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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  1. Brava President Williams and Dr. Lopez!
    I believe I am the President referenced as the first to leave in 2015. As such, I offer the following: I was privileged to serve as the President of Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC) from 2004 to 2015. I was fortunate to have been appointed by a Board of Trustees and a Chancellor deeply committed to student success and who understood that diversity and gender equity are strong factors leading to that success. Theirs was a supportive culture and climate of mutual respect, inclusion and cooperation. Sixty five percent of the students at NCCC were, and still are, female. Most work at least part-time and have children. I hope I served as a role model for them. They were certainly an inspiration to me.

    1. To President Williams and Dr. Lopez, Thank you for your article.

      I, too, was privileged to serve as the first woman president, and possibly the last, of Manchester Community College (MCC) from 2008-2018. Like Drs. Douglass and Williams, I was fortunate to have been appointed by a Board of Trustees and Chancellor who respected our expertise and experience, and who engaged with the presidents in deep discussions about higher education – from finance to collective bargaining to curriculum to student success, and everything in between.

      The Trustees and Chancellor expected the presidents to be committed to student success and to serve our unique communities, while always keeping in mind the public trust we held in our hands. They held the presidents accountable and worked with us to ensure that we could provide the services and opportunities that our students and communities deserved. We served on Board committees so that the Trustees were kept aware of the impact of policy decisions on the day to day operations of the colleges. When issues came up, we all worked collegiality together and with our legislators. Our colleges succeeded on several measures, often gaining recognition by our accrediting bodies, and leading the nation in many arenas.

      I am indeed fortunate to count our retired woman presidents as my network of colleagues, friends, and confidants. And, I’m honored to have been in a position to mentor our students and new professionals.

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