View from the top: Women in academic leadership 2011

Donne Kampel will moderate a panel on Women in Leadership at the National Archives on March 24.
Donne Kampel will moderate a panel on Women in Leadership at the National Archives on March 24.

Today’s post about women is from guest blogger Donne Kampel, who will be speaking at our Fourth Annual Forum on Women in Leadership.  Kampel recently published Learning Leadership: Women Presidents of Colleges and Universities. Enjoy!


My book’s first life was as a dissertation. Women and leadership was my primary research interest but a focus for the book eluded me. There were (and still are) so many aspects of the subject that narrowing it down felt mind-numbing. Then my instinct kicked in and I said to myself, “Who best to consult on this subject than women leaders themselves?”

Fortunately, I am an academic administrator and had friends and colleagues up and down in what is so fittingly called “the academic pipeline.” I decided to start near the top, with an academic dean. It turned out to be a very good decision.

I spoke with the female dean of a womens college. She described her early schooling and her college experience. She discussed role models and mentors. Then, off the top of my head, I asked, “You run a very large school and have many presidential responsibilities including fund-raising, budget development, and faculty management. Why aren’t you a college president?”

Her response was open and honest. First, she admitted being content where she was. This is where she had learned to lead. She had learned her job on the job, having been recruited from the ranks of the faculty. She had spent many years gaining the confidence of her constituencies and knew the job inside out. She would not give up her position as dean for a presidency, which would no doubt be hard won, and would almost certainly mean less time with family, fewer days spent with students and faculty (one of the best parts of her job), and many more donors to see and budgets to fight over. Though we hadn’t spent much time on the obstacles she had encountered during her career, she clearly did not want to enter that arena again. 

This is where I narrowed my dissertation’s focus to women college presidents and how they got there, which later became my book Learning Leadership: Women Presidents of Colleges and Universities.

But the very last question of the day belonged to the dean and is still unanswered. As I was leaving, she said to me, “Do you want to be a college president?”

Join us on March 24 to hear the answer to that question from four women who are college presidents in the “The Changing Roles of Women in Academic Leadership.”

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