California State University has a gender diversity problem: Only 6 Presidents currently serving in the 23-campus system are women, or 26 percent.
Given the low numbers of women, it’s baffling why the CSU Trustees recently appointed a white man to serve as President of CSU Sacramento – a 63-year-old, cowboy-boot-wearing Texan.
And while a woman President will assume an interim role at San Jose State in mid-August, her appointment will not boost the numbers beyond her one-year tenure.
Consider these stark numbers about current leadership in the CSU system:
- Two Asian men lead campuses, but not a single Asian woman.
- Male Latino CSU Presidents outnumber Latinas 5 to 1.
- Twice as many white (8) and African American (2) men serve as CSU Presidents, compared to the number of white (4) and African American (1) women.
Since the first State College was founded in San Jose in 1857 (the CSU system was created in 1960), only 16 of the 182 Presidents, or just under 9 percent, have been women.
Ten of the 23 CSU campuses have never had a woman president – including the prominent, and some might argue more prestigious campuses based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Luis Obispo – and Sacramento.
Should we care? Absolutely.
College Presidents help set the intellectual agenda, control access to resources, mentor mid-career leaders, and represent their universities in their communities.
The dynamics of these responsibilities play out differently when women and people of color are at the helm – not in every instance, but often enough to open doors to new leaders, establish new issues as legitimate for inquiry, and build new pathways of dialogue and commerce with business and community groups.
So – what to do?
First, make diversity a top priority.
Until the CSU system reaches gender and ethnic parity, the CSU Trustees and Chancellor need to use every appointment to reach their diversity goals.
In Silicon Valley – where sex discrimination, sexual harassment and the representation of women in science, technology and engineering need increased attention – the appointment of a permanent woman President at San Jose State would have far-reaching impact.
Secondly, make better use of interim appointments.
Consider this missed opportunity: When the President of CSU Chico took a medical leave earlier this year, a 70-year-old white man was appointed acting President. Chancellor White heralded the interim leader as providing a “seamless transition.”
But what if a woman had been given the reins, even for a short duration, and described as “an up-and-comer,” a “future president”? What if the background and vision of a Latina had been acknowledged as inspirational to thousands of first-generation college students?
Interim appointments can do more than ensure a campus bureaucracy is well managed: They can break barriers and help build resumes and experience for women and people of color.
Finally, no excuses.
If the State of New York can reach near parity for appointments of state college Presidents, California should certainly keep pace.
Twenty-one campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) function like those in our CSU system – and 10 of the 21, or 48 percent, are headed by women – nearly double the 26% here in California.
There’s no way around it. Faced with the same national pool of candidates for potential college Presidents, higher education leaders in the Empire State are out-hustling leaders in the Golden State.
It’s time for the CSU Trustees and Chancellor White to step up their commitment to diversity – and appoint more women from all backgrounds to serve as college presidents in the CSU system.
Recommended citation: Karpilow, Kate. CSU Needs to Step Up Appointment of Women. July 23, 2015. California Center for Research on Women & Families: http://ccrwf.org/csu-needs-to-step-up-appointment-of-women/
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