Business demands edge out minorities

January 3, 2003

The rate of increase in the number of women and minorities serving as presidents of US universities is slowing as more schools turn to non-academics to take on an increasingly complicated job, a report has revealed.

The typical president of an American university is a married 57-year-old white male with a doctoral degree who has been in office for 6.6 years and served previously as a senior campus executive, according to the report by the American Council on Education.

But more universities are looking beyond their own boundaries for chief executives. Fifteen per cent of presidents came from outside higher education, nearly twice as many as three years ago. Among private universities, that number rose to 19 per cent.

The trend is attributed to the increasing emphasis on fundraising and other fiscal requirements of running a university. Presidents surveyed said the four areas that occupy most of their time were planning, fundraising, budgets and personnel issues.

Harvard University, for example, named economist and former US treasury secretary Lawrence Summers as its president. Texas A&M University appointed former CIA director Robert Gates. Bowdoin College hired a New York lawyer, and Davidson College took on the chairman of a gas and oil exploration company. West Virginia University's president, David Hardesty Jr, is a lawyer and former state tax commissioner.

Other universities have looked to politicians and government bureaucrats. Former Ohio governor Richard Celeste was inaugurated in October to head Colorado College. Former Peace Corps director Mark Gearan became the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. And former health and human services secretary Donna Shalala heads the University of Miami.

But this shift towards recruiting from the private sector has slowed the pace at which increasing numbers of presidencies were going to women and minorities. While the number of female presidents has more than doubled from 9.5 per cent to 21 per cent since 1986, the rate of growth has slowed. The number of minorities heading campuses - about 10 per cent of all presidents, double the number of just 15 years ago - has begun to drop.

"The good news is that women and minorities hold more college and university presidencies today than ever before," said ACE president David Ward. "But the bad news is a levelling-off of this increased diversity."

There are several high-profile female presidents, including, for the first time, at three Ivy League schools.

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