With a large number of college presidents stepping down, now could be a perfect time to diversify

Boston Globe
By Kate Selig
Globe Correspondent

An extraordinary number of local colleges and universities have presidential vacancies this year, presenting what some experts say could be a golden opportunity to diversify the highest levels of higher education, where women and people of color have historically been underrepresented, and reshape the leadership of an industry that’s been buffeted by the pandemic.

In Massachusetts alone, 11 institutions have or will have open presidencies in the coming year, ranging from big-name institutions like Harvard to liberal arts colleges like Smith and public schools like the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Only about one-third of college presidencies in the state are held by women, and 25 percent are people of color, according to a new study by the Women’s Power Gap Campaign at the Eos Foundation.

“This is a time of rapid change, but it’s one of opportunity as well,” said Julie Chen, who recently began her chancellorship at UMass Lowell, where she is the second woman, first Asian American, and first LGBTQ+ person to hold the role. “My hope is that we continue to chip away at this until we get to the point where the diversity of our leaders reflects the diversity of the community.”

The Eos Foundation found the share of people of color leading colleges and universities increased moderately since its last survey in 2018 — from 16 percent to 25 percent, and the share of women leaders has hardly budged at all.

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