OK, boys, you all have your fantasy football and basketball teams, right? Well, I don’t have any fantasy sports teams. But, here come the sports analogies regardless, and I’m officially starting my own fantasy league with this post!
I have a homework assignment for one of my classes (Higher Education Law) where I need to interview someone (not so ironically) in higher education. I can interview anyone I pretty much want to – the sky’s the only limit. So, if I could have my fantasy interview team around this assignment and could interview anyone, who would it be?
After doing some research online and discovering that only 23% of women are at the helm of colleges and universities (which, when you think about it, 75% of the teachers are women) – this number is abysmal. However, there are some AWESOME women out there now, and here’s my very own fantasy university women’s leadership league, if I could interview any of them, would be a dream come true! Here are just a few in totally random order:
Drew Gilpin Faust – Harvard – She’s only the 28th President of the university, AND the first woman, 5th in the Ivy League. Now I know not everyone thinks that Harvard is the end all be all when it comes to colleges and universities….but despite the haters, one must pay respect to her and her position, regardless of what people think of the school. Being awesome always draws criticism. And my first question to her – after congratulating her on breaking that very thick glass ceiling? Easy. How has it been being the first woman of one of the preeminent international universities? Also, she never went to Harvard – so that would be my next set of questions–is the fact that she didn’t attend Harvard an asset or liability, and if so, in what ways?
H. Kim Bottomly – Wellesley College – Immunologist. Life Scientist. Publishing machine. Rock star of one of the women’s-only leading colleges on the planet. What’s not to like here? My first question to her would be: how was transitioning from the west to the east coast? Second, about the school–what are the unique challenges in educating women in a women-only academic environment? What are the differences between it and co-gender educational environments?
Mary Sue Coleman – University of Michigan – The most impressive accomplishment regarding President Coleman is her ability to raise funds at first glance, and manage a MEGA institution. (I called on U of M at one of my former jobs, and the campus is mind-blowingly huge!) U of M’s capital fundraising campaign to raise $2.5 billion (yes, with a b) was surpassed by Coleman and her campus raising $3.2 billion – the most ever raised by any university, ever. That. Is. Impressive. First question I’d ask her? How do you get rockstarian at fundraising? It truly is an art form, and her legacy in that arena is amazing!
Shirley M. Tilghman – Princeton – President of Princeton since 2001, three things strike me at first glance with President Tilghman’s ascension: 1. Princeton is ranked at #2 of the top 50 best colleges in the country, 2. She’s from Canada and 3. She actually worked as a teacher at Princeton for 15 years before she was promoted to President. For those outside academia, it is rare to see Presidents gain promotion from within the university. Typically, presidents are hired outside the four walls of the college or university. The other cool item of note for President Tilghman? She’s a woman, at a school that fought for a long time to be co-ed. Questions I’d ask her: how did you get to be a president at a university where you taught for years before (which again is highly unusual)? Were you aware of the co-ed turmoil, is it still an issue on campus, and how do you manage that as a university president?
Catharine Bond Hill - Vassar – Economists are smart cookies. I have no doubt at all that ALL of these women are brilliant, but the thing I love about reading President Hill’s bio is that she reinstated need-blind admissions at Vassar. (As a scholarship recipient myself regardless of need at my own undergrad university, I can appreciate this.) I also know how insane colleges and universities are getting in terms of tuition–and so my first question to President H would be: can the costs of higher education keep escalating at the current rates and remain a viable option for the majority of high school students in the U.S.?
Debora L. Spar – Barnard – She attended Barnard, then worked and went to school in various capacities, then became President. She’s also a political scientist, and does a ton of work on women’s issues and B school work at Harvard. The first question I would definitely ask her is the full-circle question: how does it feel to be president of an institution you attended as an undergrad? (Right now, being a teacher at my former undergrad school is surreal enough – I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to actually run my alma mater!)
There are other amazing women on my fantasy team and in my fantasy league that I’d love to interview. I could go on. But I won’t. However, I will leave you with this: why aren’t these women out in the media more, sharing their leadership success stories with all of us? I know the real answer, but I’d like to respectfully challenge the universe with this question again.
And Presidents, if any of you are reading this and would do me the honor of giving me 45 minutes of your time for an interview, I’d welcome the pleasure of it–your administrative partners can email me here to schedule a time to chat! And if not, THANK YOU regardless–for your tenacity, intelligence, and hammering through the very tough glass/concrete ceilings out there. We appreciate you paving the way!