HIGHER ED DIGEST: Minority hiring on the rise in college presidencies

People of color and women are being tapped for college and university presidencies at a greater rate since the murder of George Floyd and resulting global racial reckoning.

Inside Higher Ed reports on the expanded opportunities for racial minorities in higher ed c-suites.

By the numbers:

  • But in the 18 months from June 2020 through November 2021, more than a third—35.4 percent—of the presidents and chancellors that American colleges and universities hired were members of racial minority groups.

  • A full quarter (25.3 percent) were Black, an Inside Higher Ed analysis of its database of presidential appointments shows; that figure is 22.5 percent when excluding historically Black colleges and universities.

  • By comparison, fewer than a quarter, 22 percent, of presidential hires in the 18 months from December 2018 through May 2020 were nonwhite. Just 14.6 percent of the campus leaders hired in that period before Floyd’s death were Black.

According to University Business, women are also being identified for historic appointments at small liberal arts and larger public institutions.

  • Recently, it was announced that three positions held by women will have new women installed as presidents, including Jennifer Coyle at Pacific University, SUNY-Geneseo Provost Stacey Robertson at Widener University, and University of Virginia Provost M. Elizabeth Magill at the University of Pennsylvania, pending approval in March. Magill would replace Amy Gutmann, who will be the next U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Will it last?

Some higher education officials believe that the appointments may be symbolic in nature, but aren’t enough to erase vestiges of racism or discrimination among oversight boards or within campus culture.

  • [Consultatnt Lucy] Leske of WittKieffer said she sees evidence that minority leaders in politics and other realms have shorter honeymoons and have targets on their backs, such that “if they make a single mistake, people are far more likely to jump on them than they are on white men … That raises questions for me about whether candidates from nonwhite, minoritized communities have tenures that are as sturdy as what we’re used to.”

  • [President L. Song] Richardson of Colorado College said board support is critical, especially given the extent to which they are expecting presidents to “do difficult things in a difficult time.” Support can come in the form of ensuring that new presidents have strong mentoring and honest sounding boards, said Cal State’s [former chancellor Joseph] Castro.

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