Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Presidents Who Are 'Out' and About

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Presidents Who Are 'Out' and About

Article excerpt

When Dr. Raymond E. Crossman, president of Adler University, first helped to launch LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education back in 2010, it began with only a dozen or so members.

Today, as the organization plans to hold its third annual leadership institute in Seattle, Washington, from June 23 to 25, the organization boasts a membership of more than 80 leaders from campuses throughout the United States.

Crossman says the growth of the organization comes at a time of greater societal accepta nce and recognition of the LGBTQ community as a whole.

"I think that is one of the largest shifts that we've seen in modern history, the changing of attitudes around LGBTQ people," says Crossman, who is co-chair of the organization.

Indeed, in 2010, 48 percent of adults in the United States opposed gay marriage and 42 percent favored it. As of 2016--the year after the 2015 Supreme Court decision that required states to allow and recognize same-sex marriages--those numbers shifted to 55 and 37 percent, respectively, according to the Pew Research Center.

"Those numbers have swung fast and hard," Crossman says. "So there have been great gains in the past few years."

The shift in public attitude is part of the larger context in which LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education continues its efforts to empower LGBTQ individuals in academe to navigate their way toward leadership positions and, ultimately, to presidencies at institutions of higher education.

Sometimes, it can be an awkward experience, even for those who have made it.

Consider, for instance, what took place when Grinnell College President Dr. Raynard Kington, an early member of LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education, and his spouse, Dr. Peter Daniolos, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Iowa School of Medicine, arrived on campus.

Historically, Kington says, the Ladies Education Society--founded in 1862 and Grinnell's oldest surviving organization--extended invitations to the college president's wife to chair the organization.

"Then I came, and it took them seven years before they finally asked my spouse if he would be willing to get involved," says Kington. "He said fine. He's happy to be involved. He's going to be chair of the Ladies Education Society."

Kington says he doesn't think the lag in invitation was hateful on the part of the Ladies Education Society and was likely driven by sensitivity or uncertainty over how to approach the matter.

"I think once they got to know Peter more, they thought, 'Oh, he wouldn't have a problem,' and he didn't," Kington says. "But it's another layer of complexity that's compounded by the fact that so few LGBTQ fol ks have been presidents."

"Almost everyone is a first now," Kington says of college presidents who are openly gay. "There's no culture [for LGBTQ presidents], and colleges are whole communities that have been ones of tradition and informal rules and they're complex social organizations."

"I just think it adds another layer, I'm sure," he says of colleges being led by gay presidents.

Given such complexities, Kington says LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education is needed to help aspirant LGBTQ individuals in academe advance to the top.

"We may be less likely to be mentored in ways that lead to presidencies, not unlike women and people of color," Kington says. The organization, he says, can help ensure that "people who have the potential to be great presidents don't fall between the cracks."

Dr. Karen M. Whitney, president of Clarion University and a co-chair of LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education, expresses similar thoughts. She notes that the organization has worked to "support, encourage and inform the pipeline and processes surrounding the cultivation, recruitment and selection of future leaders in higher education, including presidents. …

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