How College Presidential Searches Eliminate Candidates of Color and Women

America’s college presidents today are overwhelmingly white and male, and board search processes are making the problem worse, according to a report released Monday by the College Futures Foundation.

Black, Latino/a, Asian American, Indigenous and Pacific Islander students now make up about half of college students today, but the report says universities are moving at a glacial pace when it comes to appointing leaders who reflect that portion of their student body.

As of 2017, the most recent year surveyed, fewer than one in five college presidents nationwide were people of color. Only 30 percent of them were women, most of whom were white. The average age of a college president was 62, and most were married with children, according to a report by the College Future Group, “Whiteness Rules: Racial Exclusion in the American College Presidency.” The study was conducted for the foundation by Bensimon & Associates.

“Assuming that white men are ‘naturals’ for college presidents sends two messages,” the report said. “First of all, for white men, so that they can apply and fit directly into the presidential club. Second, to people of color that they should not run because they are not among the rest of the presidents.

The report highlights eight ways presidential searches favor white candidates. The researchers interviewed presidents of California public universities, system administrators and representatives of search firms.

Search committees perpetuate racial and gender bias by holding private meetings closed to the public where they can make racist, ageist, or sexist comments without accountability. These comments, whether made covertly or overtly, may indicate to candidates of color or women that they are not being taken seriously for the role.

The presidential search has a “hidden curriculum” that presidents of color have described as akin to the “SAT exam.”

Candidates of color struggle to navigate cold calls, interviews, and search firm processes.

Search committees play a key role in diversifying and making the presidential search process more fair. Hiring race-aware search firms, ensuring racial and ethnic diversity on search committees, and supporting implicit bias training on search committees are some of the recommendations the researchers make in their toolkit titled “Tools for Transforming the Presidential Search Process for Racial Equity.”

In the University of California system, 11 percent of chancellors have been people of color since it was founded in 1868. Since then, 13 percent of chancellors have been women and only 1 percent of chancellors have been women of color, the report found.

If you had told Eloy Ortiz Oakley when he was 18 that he would one day be chancellor of California’s community colleges, he wouldn’t have believed you.

“I’ve always thought of higher education as a very complicated maze,” said Oakley, now president and CEO of the College Futures Foundation. Oakley was chancellor of the California Community College System for six years until last August.

Scholars emphasized the importance of explicitly centering race in college presidential searches, ironically on the same day that the US Supreme Court questioned the use of race in admissions.

Oakley grew up in a traditional working-class Mexican family. They lived in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood in Southeast Los Angeles where drug and other crime was common. Neither of his parents finished high school. Her father worked at a Long Beach shipyard repairing Navy ships, and her mother worked odd jobs selling Avon makeup and skin care products and taking care of her children. Oakley was recruited to play football at institutions such as Brown University and Pitzer College, a liberal arts institution in Claremont, California. But he found the college application process confusing and intimidating and decided to join the Army instead. It wasn’t until he was 23 that he decided to enroll at Golden West College, a community college in Huntington Beach.

Most of today’s higher education leaders have had a privileged path to this role, Oakley says.

“Being given the opportunity to lead opened the door to conversations about the kind of students I grew up around,” she said, noting that her academic experiences allowed her to prioritize students who were first-generation or low-income and faced barriers to college. . “Without my background, I wouldn’t have understood the importance of this.”

Color candidates often never know if they are being seriously considered or are just being used to diversify the pool. And the doubts don’t end after various candidates land the leadership role.

“They are often the first presidents of color at their institution and carry the added responsibility of being good enough that decision makers do not view their hiring as a failed experiment,” the report said. “In contrast, white candidates and presidents — especially men — can be themselves.”

Presidential candidates of color feel like they can’t be themselves.

Mildred García, CEO of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says a search consultant once told her that if she wanted to be a college president, she should cut her hair, stop wearing an anklet and stay away from bright colors. – colored clothes and stop researching colored people.

“I remember telling the search team, ‘If I don’t have to be my authentic self, I don’t have to be president,'” said García. He was president of Cal State University Fullerton for six years, then served as president of Cal State University Dominguez Hill for six years .

He sees an increase in the number of first-generation, low-income students, students of color and adult students at regional public colleges across the country.

“It’s very important that they see people who look like them in leadership fields,” he said.

The irony in the timing of the study’s publication is not lost on its authors. As the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases Monday about whether colleges can use race in admissions, researchers highlighted the importance of explicitly centering race in college presidential searches at a webinar hosted by the College Futures Foundation the same day. .

There are currently two executive searches underway in California. California State University, Los Angeles is looking for a new president, and the California Community College System needs a new chancellor.

“I hope that institutions, especially board leaders who are responsible for hiring the next generation of leaders, will look at this report and rethink their process,” Oakley said. “If they at least understand why it’s important to have as diverse a pool as possible, then we’ve been successful.”

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