The scarcity of industries with women in positions of power does not exclude academia. 24% of college presidents are women and that is a statistic that current female leaders are insistent on changing. Four of the most powerful women in higher education met at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Tuesday evening to discuss how they have navigated the collegiate system to lead their respective institutions. As part of the Benenson Lecture Series, the panel featured Dr. Amy Gutmann, the President of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, Dr. Christina Paxson, President of Brown University, and Dr. Biddy Martin, President of Amherst College.
Throughout the evening, the accomplished women provided insight on how they are creating access to education, managing work-life balance, and promoting diversity in their communities.
Dr. Amy Gutmann: As the first person in her family to attend college, Dr. Gutmann believes that “an educated citizenry is a public good.” The political scholar and author has led Penn to become the largest university to establish an all-grant policy for all undergraduates who qualify for financial aid; the average grant package for a Penn student is $40,000. When asked how students can manage the stress of attending a rigorous institution, Dr. Gutmann noted that resilience is the key to overcoming adversity because “students have to learn how to pick themselves up with they fail.”
Dr. Nancy Cantor: A social psychologist by training, Dr. Cantor believes that a diverse student body is enriching for the university community. She prides herself that Rutgers University-Newark is often the first place her students meet peers of different races, ethnicities, and religions. Dr. Cantor has maintained a well-balanced personal and professional life by finding ways to include her family in every step of her professional journey.
Dr. Christina Paxson: Prior to assuming the Brown presidency, Dr. Paxson was the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton. She cites innovation and flexibility as the core of a sustainable liberal arts curriculum. “We are training students for jobs they will have 30 or 40 years from now,” she explained. “We have to adapt our educational programs to the ever-changing world around us.”
Dr. Biddy Martin: With a doctorate in German literature, Dr. Martin held senior positions at Cornell and the University of Wisconsin-Madison before arriving at Amherst in 2011. Unlike other academics that express concern over the preservation of the liberal arts curriculum in a seemingly technology-centric job market, Dr. Martin is confident that the liberal arts will continue to be the cornerstone of American education. Confronting its relevance she attests, “A liberal arts degree teaches you how to think, which is the most important skill anyone can possess.”
The common theme the panelists emphasized was that they focus on providing their best service to their institutions, not the fact that they are women in a male dominated position. For more information about programming at the 92Y visit https://www.92y.org/.
Contributor: Katlyn Grasso