Saturday, January 17, 2015

Leadership of local colleges trends towards women

According to multiple sources, including the American Council on Education, 26 percent of U.S. colleges and universities are led by women, a number that has risen within the last decade, while 57 percent of the students in colleges and universities are women. Some believe women could reach parity with men within the next 15 years or so, particularly with a large number of college presidency openings on the horizon.

Susan Koch said that she, for the most part, “checked off all (academic career) boxes” on the way to becoming UIS chancellor in 2011, one of two women chancellors, along with Phyllis Wise at the Urbana-Champaign campus, at the University of Illinois’ three campuses.

“It’s a classical story,” said Koch, 65, in an interview in her campus office. It also took hard work, so when she was eventually offered the role as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Northern Michigan University, Koch said, “I had positioned myself well.”

There Koch was mentored by then-President Leslie Wong, now the president at San Francisco State University. “He was very generous with his time and allowed me to be a full partner at running (Northern Michigan University),” said Koch, who also cites former Northern Iowa University President Mary Sue Coleman, recently retired as president of the University of Michigan, as a guiding hand when both were at Northern Iowa. “There has to be more than one someone,” Koch said, “to give you an opportunity.”

Koch said networking, particularly among other vice presidents who were angling for presidencies, helped, as did making known her intentions for moving up. “If you’re not in the pool, you have no chance of moving up,” says Koch.

What’s important for the higher education landscape, she added, “is to be open as much as possible to talent, no matter what the talent looks like. “I’ve been in many, many conference rooms where I was the only female,” Koch said. “But the discussions are always better when the voices are diverse.”

Koch is less optimistic that as many women as men will become college presidents even in the next half-century, despite rising numbers and the fact that the majority of students in U.S. colleges and universities are women. “It will take many changes in higher education — socially and culturally — for that to happen,” she said.

This story appeared online in The State Journal-Register on Saturday, January 17, 2015.

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