The Ivy Coach Daily

June 11, 2024

The Female Presidents of the Ivy League

Previously Published on June 18, 2017:

Women have only recently attained the highest educational offices in the nation. It was only by 2023 that every school in the Ivy League had appointed at least one female president, meaning  some of these schools took far too long to bring women into positions of power. While we at Ivy Coach think that all female presidencies must be supported by feminist policies from the ground-up, we applaud that the glass ceiling has finally been shattered at each of these institutions. But what path did female administrators at Ivy League schools have to take to get to this point, and what progress must still be made?

A Breakdown of the Gender Makeup of Current Ivy League Presidents

SchoolCurrent PresidentYear the First Female President was AppointedNumber of Female Presidents
Brown UniversityChristina Paxson (F)20012
Columbia UniversityMinouche Shafik (F)20231
Cornell UniversityMichael I. Kotlikoff (M)20152
Dartmouth CollegeSian Beilock (F)20231
Harvard UniversityAlan Garber (M)20072
Princeton UniversityChristopher Ludwig Eisgruber (M)20011
University of PennsylvaniaJ. Larry Jameson (M)19934
Yale UniversityPeter Salovey (M)19771

A Brief History of Female Ivy League Presidents

As of June 2024, female presidents are still in the minority in the Ivy League. With women currently sitting in 3 ⁄ 8, or 37.5% of Ivy League presidencies, the majority of presidents in the Ivy League do not represent the majority-female composition of the student bodies at most of these schools. While Yale might appear to be the most progressive school in this regard, having appointed its first female president, Hanna Holborn Gray, in 1977, she only served in a pro tempore (or placeholder) role that lasted for a mere year. It might have made history about half a century ago, but Yale has been headed by men ever since!

The University of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, has committed to its feminist principles quite admirably. The institution’s first female president, Claire Fagan, was appointed as an interim president in 1993. She was soon succeeded by Judith Rogin (1994-2004) and then Amy Gutmanm (2004-2022). In fact, Penn has been headed by a woman for roughly 19 of the last 21 years! The last woman to hold the office was M. Elizabeth Magill (2022-2023), who holds the record for shortest tenure in Penn’s history. Following accusations that Magill failed to adequately respond to allegations of antisemitism on Penn’s campus during the December 2023 congressional hearing on the subject, Magill resigned in shame from the office and was replaced by J. Larry Jameson.

However, Penn is not the only institution to have been plagued by turmoil that led to a woman being ousted from her role as president. A similar situation unfolded at Harvard University, in which president Claudine Gay (2023-2024), the first Black woman to hold the office, resigned in shame following accusations of plagiarism coupled with a bungled testimony before Congress on campus antisemitism. The only female president at Harvard prior to Gay was Drew Faust, who served in her role from 2007 to 2018. Harvard is now helmed by interim president Alan Garber.

The Fate of Female Presidents in the Ivy League

In the midst of unprecedented unrest on Ivy League campuses, we at Ivy Coach refuse to buy the idea that the gender of the former presidents at Harvard and Penn had anything to do with their troubled presidencies. Dartmouth’s Sian Beilock is a great example of a female president who has led her institution through the recent turmoil with grace and courage. Leaders in the higher education sphere, male and female alike, should take their cues from Beilock, who has refused to compromise on her values. While it is quite unfortunate that the feminist future that appeared to be on the horizon during a brief period in 2023, when the majority of Ivy League presidents were women, has been halted by current events, leaders like Beilock give us hope that this future is not too far off!

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