – the top four including Princeton University, where Shirley Tilghman stepped down as president in 2013 – had a woman or person of color at the top.

The current arrangement of university presidents represents progress to be confirmed, but it does not negate the fact that there is a significant gap between men and women and racial minorities in senior university presidents. The 2022 Eros Foundation report titled The Women’s Power Gap at Elite Universities: Scaling the Ivory Tower, conducted in collaboration with the American Association of University Women, found that:

  • Of the 130 largest public and private universities, R1, only 22% had women in the top position of president, chancellor or dean, even though women have been earning more Ph.D.s in the US for nearly a decade.
  • Although six universities had at least three women in their history, 60 of them had none.
  • The gap is even greater for women of color, where only 5% of institutions had a woman of color in a senior position, although nearly one in five Ph.D. beneficiaries are women of color.
  • The gender gap also extends to the leadership of governing bodies, with women occupying only 26% of board positions.

The problem is not – as the report explains – the lack of a talent pipeline with a sufficient number of women ready to become school leaders. In fact, many women occupy lower positions in the administrative ladder of these universities. Women made up 39% of academic deans and 38% of admissions. But the top spot remains a different story. There, the gender divide was very wide – with only 22% of school leadership and 10% of university leadership held by women.

So the upcoming list of leaders at America’s top universities begs the question: Is the glass ceiling half broken or half intact?

Whatever your answer, that leadership style will be tested by several challenges this year. If college admissions is found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, how will colleges respond? Can Americans’ low confidence in higher education be restored? How can schools better address the mental health needs of students? And would our wealthiest colleges do well to admit and graduate more students from low-income countries?

The effective leadership of the presidents of some of the world’s most visible universities will be critical to any challenge.


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