It’s been widely researched, documented and debated. But even with all the attention, the nation’s colleges and universities have made little progress in closing the gender gap in academic leadership.
Despite the fact that more than half of America’s population is female, and the gender ratio among college and university students has been increasingly favoring women for nearly 50 years, higher education institutions don’t get very good grades in terms of hiring and promoting female leaders. Research by the American Council on Education has found that only 27 percent of deans of academic colleges and 26 percent of college or university presidents are women.
While those numbers are an improvement from past studies, progress in this critical area has just been too slow. At Rochester Institute of Technology, where I serve as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, we’re striving to be leaders of change in this arena. In fact, at our nine-college university, where our 18,500-student enrollment is 66 percent male and the majority of students are majoring in male-dominated STEM fields, 44 percent of the deans, 50 percent of associate or assistant provosts and 40 percent of vice presidents are women. In addition, three of our four female deans are in colleges where leadership is typically male: our business school, college of science, and college of computing and information sciences. (The fourth is dean of a college unique to RIT, the nationally ranked College of Imaging Arts and Sciences.)
How did we achieve this? It did not happen overnight, but rather through deliberate focus and corresponding actions, using a systematic approach that we call SERS: Strategize, Encourage, Recruit and Support.
Strategize. You must build on a foundation grounded in your institution’s values in order to diversify its leadership. An underlying thread in RIT’s 2025 strategic plan, entitled “Greatness Through Difference,” recognizes the power of diversity to shape the future of higher education as well as the students we serve. This strategic plan includes goals of increasing the number of female and minority employees in supervisory and management positions; designing, distributing and publicizing career ladders for advancement within each division; and examining our mentoring program to determine if it meets the “personal, profession and career advancement needs of minority and female faculty and staff.” Having such a strategic mandate goes a long way toward building momentum and garnering on-the-ground support for this work.
Encourage. To make important strategic institutional changes, you must instill your priorities in your institution’s culture. So, if you want to diversify your leadership, it is not enough to establish the expectations. You must then put support systems into place.
For example, when working with all of the deans to set the plan of work for the year, we agree on specific goals for diversifying the faculty and staff and provide ample examples of the role that deans can play in achieving these goals. One specific way is to encourage up-and-coming women and faculty members of color to seek out leadership roles and development opportunities. Diversifying committee leadership positions is one approach, but so are more formal professional experiences such as the ACE Fellows, Harvard Higher Education Leadership or emerging leadership programs. We have found that these “grow your own” approaches often produce superior results.
Or if you have an opening for a dean position and are going through a search process, you might consider asking a qualified woman to step in as interim -- something I’ve done on two occasions at RIT. It accomplishes two practical goals: it provides the person with a safe environment to try on the position and decide if it is a good fit, and it gives the community an opportunity, in turn, to try out him or her.
Recruit. Of course, one of the most important ways to help meet the goal of diversifying your institution’s leadership is in the recruitment process. For instance, when forming a search committee for a high-level position, make it clear in your charge to them that you expect they will present the decision makers with a diverse final pool. That means they will have to actively and intentionally recruit, not just sit back and hope diverse resumes fill their inboxes.
That’s not as difficult a task as it may sound. There are many professional organizations, including the American Council on Education’s Women’s Network Executive Council, that keep track of their rising stars. In fact, ACE hosted a round table in June entitled “Moving the Needle: Advancing Women Leaders” that drew 70 attendees. This initiative has set a vision that by 2030 half of the chief executives at higher education institutions will be women. You can begin building your own database of exceptional women in academe by working with one of those organizations. And do not forget that the professional societies, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, are also great sources for women and faculty of color leaders.
Once the search committee brings you that diverse group of finalists, be prepared to take action that reinforces your strategic imperative. In other words, if you have to choose between two equally qualified candidates, choose the one who brings diversity to your college or university. Without such deliberate actions, we cannot expect to achieve our diversity goals.
Support. And finally and equally important: support women in leadership positions. As provost, it’s my obligation -- and honestly, my privilege -- to recognize our in-house talent and to then work with them to identify and cultivate development opportunities. This support is crucial to their long-term success.
For example, I recently invited our female deans to join me on a development trip on the West Coast. The invitation demonstrated my respect and appreciation for their leadership and willingness to take on new challenges. The time we all spent together gave us a chance to learn more about each other as people and colleagues. I have seen the bond that has formed among these women, who now look to each other for counsel and support. And of course, encouraging our emerging leaders to find mentors and advisers who will carefully provide career guidance is a great way to create a continuum of support. The converse works, too -- all of us should offer to be mentors for our rising stars.
Systemic Change Required
But one person -- or even a group of people -- can only do so much. If we are to balance the scale on gender diversity in higher education leadership, we must recognize the need for systemic change and be the force behind it.
At RIT, we’ve used a $3.4 million transformational grant from the National Science Foundation to establish AdvanceRIT, a project aimed at refining and creating systems and targeted programs designed to increase the representation of women faculty in the STEM disciplines and among our campus leaders. It is a research-based project that includes enhancements to faculty development, refinements to policies and better-related data tracking and reporting -- all to further improve the working environment and support career advancement of women faculty through empowerment and inclusion. For example, AdvanceRIT created a system of “connectivity” grants that allow women faculty to build greater research networks, and AdvanceRIT played a leadership role in clarifying the RIT policy on tenure.
Our ultimate goal is to improve recruitment, retention and advancement among our women faculty. And in keeping with our commitment to diversity, the project is looking into the distinct challenges experienced by women faculty of color and those who are deaf and hard of hearing. To demonstrate our commitment to this project, both RIT President William W. Destler and I serve on its leadership team, along with the principal investigator, mechanical engineering professor Margaret Bailey, and four other talented female STEM faculty members, who are co-principals on this project.
I’m certainly not implying that we at RIT have done everything right, or that we have all the answers. We know that our work is far from done. We can, for example, better diversify our department chairs and our faculty senate and increase the number of faculty of color in leadership positions. But if change is to happen, if we are to do more than talk about diversity and actually achieve it, then we all must take action.
Jeremy Haefner is provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, a post he has held since July 2008.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday issued an opinion that rejected ideas put forward by some public colleges and faculty members in the state about carrying out the new "campus carry" law. Paxton rejected, among other things, the idea that colleges could bar guns in dormitories and that individual faculty members could bar guns in their classrooms. Many Texas higher education leaders have hoped they could ban guns in dorms, because most students residing there are under the age of 21, the minimum required for a concealed carry permit. But Paxton rejected that argument. He noted that the law references rules for storing guns in dormitories, thus suggesting that legislators envisioned guns in dorms.
Paxton's ruling is nonbinding, but it could have an impact on what is likely a round of litigation ahead as public colleges try to set limits on guns on campus and gun rights groups push back.
The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, will become part of Tufts University, The Boston Globe reported. The buildings of the school will continue to be owned by the museum, but the educational operations -- including admissions recruitment, the 700 students and 145 faculty members -- will be managed by Tufts. The institution will be known as SMFA@Tufts. The move comes at a time when many small arts or specialized institutions are seeking affiliations with larger colleges and universities.
When Chadron State College, in Nebraska, was hit with nine inches of snow last week, some grounds crew members were unable to make it to campus. And with finals (and fall semester commencement) looming, the college did not want a snow day. Among those who pitched in to make it possible for students and faculty members to get around was Randy Rhine, the president, at right. (Photo is by Chadron State's Alex Helmbrecht.)
Adjunct professors at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, formerly known as Brooklyn Polytechnic University, voted to join an existing NYU adjunct union affiliated with the United Auto Workers, they announced Monday. The election adds 240 new members to the union, which in a separate unit also includes adjuncts from The New School. UAW represents the NYU graduate student union, as well. Some 89 percent of adjuncts who participated in the engineering faculty election voted in favor of the bid. John Beckman, an NYU spokesperson, said via email that the university will, “of course, honor the outcome of today's vote. We will be sitting down with the union in the near future to work towards an agreement.”
As a graduate student involved in a campaign to persuade the University of California to divest from companies that are involved in the occupation of the Palestinian territories, I feel compelled to respond to former University of California President Mark Yudof’s recent broadside against our work. His characterization of the campus boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as irrational and intolerant is wrong and demands a rejoinder.
Before making the case for divestment, it is important to establish the circumstances that have stimulated widespread support for this campaign. Although there is a general consensus that Israel’s nearly 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories should end, people are in much less agreement about what to do to end the occupation and help Palestinians achieve freedom. For the past 20 years, the answer that Americans most commonly have accepted has been to allow what began in 1993 as the Oslo peace process to run its course, producing a negotiated solution that ended the occupation and produced two states living side by side.
Sadly, the peace process has produced very little. The Obama administration recently stated that it did not believe that a peace deal would be at all possible, or that negotiations would perhaps even be restarted, during the remainder of the president’s term. It is hard to see the next administration (Republican or Democratic) being willing to invest as much time and energy into the peace process as John Kerry did during his marathon negotiations in 2013 and 2014. Thus, “Waiting for Oslo” has gone from a plausible option in the 1990s to a polite way of saying you’ve given up in the 2010s.
But as any empathetic observer of the day-to-day reality in Israel-Palestine would agree, not having an option is not an option. As Secretary of State Kerry recently stated in an interview with David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, “It is not an answer to simply continue to build in the West Bank and to destroy the homes of the other folks you’re trying to make peace with and pretend that that’s a solution.”
Despite this axiomatic truth, few besides the Palestinians themselves have offered any compelling alternatives to this costly and destructive status quo. Therefore, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions should be considered an alternative solution that deserves our honest consideration -- particularly in the absence of any other compelling plan to get from the status quo to a resolution of the occupation.
Students across the country have responded to this call by advocating for divestment -- a campaign to pressure colleges and universities to drop their investments in companies directly involved in human rights and international law violations in what is supposed to be the future Palestinian state. Although this type of campaign is not a substitute for the political processes that are necessary to end the occupation, the logic of the campaign is that the economic pressure of divestment can slow the growth of settlements, checkpoints and the rest of the infrastructure of the occupation, while also adding general pressure on the Israeli government to end it altogether.
Consider the companies targeted by the divestment campaigns at the University of California: American and multinational corporations like Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar and Cemex. HP provides electronic services for the checkpoints that prevent Palestinians from traveling to work, school and neighboring towns. Caterpillar provides the armored bulldozers used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian homes throughout the occupied territories, and particularly in the beleaguered Area C of the West Bank. Cemex provides building material for illegal settlements and the wall that snakes through the West Bank, cutting off Palestinians from their lands. None of these facts are disputed -- even many campus groups that oppose divestment generally agree that the corporations in question are violating Palestinian human rights.
But given that such companies are involved in perpetuating the occupation, divesting from them shouldn’t be particularly controversial. It should be relatively easy for someone who supports a two-state solution also to support divesting from the companies that are stifling the possibility of that very solution. Saying that you want to end the occupation but demanding that we continue investing in it is an ineffective and contradictory position.
This, in sum, is the position of many students in the UC system: We want to see Palestinians achieve their freedom, and we think divestment is the best tool available to us to help support that outcome. Although students have a variety of opinions about what the future should look like in Israel-Palestine, virtually everyone would cheer any positive outcome that gained the support of Palestinians themselves. And many students see the UC’s prior divestment decisions, including its recent decision to divest from private prisons, as a sign that student activism can contribute to social justice domestically and internationally.
Ultimately, it is perfectly fine for former President Yudof and others to choose not to support divestment. Many well-meaning people don’t, and it doesn’t make them bad people. But what is really objectionable about Yudof’s comments is his attempt to demonize those who do support divestment. Fearmongering about students who are often roughly a third his age is offensive and undignified.
Yudof’s characterizations of divestment activists don’t apply to me and don’t reflect my experiences in this movement. Campus divestment activists aren’t secret haters, don’t support violence and didn’t hoodwink other progressive students into supporting these campaigns. Rather, we are students from all walks of life whose support for social justice and human rights leads us to work to divest from companies undermining those basic principles. This support is seen outside of campuses as well. Recent polling shows that a plurality of Americans prioritize human rights when considering Israel-Palestine, and furthermore that nearly 40 percent of Americans and 25 percent of Jewish Americans support boycotts or sanctions against Israeli settlements.
If Yudof has an alternative to divestment that he thinks will be more persuasive to the public, he should add it to the debate. But opposing divestment while offering no compelling alternative amounts to tacitly endorsing a status quo of continued occupation with horrible consequences -- primarily for Palestinians, but also for Israelis as well.
Rahim Kurwa is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The University of California at Los Angeles last week condemned an anti-Semitic comment that a UCLA student posted on the Facebook page of Mayim Bialik, the actress. Bialik, a UCLA alumna, wrote on Facebook about her pride in being Jewish and Zionist. The student -- in a comment widely discussed on the UCLA campus -- posted a comment apparently addressed to Jews who immigrated to the United States from Europe.
The comment verbatim (with language that may be upsetting to some): "If you're of Euro ancestry and you were born in the Americas, you are still a white immigrant, the way you call us brown people immigrants and aliens in our own damn space. YOU people invades our space and used your bogus gods to justify taking land that was never yours. I don't know how that's different from what's happening in Palestine -- you come into their land, crying persecution and diminished numbers, and instead of returning to your own homes in Poland, Germany and Russia, your people chose to invade another culture's homeland, invoking your bullshit sacred pacts with your gods and massacring an entire culture unless they bend to your will. GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit. Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction."
UCLA officials have said that, since the university is public, it is covered by the First Amendment and does not seek to punish students for writing or saying offensive things. But periodically, UCLA officials find comments worth publicly criticizing and this was one such case. Janina Montero, vice chancellor for student affairs, sent an email to all students. "We have become aware of anti-Semitic comments allegedly posted by a UCLA student on a private Facebook page not affiliated with UCLA," the email said. "The hurtful and offensive comments displayed ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people, insensitivity and a disappointing lack of empathy. Bigotry against the Jewish people or other groups is abhorrent and does not represent the values of UCLA or the beliefs of our community. UCLA remains proud of the ethnic, racial, religious and cultural diversity of our campus. Sustaining such a diverse community is possible only if we treat each other with compassion and resist the temptation to stereotype or belittle those who may be different. Incidents like these are a reminder that we must always remain committed to inclusiveness and to understanding and respecting others."