More Latinx Students, Stagnant Latinx Presidents

Despite increasing growth of the Latinx student demographic, the number of Latinx presidents has stayed roughly the same for decades -- something many administrators hope can be addressed.

July 15, 2019
 
Félix V. Matos Rodríguez

Despite the fact that the number of Latinx students has grown significantly over the last couple of years, Latinx administrators continue to find difficulty in advancing to the top positions in higher education.

While 19 percent of all students enrolled at universities in the United States are Latinx, only 4 percent of college or university presidents were Latinx as of 2016, according to data from the American Council on Education. The percentage of Latinx presidents remained unchanged between 2001 and 2016, while the number of black university presidents rose from 6 percent to 8 percent.

This gap is particularly prevalent in places like Texas, said Excelencia in Education CEO Deborah Santiago. There isn’t one Latinx president in the University of Texas system despite the larger population of Latinx students in the state over others. Santiago said seeing more Latinx administrators would be beneficial for Latinx students.

“I think [Latinx students] do want to see themselves in their leaders and at least assume and hope that those in leadership positions know how to serve them better,” Santiago said. “Many Latino presidents have gone through nontraditional pathways, and that creates new ways of thinking about students who are also dealing with very post-traditional approaches to going to college and creates real opportunities for them, because the institution may evolve to serve a population like Latinos, but not solely Latinos.”

Excelencia in Education works towards the advancement of Latinx students in education, as well as the advancement of Latinx administrators and faculty members. Santiago listed many barriers that could make it more difficult for Latinx administrators to rise to the level of president.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, chancellor of the City University of New York system, said Latinx leaders would have a greater understanding of how to create an institution more sensitive to Latinx students. Rodríguez is also the chair of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

“You would expect Latino administrators would be particularly sensitive to the specific needs of Latino students as their numbers increase on campuses,” Rodríguez said. “The expertise to be able to help them achieve success will become more important, therefore the need for more administrators and presidents. That’s one of the real concerns in this trend.”

Rodríguez said HACU is approaching this gap by creating a leadership academy to help those interested in seeking university leadership learn how to connect with the appropriate groups and understand what will be necessary to accomplish the task.

Barriers for Latinx Administrators

Rodríguez said that while a number of factors play a role in to contributing to this gap, one of the biggest comes in the hiring process for presidential positions -- a lack of diversity on governing boards and within executive search firms.

“I think that there hasn’t been an increase in the percentage in the boards of trustees that end up making the appointments at both public and private institutions,” Rodríguez said. “I think that lack of representation on those boards has been a hindrance and continues to be an impediment to the expectation that there should be more Latino and Latina presidents in higher ed.”

Executive search firms have been used more frequently in recent decades in searches for university presidents, and Rodríguez said in his experience there’s been a lack of diversity within those firms and that they’re “less familiar with the potential Latino talent bank.”

Miguel Martinez-Saenz, president of St. Francis College in New York, said he had similar experiences in his interactions with search firms.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of searches, and there is a cultural dynamic under the surface that is problematic,” Martinez-Saenz said. “Everybody that engages you, almost without exception, is white. How does somebody approach underrepresented groups if they don’t understand the cultural dynamics that are at play?”

Martinez-Saenz said the larger issue in this gap, however, was reflective of the fact that hiring and advancement practices in higher ed haven’t changed that drastically as demographics have shifted, which predominantly support the advancement of white administrators. One example Martinez-Saenz has observed is that search committees often want sitting presidents to hire for presidential positions. Eighty-three percent of university presidents were white in the 2016 ACE study.

“If the population of sitting presidents is predominantly white and male, your pool of candidates is going to be predominantly white and male,” Martinez-Saenz said. “The provost role is also predominantly white and male. Part of it is that the conventional wisdom of what positions a candidate well for a presidency hasn’t changed.”

Santiago said there are some states and systems making progress in this field -- Connecticut colleges and universities have four Latino presidents, and in Massachusetts, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago has made strides in an effort to identify candidates.

Rodríguez said a good starting place to move toward solving these issues would be to continue to advance Latinx administrators and faculty within universities, to help poise them to be able to seek higher offices.

“We need to help larger numbers of Latino students in Ph.D. programs, becoming faculty, rising through the ranks to become deans and provosts,” Rodríguez said. “We need to make sure that pipeline is consistent with the growth of students, and we all need to be a lot more intentional about identifying potential Latino candidates.”

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