Molly Corbett Broad was on Tuesday named as the next president of the American Council on Education, which acts as the chief voice for higher education as a whole in federal policy debates.
Broad has held a series of senior positions in state university systems, most recently as president of the University of North Carolina System. She previously was executive vice chancellor of the California State University System and also was chief executive officer of Arizona's university system. Since leaving the North Carolina presidency in 2006, Broad has remained active in higher education policy. Among other things, she was involved in the creation of the Voluntary System of Accountability, an effort by state university groups to have institutions report in comparable ways on student outcomes.
At North Carolina, she pushed a variety of measures to attract more funds for the university system. Some of her moves were controversial, as when she suggested that tuition -- historically low in North Carolina -- could increase (along with need-based aid). More popular on campuses, she won voter approval for $3.1 billion in bond authority for facilities -- an infusion of funds that university leaders said was overdue to update aging facilities and to handle enrollment growth.
Broad will be the first woman to lead ACE. Of the numerous higher education associations in Washington, six are considered "presidential" associations, representing broad sectors of higher education, and those six are all headed by men -- a fact that has been much remarked upon as women have not only dominated student enrollments but have taken on more and more college presidencies.
Being a "first woman" is not new to Broad -- it was the case for the North Carolina presidency, although there, her status as someone who wasn't from the state seemed to attract more attention. In a telephone press conference after she was appointed Tuesday, Broad said that when she led a commission on the status of women in Arizona state government, 20 years ago, she would not have imagined that in her lifetime she would see a day when half of the Ivy League's presidents would be women.
Her appointment, Broad said, was "a personal example of the results of diversifying the leadership of higher education."
In North Carolina, Broad had to balance the interests of a flagship campus at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University (the land grant institution), and ambitious regional campuses pushing for more programs. That balancing skill will likely come in handy at ACE, which frequently attempts to shape consensus positions on higher education issues among the groups representing specific sectors.
Broad said she was reluctant to comment on specific issues facing ACE right now, but said she thought that the association's priorities were "right on" target.
David Ward, the outgoing president of the ACE, was the only member of the Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education who declined to sign the document -- a move he said he made, he said at the time with regret, because of the "one size fits all" approach of the report to some problems in higher education. Broad declined to say whether she would have voted for the report, noting that she didn't review all the material that commission members received.
But her comments on the commission and its call for accountability were much more supportive than those made by other academic leaders, especially from private higher education.
"I think Margaret Spellings has done a great service for all of us," Broad said. While faculty members "must own improvements in learning outcomes, improvements in graduation and time to degree," Broad said that the commission was providing a needed push for academe. "The potential for the imposition of metrics from the federal government has been sufficient to compel us to stronger leadership and to accelerate the pace" of reform, she said.
She drew attention to her work on the Voluntary System of Accountability -- a role she played through the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, the driving force for that system -- and called it "a framework that is both voluntary and respectful of the vast array of missions and cultures of our institutions." She predicted that the system would provide "essential kinds of information to determine goodness of fit, to estimate the real net cost of attendance, and providing information about the quality of the learning process" for prospective students and their families.
Broad's theme -- that higher education protects its own interests in part by paying attention to public demands -- is one that has been evident previously in her career. She came to North Carolina from California, where voters had barred affirmative action in college admissions. Early on in North Carolina, Broad ordered a review of affirmative action in the university system -- a request that earned her some criticism from affirmative action proponents. The review did not, however, result in the abolition of affirmative action -- only some program tweaks.
"It was very useful for us to scrub our admissions process and our financial aid process to assure that while we were fully pursuing diversity, we were doing it in ways that are not going to run afoul of the law," Broad said. Today affirmative action is under attack in a series of state referendums modeled on California's. Broad said she did not know how ACE would respond, but she expressed strong support for affirmative action, which she said "remains an important part of the essential goal of higher education of achieving diversity."