Kristin Cole ‘21
A detailed report by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative was recently released showing the increase in gender diversity throughout many Massachusetts colleges parallel to the stagnant patriarchy that remains in other private higher education institutions. Merrimack College falls low on the list in the rankings of gender parity, but contests some of the information in the report.
According to the Women’s Power Gap Initiative’s report, Merrimack’s top leadership positions, which include President, Provost and the Chair of the Board of Trustees, are all held by men. According to the report, women make up 30 percent of the college’s Board of Trustees and 38 percent of senior academic leadership. Only two women make up the top ten of Merrimack’s most highly compensated employees.
With regards to these statistics, the Comprehensive Gender Leadership ranking of all 87 private higher education institutions in the state showed that Merrimack tied for second to last place with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, placing it in the “needs urgent attention” category. The report encourages colleges within this category to consider “immediate changes to improve women’s representation on their leadership teams, boards, and among their highest paid professionals.”
The report found that a third of higher education institutions in Massachusetts have never had a female president. Merrimack falls on this list, in addition to schools such as Assumption College, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Tufts University. The study also notes that even current presidential positions are unequal, stating, “of the ten most highly compensated presidents in our compensation data set, we find only one woman.”
The college takes the contents of the report seriously, but contests some of the statistics and information used to draw conclusions in the report. While acknowledging his status as a male president, President Hopey has fiercely encouraged women’s leadership, hiring, and promotion over the past decade. Though progress is slow, it is visible. Currently, 33 people make up President Hopey’s Executive Leadership Group, and 17 of them are women. The college’s Board of Trustees currently has six women serving with three out of the four executive committees having a female as a Vice-Chair.
Plus, all of the schools comprising Merrimack College are currently lead by women. Dr. Karen Ryan was recently hired as the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Dr. Naira Campbell-Kyureghyan was hired as the Dean of the School of Science and Engineering. Plus, Dr. Janet Whatley Blum is currently the Interim Dean of the School of Health Sciences, Dr. Catherine Usoff serves as the Dean of the Girard School of Business, and Dr. Isabelle Cherney serves as the Dean of the School of Education and Social Policy.
Merrimack College has its roots as a private Catholic institution, founded by priests intending to educate World War II veterans. Since then, it has shown considerable progress towards including and empowering women, and plans to continue this as the school expands.
There is much progress to be made, but the Women’s Power Gap initiative noted a few important improvements that show Massachusetts’ slow shift towards gender parity: women made up half of the fourteen new presidents appointed in the 2019 academic year; three new schools appointed their first female presidents; and women make up 48 percent of all provosts and 55 percent of all deans and senior leadership team members statewide. Reports such as these act as an impetus for change by starting the conversation and raising awareness about the lack of female representation in leadership positions in higher education.