Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Presidential Search 'Plateau': Once a Pioneer, Massachusetts Is Experiencing a Slowdown in the Promotion of Minorities to the University President Ranks, Particularly at Elite Private Institutions

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Presidential Search 'Plateau': Once a Pioneer, Massachusetts Is Experiencing a Slowdown in the Promotion of Minorities to the University President Ranks, Particularly at Elite Private Institutions

Article excerpt

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As the new vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1971, Dr. Randolph W. Bromery had not given any thought to moving up to chancellor. But the president of the UMass system, Dr. Robert C. Wood, had contemplated the possibility. Then he made it happen.

When the chancellor of the state flagship university resigned that year, Wood asked Bromery to serve as interim chancellor and to apply for the permanent job, which the trustees gave him six months later. His elevation made Bromery the first African-American to lead a college in Massachusetts and only the second at a predominantly White campus, after Dr. Clifton R. Wharton Jr. at Michigan State University.

"I had no previous experience running a public college or university, especially one with 25,000 students," recalls Bromery, 83. "It takes a person like Bob Wood to take that risk. A lot of people wouldn't take that risk."

Indisputably, Wood's gamble worked out. For eight years, Bromery led UMass Amherst so capably that other colleges in the state kept summoning him to straighten out their management problems. He was acting president of Westfield State College in the 1980s, acting and then permanent president of Springfield College in the 1990s and then acting president of Roxbury Community College earlier this decade.

"He's the godfather in Massachusetts," says Dr. Charles Desmond, an African-American who chairs the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.

After that groundbreaking start four decades ago, the history of college presidents of color in Massachusetts, a state known for its liberal politics and elite private colleges, has unfolded at about the same halting pace as it has in the rest of the country.

With the exception of Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, who was president of Smith College before becoming the first Black president of an Ivy League school at Brown University, no minority has led on a permanent basis any of the elite schools that give Massachusetts its reputation for quality higher education.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, now president of Spelman College, served as acting president of Mount Holyoke College for a semester. Other minority administrators have led small, lesser-known colleges, but no private university in the state appears to have ever had a president of color.

Since Bromery in the 1970s, the state flagship university in Amherst has not tapped a minority as a chancellor, although two African-Americans have filled in temporarily.

"The tragedy of these things is you end up being the first and the last," Bromery says. "The institution has this sense we have done our diversity thing, and we don't have to do anymore."

Currently, the presence of presidents or chancellors of color in Massachusetts falls slightly below that in the entire nation. They make up 9 percent of the state's leaders at degree-granting institutions accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, compared with the 14 percent for the nation that the American Council on Education calculated in 2006.

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Both public and private institutions fall short of minority representation at comparable institutions. At state schools, four of 30 institutions have leaders of color, for 13 percent of the total, versus 17 percent in the country. Six minorities make up about 8 percent of presidents at 80 private schools, compared with 9 percent nationwide.

"It doesn't surprise me," Bromery says. "Massachusetts has prided itself on being so liberal and free. It's not. It just hasn't had to deal with us that much."

The Minority Pipeline

African-Americans predominate on the list of about 40 minorities who have led campuses in Massachusetts. Of the 10 currently in place, eight are Black, one is Hispanic and one is Asian.

The prevalence of private schools distinguishes higher education in Massachusetts. …

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