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Universities come of age

According to a new study, females are more prevalent than ever in the presidential suite at colleges and universities across the nation. Twenty-three percent of today’s presidents are female, showing a 13.5 percent increase from 1986.

The survey was released last Wednesday by the American Council on Education and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. It measured trends in college and university presidents, as well as senior administrative positions for the year 2007.

The survey found increasing trends not only in female representation, but also in term lengths and average ages of presidents and administrators. The change in female representation in these positions was the largest trend observed in the study.

“It’s great that there are more women in the field,” Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon said. “But there are still not enough.”

Cohon appointed the first female executive vice president at Carnegie Mellon, and now three of the university’s five vice presidents are female. This proportion far exceeds the national average, as the study found only 31 percent of vice presidents to be women.

“There need to be more women in the public face of the university,” Cohon said. “This will really affect how universities are composed.”

Carnegie Mellon is also an example to another aspect of the survey, that of presidential terms. Nationally, the average term has increased from 6.3 years in 1986 to 8.5 years in 2006.

“I have contributed a fair share to this average,” joked Cohon.

Appointed by the Board of Trustees in 1997, Cohon is in his eleventh year of office, having been approved for his third five-year term in 2007. At the end of his third term in 2012, Cohon will have nearly doubled the national average with a total of 15 years in office.

The study also analyzed the ages of the presidents.

In 2006, the percentage of university presidents over the age of 60 was 49.3, compared with only 13.9 percent in 1986. Jacqueline E. King, assistant vice president of the American Council on Education, commented in a press release on the age of current presidents and those likely to succeed them.

“The good news is that those in the positions that are feeder positions are in fact younger — so there will be someone to take over,” King said in a press release. These feeder positions include titles such as provost or chief academic officer, the most common position from which a person rises to the presidency. Compared to the large percentage for university presidents, only 20.5 percent of provosts are above the age of 60.

However, this is not the only position from which presidents are drawn.

Cohon came to Carnegie Mellon as president directly from Yale University, where he was dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a professor of environmental systems analysis. He joined Yale after 19 years at Johns Hopkins University, where he was associate dean of engineering and vice provost for research.

According to the study, deans have about the same age distribution as provosts.

Andy Brantley, CEO of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, spoke in Inside Higher Ed about the importance of planning ahead.

“With succession planning, presidents and institutions can reach out to those with potential for senior positions and groom them,” he said.

However, with presidential terms increasing as they have over the past 20 years, presidents may not be leaving anytime soon.

“It is a tremendous honor and great privilege to be in a role like this,” Cohon said of his presidency at Carnegie Mellon.

Cohon also spoke of his transition from an academic to a senior administrative leader. “As an academic, one can do research, see student names on papers, and watch them grow. Presidents have to get gratification out of more institutional success. I do.”

Cohon noted that some presidents have trouble adjusting to this transition.

“It’s about Carnegie Mellon, not about you,” Cohon added. “You have to submerge your ego a little bit.”