Among the top 25 schools in the United States (as ranked by the U.S. News & World Report‘s National Universities list), seven are led by women.
This is similar to the state of diversity among college presidents nationwide. Women represent 30% of U.S. college presidents while minorities represent 17%, according to a 2016 report from the American Council on Education (ACE). The ACE also found that women are more likely to lead a public institution than a private one, and 78% of today’s women presidents are serving their first presidency.
Industry-wide surveys offer a valuable big-picture look at female presidents in higher ed, but I wanted to know more about who these women are. After some research, I compiled a snapshot of the seven women who lead top-ranked schools, including where and what they studied, as well as their presidential priorities.
Drew Faust, Harvard University
Alma Mater: Bryn Mawr CollegeMajor: History
Faust led Harvard for 11 years as the university’s 28th president and the first woman to hold that job. As president, Faust spearheaded diversity and access initiatives and promoted interdisciplinary collaboration. Faust, who retired in early July, is succeeded by Lawrence Bacow.
Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania
Alma Mater: Radcliffe College at Harvard UniversityMajor: Bachelors of Arts
Gutmann, the eighth president of Penn, has served as president since 2004 and plans to serve until 2022, which would make her the longest-serving president in the university’s history. In 2015, Gutmann launched the President’s Innovation Prize, a $100,000 award that goes to the top five graduating seniors in recognition of a commercial innovation with potential to improve the world.
Christina Paxson, Brown University
Alma Mater: Swarthmore CollegeMajor: Economics
Paxson has served as Brown’s president since 2012. Paxson’s key priorities as president include cultivating collaboration and entrepreneurship among faculty and students, as well as integrating real-world experiences into the curriculum.
Martha Pollack, Cornell University
Alma Mater: Dartmouth CollegeMajor: Linguistics
Pollack took the president’s office in April 2017. In her first year, Pollack convened the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate, which developed recommendations to make Cornell more equitable and inclusive.
Claire E. Sterk, Emory University
Alma Mater: Free University, in the NetherlandsMajor: Cultural Anthropology and Non-Western Sociology
Sterk, the 20th president of Emory, began her role in 2016. Prior to her presidency, Sterk served as a social scientist, academic leader, and the university’s executive vice president for academic affairs.
Janet Napolitano, University of California (UC) system
Alma Mater: Santa Clara UniversityMajor: Political Science
Before Napolitano took office as UC president in 2013, she served as the Secretary of Homeland Security, Governor of Arizona, and the Attorney General of Arizona. As president, Napolitano has launched system-wide initiatives related to carbon neutrality, undocumented students, and the first amendment.
Teresa A. Sullivan, University of Virginia (UVA)
Alma Mater: Michigan State UniversityMajor: Public Affairs
Sullivan, who took the office in 2010, is the eighth president of UVA. Under Sullivan, UVA launched a major in global studies, a minor in entrepreneurship, and piloted a multi-year fellowship to prepare students to become leaders on and off campus.
(U.S. News & World Report rankings, accessed 7/2; Walsh, Harvard Gazette, 7/2; University of Pennsylvania site, accessed 7/2; Brown University site, accessed 7/2; Cornell University site, accessed 7/2; Emory University site, accessed 7/2; University of California site, accessed 7/2; University of Virginia site, accessed 7/2).