Skip to main content
How to Think Differently

With a Large Number of College Presidents Stepping Down, Vacancies May Open Door for More Diverse Leaders

July 6, 2022

In the News

The Boston Globe article, With a large number of college presidents stepping down, vacancies may open door for more diverse leaders, by Kate Selig, featured commentary from Isaacson, Miller Partner Keight Tucker Kennedy on the high level of presidential vacancies among colleges and universities and the opportunity this moment offers to diversify leadership across higher education. Find excerpts from the article below.


An extraordinary number of local colleges and universities have presidential vacancies this year, presenting what some experts say could be a golden opportunity to diversify the highest levels of higher education, where women and people of color have historically been underrepresented, and reshape the leadership of an industry that’s been buffeted by the pandemic.

Only about one-third of college presidencies in the state are held by women, and 25 percent are people of color, according to a new study by the Women’s Power Gap Campaign at the Eos Foundation.

Mary Churchill, a higher education expert and associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at BU, said the disparities at elite institutions are not surprising: The more competitive the opportunity, the more likely it is to result in the selection of a white man.

Institutions can also struggle to think outside of the box when looking for candidates, she said, and a lack of mentorship and encouragement of diverse faculty and administrators can contribute to them not seeking the job.

But Churchill said institutions can’t claim they’re facing a “pipeline problem” when looking for diverse leaders, where institutions say there are not enough diverse candidates to allow for parity at the presidential level.

“The majority of undergraduates are women, the majority of master’s students are women, the majority of PhDs are women. We have women professors, chairs, deans, vice presidents, and provosts, yet there’s this challenge of getting them into the presidency,” she said. There is also a trend of people of color taking on vice provost roles for diversity, equity, and inclusion that can lead to a presidency, she said.

Keight Tucker Kennedy, a partner at the executive search firm Isaacson, Miller, agreed.

Keight Tucker Kennedy, who has helped higher education institutions identify their future presidents, said it’s become easier to find diverse candidates in recent years. Of the firm’s presidential placements over the last decade, about 41 percent of the hires were women and 36 percent were people of color.

Kennedy said institutions that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion are more likely to attract and then hire diverse candidates.

Read the full article here.

A group of blurred people against a white background.