As I was thinking through what I might say to you, I did something over the long holiday weekend that I haven’t had much time to do for quite some time—I indulged myself by reading a weekday, albeit Independence Day, issue of the New York Times. Lo and behold, there I found the theme for my talk today, on the first page. The headline read “Many Women Taking Leadership Roles at Colleges.” My friend and colleague Shirley Tilghman was featured in this article. The Times said that in the year since she has assumed the role of president of Princeton University, the previously male-dominated university and an Ivy League school, she has appointed four women to top administrative posts, and she has retained and reappointed one more who had been appointed by her predecessor.

In just a tad more than the 30 years since Princeton opened its doors to women for the first time, says the Times, “the changes at Princeton are a signal moment, or an occasion to take stock of the fundamental shift but also to think about how much more is left to be done, in terms of senior faculty and administrative positions.”

For years, those of us in leadership positions who were women had always assumed—and we still do—that mentoring and nurturing were essential to the development of careers for women in academia, government, or even business. We believed that for women to move up the chain it was essential that they move along in such a way that they could assume positions of leadership, accruing more and more power. In other words, we believed that women in higher positions followed an orderly path of advancement. Indeed, that is usually what happens.

But Shirley Tilghman points out that in these times we perhaps need another course, a concerted effort to find women for the top positions. As the Times quoted Shirley, “Twenty-two percent of the faculty but only 14 percent of the faculty of women are full professors.” The key was to appoint more women administrators to build on the women who are presidents of key universities and colleges.

It’s with immense pride that we can now say that we have 11 women presidents at major universities and colleges. That was the subject of an article published in Newsweek magazine, just four days before the New York Times article. Just four days, indeed, before Independence Day. What a wonderful way for women to celebrate their independence. These women are Hannah Gray, Jill Conway, Nan Keohane, Donna Shalala, Jonetta Cole, Ruth Simmons, Judy Rodin, Shirley Jackson, Mary Sue Coleman, Nancy Cantor, and Shirley Tilghman herself. All have a network and all have had, in one way or another, a hand in mentoring others. In addition, they frequently talk to each other. They have learned to cover the full spectrum, from top administrators all the way down to burgeoning faculty.

They start with the assumption that too few women hold high-level faculty positions and therefore are unable, supposedly, to see that there are more goals they can attain. Some of these women could be appointed to those high levels

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement