Striking Lack of Diversity in Ivy League’s Top Positions

The June 14 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education (“At the Ivies, It’s Still White at the Top”) presents a remarkable pictorial display of the individuals in the top levels of university administration in the Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale). This pictorial display is more powerful and compelling than any statistical report in portraying the absence of diversity in university leadership. It reminds us of the dimensions of the administrative landscape as it exists today and emphasizes the fact that we are truly only at the beginning of the long journey toward inclusion in the top tiers of our nation’s educational institutions. This journey begins with representation as its first phase, next proceeds to the development of a representative bureaucracy that reflects the changing demography of student populations, and ultimately requires the creation of inclusive cultures at all levels.

The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the top administrative ranks is not limited to the Ivies, but also pertains to public and private research universities as well as four-year colleges throughout the United States. A 2008 King & Gomez study found that close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males. Similarly, a NACUBO (2010) survey, found that Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male.

Furthermore, as Bryan Cook, former director of the American Council of Education, notes in the lead article by Stacey Patton in this Chronicle special edition, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at 149 four-year colleges has persisted for 25 years. Cook also observes that institutions rarely replace a minority member with another when he or she leaves. As Ms. Patton perceptively notes, the frequent argument about “lack of qualified candidates” for these top roles becomes a loaded and coded divergence—a smoke screen that feeds stereotypes of minorities as less capable, intelligent, or experienced (p. A4). The few minorities that are selected for these highly visible roles experience what researchers William Tierney and Robert Rhodes call the double-edged sword of “a perverse visibility and a convenient invisibility.” For example, in her essay, “The Making of a Token,” in the edited volume Presumed Incompetent Yolanda Flores Niemann reports her “inordinate visibility” as a minority female professor in a mainly white male department. Subjected to overt racism and isolation, her negative self-perceptions and lowered sense of self-efficacy in the academy increased, until, as she reports, “I no longer recognized the person in the mirror.” Hiring one or two minorities at high levels within our institutions of higher education cannot be expected to solve the sense of exclusion, perceptions of token status, heightened visibility, or differential expectations that can accrue to the singular individual or nominal number of individuals in these top roles.

There are, however, some promising developments on the horizon. David S. Lee, professor of economics and public affairs and the director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University, was just named provost last week, as the current provost (Christopher Eisgruber) ascended to the presidency. Unlike its Ivy comparators, Columbia University had the highest percentage of minority administrators (42 percent), although only 3 of its senior-level administrators are minorities. And women have certainly attained the highest levels with female presidents at all of the Ivies except Yale (Dartmouth has an interim female president).

As Alvin Evans and I share in our forthcoming book, The New Talent Acquisition Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy, diverse talent is an accelerator of innovation, demanding a shift in the structures of top-down, command-and-control leadership that characterized the Industrial era. In this era of globalization, universities can no longer afford to ignore the need for diverse, collaborative, intergroup leadership. The leadership of diverse executive teams will create common ground in an environment of shared governance, promote inclusive campus climates, and position the university to respond to the changing educational needs of students in an interconnected, global society.