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Female officials: Power at ND wielded not only by men

Amanda Michaels | Monday, February 19, 2007

Media coverage surrounding the Feb. 11 election of Drew Gilpin Faust to the top spot at Harvard University focused on one fact and one fact only – that Drew Gilpin Faust is a woman.

Faust became the first female president in Harvard’s 371-year history last Sunday, bringing the total number of Ivy League schools with women at the helm to four, including the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Brown University. A 2006 survey by the American Council on Education found that 23 percent of college presidents were women, up from 9.5 percent in 1986.

Notre Dame, however, will never join this trend. University bylaws state the president must always be a priest and a member of the Indiana Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Yet several of the highest ranking women at Notre Dame said this rule doesn’t bother them, and does not restrict power so much as it encourages the University’s mission of providing a faith-based campus environment. In short, it insures that the University stays its course as a Catholic institution, they said.

“[The bylaw] absolutely does have an effect – but the effect to me is not on how leadership can therefore be expressed by women,” said Carolyn Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business. “I think it’s why we’re able to maintain the whole Catholic mission and identity. If we didn’t have [a priest as a University president] it would be very difficult to carry that DNA.”

Woo said to view Notre Dame’s situation only as one in which a woman can never be head of the University limits the question to formal power.

“I don’t believe that leadership is just a formal title. In terms of formal power, no, women will not have as much power at Notre Dame. But I also don’t believe that formal hierarchy is the only source of power,” she said. “Power comes from credibility, respect that a person generates, the informal type of power – which isn’t less powerful by any means.”

And while the University does have hierarchy that formally favors men, it does not bar women from having as much influence as men, Woo said.

“Does it prevent women from the exercise of leadership just because there’s a man as president? No. Not at all, in fact,” she said.

For Christine Maziar, vice president of the University and associate provost, academic administration is about service rather than power in the strictest sense.

“I think a place like Notre Dame, where by the bylaws, our president must be a member of the Indiana province of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, guarantees that the person asked to play that role is a person who feels very deeply about service,” Maziar said. “That really should be a guarantee at every university.”

At the head of the class

Differences in the University’s gender makeup among University professors – “an institution’s true power center,” said Maziar – may also be cause for concern for those playing the numbers game, but the female administrators were optimistic about the future of women faculty members at Notre Dame.

Women made up only 23.6 percent of Notre Dame’s full-time instructional faculty in 2005, up from 15.6 percent in 1992, according to the Office of Institutional Research. In 2005, only 12.2 percent of full professors were women.

However, 40.5 percent of faculty members on the tenure track were women – a statistic University Vice President and Associate Provost Jean Ann Linney said reflected both changing trends in doctoral program graduates as well as a greater effort on the part of Notre Dame to recruit a diverse faculty.

“Nearly half of the Ph.D. degrees awarded in the U.S. are now going to women, so the applicant pool for entering tenure track positions includes significant numbers of women. Notre Dame’s gender distribution at the assistant professor [tenure track] rank reflects the changing demographics of the doctorally-educated population,” Linney said. “At the same time, there has been some focused attention toward increasing the numbers of women on the faculty at Notre Dame.”

Woo agreed, noting that while faculty members are not hired “just because they’re women,” the University is working to expand its pool of applicants to include qualified women.

“It is important to have more women faculty members because we have so many women students, and these students benefit from having a role model to show them what they can be,” Woo said.

Along with gender diversity, she said, it is important to encourage differences in ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and personal styles among students, faculty and administrators.

The total package

Not only does having a priest at Notre Dame’s helm reify its Catholic character without disadvantaging female leaders, but it also creates a unique “administrative structure and rhythm,” Maziar said.

“What has happened both in public education and increasingly in private higher education is that the lifetime of a university president has become very short. That takes institutions through enormous churning when the leaders frequently switch,” Maziar said. “In contrast, Notre Dame has enormous stability in senior leadership.”

She said another positive is the allowance for the University’s other two executive officer positions – provost and executive vice president – to be filled by laymen.

“That means that within the executive team the opportunity for Notre Dame to draw on talent from all around the country exists,” she said.

The Board of Trustees, which is responsible for electing the officers of the University as well as exercising the University’s corporate powers, does not have restrictions on its members. Currently, 13 out of 53 Trustees are women, according to Father Jim McDonald, associate vice president and counselor to the President.

“[The number of female Trustees] is roughly 25 percent [of the Board] and is consistent with the numbers generated by the Association of Governing Boards of universities and colleges,” McDonald said.

One of these women is also one of six lay “fellows,” part of the 12-person group of fellows that stands at the head of University governance.

Woo said she sees Notre Dame’s unique academic and administrative environment realized in the classroom.

“Particularly within the College of Business, our mission is to prepare people to succeed, but succeed in the right way. We believe that people can succeed, but also that we must succeed together, but rather than against each other,” Woo said. “That is such a predominate ethos; that is what we believe in. It’s not that other schools don’t believe in that, but for us it is explicit and intentional. That’s what makes the difference.”

Notre Dame’s is not, therefore, an ethos based on male leadership versus female leadership – it is one deeply reliant on religion.

“University president is a very special position, and to require this University’s president to be a Holy Cross priest gives Notre Dame a special kind of connection to its history and its roots,” Maziar said. “And it also shows a special concern and need to care for the legacy that each president will leave.”