Women Excluded from University President Hiring Pool … Again

September 08, 2015

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more articles about the University of Iowa’s latest presidential search popping up on social media. A former higher education administrator myself, I was curious to see what was next for my alma mater. As I learned about the finalists, one glaring oversight became obvious: All four candidates were white men.

Headshots of four white men

All four candidates for University of Iowa president in 2015 were white men.

More women are attending college than ever before, earning almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees. And yet women account for only 26 percent of college and university presidents and 34 percent of senior administrators at research universities.

Time and time again, women are excluded from leadership positions due to gender bias and stereotypes. Gender stereotypes affect both how women leaders are perceived by others and how women and girls recognize their own leadership abilities.

Despite these barriers, AAUW members and supporters have a successful history of fighting to get women in high-level leadership roles on campus. Montgomery College President DeRionne P. Pollard was one of the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) Women of Distinction. Pollard is the first black openly lesbian president of a U.S. college. Former AAUW board member Peggy R. Williams was Ithaca College’s first woman president. 2015 AAUW Achievement Awardee Maria Klawe is Harvey Mudd College’s first woman president. AAUW member Mary Emma Woolley became one of the youngest college presidents ever at the age of 38 and served as president of Mount Holyoke College for 37 years.

Outside of college presidents, AAUW members were many of the first women to hold upper-level administrator roles. One of AAUW’s founders, Marion Talbot, was dean of women at the University of Chicago from 1895 to 1925, and former AAUW President Althea Kratz Hottel served as the first dean of women at the University of Pennsylvania, from 1943 to 1959.

The Iowa Board of Regents chose a candidate with limited higher education experience whom less than 3 percent of faculty members deemed qualified to become the next university president. Despite his low faculty ratings, J. Bruce Harreld is set to earn more than the university’s outgoing woman president. News stories like this that remind me that AAUW’s campus work on creating opportunities for college women’s leadership development and closing the gender pay gap remain as relevant as ever in the (un)changing landscape of higher education.


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