California Forum

UC regents need to push for gender parity at the top

Janet Napolitano is the first woman president of the statewide University of California, where women constitute 42 percent of UC’s senior management group.
Janet Napolitano is the first woman president of the statewide University of California, where women constitute 42 percent of UC’s senior management group.

Chancellor Linda Katehi’s resignation last month from the University of California, Davis, had an unintended outcome: Only one of 10 UC campuses is now led by a woman.

That’s why the UC regents need to push for parity when they meet this week in Los Angeles.

In California, the most diverse state in the nation, campus administrators sitting at the apex at our public university system should be representative of the residents who pay taxes – and the students who place their trust in the UC to build their skills.

That’s not the case.

Currently, Chancellor Dorothy Leland holds the top post at UC Merced, while nine UC campuses are led by men, of whom seven are white (as is Leland), one is Asian-American, and another is Indian-American.

Of the 10 leaders who hold the second most powerful positions on UC campuses, only two women (both white) serve as an executive vice chancellor and provost. Of the eight men who hold the No. 2 position, only one is a person of color.

Why are these numbers important? According to a report from the American Council on Education, the chief academic officer was the “most frequently cited immediate prior position” for campus leaders sitting in the corner office in 2011.

To be sure, there has been progress at UC. Janet Napolitano is the first woman president of the statewide system, and she works with two women serving as chair and vice chair of the 26-member Board of Regents. Women comprise 42 percent of UC’s senior management group, and the university launched a Women’s Initiative for Empowerment, which graduated its first class in June.

But here’s the hard truth: An invisible barrier has blocked ascension of women and people of color to the very top posts on UC campuses – and the UC regents have the political power to break the ivory tower’s glass ceiling.

Universities across the country get higher marks than UC for opening doors to the top leadership roles, as does UC’s sister system, California State University.

Nationally, the percentage of women who held presidencies in 2011 at doctorate-granting public universities – like the 10 UC campuses – neared 25 percent, according to research from ACE.

Closer to home, the CSU chancellor and trustees combined leadership and aggressive recruitment to boost the number of women presidents at their 23 campuses from seven to 11 – reaching nearly 50 percent. CSU leaders also built up a pool of high-ranking academic women leaders: More than half of their academic provosts (the No. 2 position at CSU) were women in 2015.

CSU’s success debunks the “pipeline myth,” defined by ACE as “the persistent idea that there are too few women qualified (e.g., degree holding) for leadership positions” on college campuses. In fact, according to research from ACE, “the pipeline is preparing women at a greater rate than it does men.”

The success story at CSU also shows us that, with strong leadership, gender parity is indeed possible, and the UC regents have a near-term opportunity to make a difference.

Not only is a search underway to recruit a chancellor for UC Davis, the chancellor at UC Berkeley recently resigned and three other chancellors have served longer than the average, seven-year tenure, making additional appointments likely in the not-too-distant future.

Without a doubt, Katehi’s resignation had an unintended impact: decreasing by half the number of women serving as UC chancellors.

It’s now up to the UC regents to push for parity – and bring on board a new generation of leaders who more fully represent the people and promise of our Golden State.

Kate Karpilow writes on issues affecting women, families and children and is the former executive director of the California Center for Research on Women & Families. Contact her at