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The Case for Another Female President

Words by Alyssa Morlacci

Sitting on green carpet in my elementary school library, Mrs. Petrie read to my third grade class. I don’t recall the title of the story or its plot, but I remember raising my hand and asking why she kept using “he” in reference to both genders.

This moment remained so vivid in my memory because the small town librarian was offended by my question, giving an unkind explanation: “It’s just the way our language was created.”

My face turned hot with frustration, and I continued to embark on a life in a society where in order to refer to my gender, you have to add an “s” to “he” or a “wo” to “men”.

Women make up more than half of the U.S. population, yet, we are still considered a minority. We make 77 cents to a man’s dollar, we hold 98, or 18 percent, of the 535 seats in Congress and we hold only 18, or 3.6 percent of, CEO positions within Fortune 500 corporations.

Yet, for the first time in U.S. history, more women graduate from college than men, we hold more managerial roles and we make up the majority of the workforce, asserts Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic in “The End of Men.”

In education, women are even more present. Secondary education is becoming an increasingly female-dominant entity, as women make up 56.4 percent of public university enrollment.

And at Kent State, female enrollment is even higher, with a gender ratio that’s nearly 60 percent female, 40 percent male.

But in 2011, Forbes reported that only 26.4 percent of university and college presidents were female.

The American Council on Education profiled the typical American college or university president as a 61-year-old, white and married male with a doctorate in education and a seven-year term.

Although Lester Lefton diverges from the majority by holding a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and turning 67 this past July, Kent State is ready for change and this summer will welcome its 12th president.

On Oct. 3, the presidential search committee, which is comprised of ten men and six women, wrote a message posted to the university website that read: “At our meeting, the search firm described its ongoing, aggressive efforts to recruit diverse candidates, including women and other under-represented and underserved groups, to ensure a diverse and highly qualified candidate pool.”

Kent State was the first university in Ohio to hire a female president. Carol Cartwright entered her term in 1991 and served until 2006, when Cartwright Hall was named in her honor. During her term, Cartwright initiated the development of the Women’s Center, which currently provides students and faculty everything from guest speakers to scholarships to mammograms.

She also became the first female president at Bowling Green State University in 2009. Her successor, Mary Ellen Mazey, is currently the only female president at a state institution in Ohio with enrollment larger than 5,000.

Richard Marsh, trustee and Presidential Search Committee member, addressed the importance of diversity during an open forum hosted by the search committee in August. However, the group also stressed that candidates will remain confidential until a final decision is made by the Kent State Board of Trustees, meaning there is no way to check the committee’s loyalty to its promise to pull from a diverse group of candidates.

The committee’s Web page states that two women, Shelly Storbeck and Susan VanGlider of the search firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, have partnered with the group to help find candidates. This means at least 12 women are working within the firm, board and search committee.

The decision as to who will take over the presidential role at Kent State is not democratic. It belongs to one powerful and very small group: the Kent State Board of Trustees. The president is even defined within the presidential search prospectus as a person employed by and who reports directly to the board. But there is still a way for students, faculty and community members to provide their input. The search committee’s Oct. 3 release encouraged those interested to fill out a survey on the search’s Web page or to email KentPresident@storbeckpimentel.com.

Kent State students and faculty cannot pick the next president. Our only option for recourse is to make our thoughts and opinions known to those few who do hold the power to make that decision. This kind of expression is an integral part of participating in our community, and in this case, one of the only ways we can bring about true change.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013 issue.

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