For many years the 12 community colleges in Connecticut had the most diverse leadership at the presidential level of any of the higher education institutions in the state. In addition to several presidents who were from underrepresented groups, in 2015 eight out of the 12 community presidents were women, thus reflecting the student population of the colleges which is in its majority female.
These eight women had vast experience, solid leadership records and academic credentials. They served as role models to the female students who attend these colleges inspiring them to achieve their education goals and seek future leadership positions in spite of the “glass ceiling.” They were models to and active supporters of female staff with similar aspirations.
Since the current administration arrived in 2015, the first woman of the eight presidents retired. A man was hired to fill her position. After announcing the “Student First” initiative, four of the remaining women presidents have left the system. One retired and three took new positions out of state. In two of these vacancies a male president was appointed to oversee two of the campuses previously led by women. Another female president announced her resignation just this week.
Experience tells us that when a particular group leaves in such proportion it is not the result of chance, but a symptom of a climate that does not support women leadership or its advancement. Out of a group of eight women presidents, 75 percent are gone. This record is troublesome especially when the replacement have not been other women, but men.
But the most troubling aspect is that as part of the Student First Consolidation Plan three regional presidents, all of them males were appointed by the Regents this past week. Yet, the proposed structure of Student First has not even been approved by the accrediting agency (NECHE).
Eight out of nine candidates’ finalists that interviewed for these regional presidencies were men. The result of these recent hirings leads to questionable optics regarding support for women leadership. Are these intentional actions intended to get rid of the women presidents?
If the intent is to have the leadership of the community colleges reflect the student body, that is not what is currently happening. The disappearing of the women presidents is a reality. The remaining women presidents are silenced by the changes being proposed and a new structure that ignores their leadership, expertise and many accomplishments.
At a time when Gov. Ned Lamont is being praised for appointing a very diverse cabinet with women being half the people in leadership roles, our community colleges are racing in the opposite direction.
Whatever the intention, it is actions that define reality. If the governor can tout “that 50 percent of the folks in his administration are women,” the Community Colleges should be embarrassed to say that they have decreased women leadership down to two, a decreased of 75 percent.
Two significant questions need to be addressed: why the women presidents have left and why there is no longer room for women at the top. We need also to ask what female students will learn from the restructuring conducted as part of “Student First.” The answer should not be that there is no room for women leaders in the community colleges and that in the 21st Century in Connecticut only men are allowed to lead in a system that serves and promotes access to the most diverse student population.
Estela Lopez is Former Provost of the CT State Colleges and Universities. Dianne Williams is President Emerita of Quinebaug Valley Community College.
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