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July 7, 2022

Amid changes at the top, Central Mass. colleges lag behind in having women presidents

Image | Staff Central Mass. College leadership as of July 7

As the Central Massachusetts higher education community awaits the results of presidential searches at Assumption University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a new report shows the region is significantly behind the stagnated state in having women as leaders.

Among the 13 Central Massachusetts colleges and universities with permanent leaders in place, two are women, or 15%. In Massachusetts, 34% of college presidents are women, according to a study conducted by the Eos Foundation’s Women’s Power Gap Campaign.

Through the campaign, Eos Foundation, a nonprofit based in Harwich Port, aims to radically increase the number of women from diverse backgrounds among CEO and C-suite leaders nationally according to a Wednesday press release. It has been documenting the power imbalance in institutions of higher learning in Massachusetts since 2018 and nationally since 2021.

“After four years, we expected to see more progress overall for women. Women make up 57% of higher education students in Massachusetts and have been getting the majority of PhDs for nearly two decades. We should already have achieved gender parity among presidents, but instead we have hit a ceiling,” said Eos Foundation President Andrea Silbert in the release.

The study shows in Massachusetts the percentage of college presidents who are women has stagnated, rising 1 percentage point since 2018. Women who chair college’s board of trustees in Massachusetts have increased from 27% to 37% over that period. 

However, in Central Massachusetts, out of 14 institutions with a permanent board chair, three of the chairs are women: C. Deborah Phillips at Fitchburg State University, Katherine Dolan of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, and Helen Boucher at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

The Eos study found statewide the percentage of presidents who are women at Massachusetts community colleges dropped from 53% in 2019 to 36% in 2022. Both Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester and Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner have presidents who are men, Luis Pedraja and James Vander Hooven.

Among Massachusetts’ eight elite research, or R1, institutions, none of them have presidents who are women and five have never had a woman president. Worcester has two R2 research institutions; Clark University, which has never had a woman president, and WPI which is trying to replace former president Laurie Leshin, who left the university in May to lead NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. 

WPI is one of eight Central Massachusetts colleges and universities who have replaced their presidents since 2020. Of the six who have completed those leadership searches:

  • Three replaced a male president with a male successor: Clark University, MCPHS University, and the College of the Holy Cross
  • Two replaced a female president with a male successor: Nichols College and Dean College
  • One replaced a male president with a female successor: Framingham State University

Even if WPI and Assumption, which is looking to replace former president Francesco Cesareo, hire women to be their new presidents, four of the 15 local colleges and universities, or 27%, will have female leaders. That’s still below the state’s 34%.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that as of July 7, Richard Patterson was the chair of the board of trustees at the College of the Holy Cross. As of July 1, Helen Boucher is the first woman to be the chair of the Holy Cross board of trustees.

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