Kate Zernicke has a long piece in The New York Times on January 29 positing that the treatment of the female presidents of elite colleges on Capitol Hill would have been different had they been men.
There is the question of why no male presidents of prestigious schools were summoned. “Nancy Gertner, a law professor at Harvard and a retired federal judge” felt that they (the women) “were subject to stricter scrutiny, or held to a different standard.”
I am going to argue that the amazing progress of women in academic leadership has led to a phenomenon known to have plagued male leaders for years. Some are just not good. Some are just not ready. Some are not qualified and may have gotten their job because of their sex, just as white males have gotten their jobs for years.
I say all this as someone who has worked for a woman boss for many years and who is married to a woman leader.
Unlike Ms. Zernike, I do not think the performances by the elite college professors on Capitol Hill have anything to do with their gender at all. When you are asked any question phrased in any way where the subject is genocide and whether it may be bad, the answer is always—yes! It doesn’t take a genius to know when you are being queried by a right-wing MAGA member of Congress, that member is looking to score points with a sound bite at your expense. Resist the urge to embrace nuance. Genocide is bad. Simple.
I was privileged to work for Dr. Margaret Kripke for many years. Never was her competence questioned or her judgment challenged because she was a woman. Did she make mistakes? Probably. No one is perfect, but I believe that Dr. Mendelsohn treated her with great respect and, thus, so did everyone else. Besides, she had earned that respect as a department chair many years before Dr. Mendelsohn was even president of MD Anderson.
I have also been privileged to have watched closely how Dr. Kleinerman developed as a leader, particularly as she headed the Division of Pediatrics for fifteen years and currently as chair of the Faculty Senate. Her gender is not an issue because she would never allow it to be. The other division heads respected her as did the faculty of Pediatrics. This wasn’t because they were magnanimous. It was because she was good at her job.
I find it offensive that an article can be written in The New York Times that gives the competent women who lead academic institutions so little credit. Remember, we had a male president of MD Anderson who didn’t last six years. It had nothing to do with his gender. It had to do with his performance. It was dreadful. Furthermore, it is my understanding that none of the previous presidents of MD Anderson (all four being white, straight males) actually left willingly. Politics caught up with all of them. That’s academics.
I am not saying that the road for women in academics or in any business isn’t harder. It is. I am also not saying that things haven’t gotten better for women. They have. My medical school class of 86 contained 3 women in 1969. Today’s Duke medical school classes are all over fifty percent women.
What I noticed about both Dr. Kripke and Dr. Kleinerman was that they were recognized for their leadership potential, given a chance, and then performed well.
My current concern is, will the criteria used to relieve men of their leadership roles be used to relieve women of theirs, particularly at MD Anderson?
We shall see.
It is time we get over labeling women leaders, women leaders. They are just leaders. Some are good. Some aren’t. That’s how people work, on campus, and in reality, too.