Thirty-three years ago, Yale graduated its first class of women. Since then, women have ascended the University’s ranks, and some eventually assumed top posts at the University before departing to lead other institutions.
As Yale Provost Susan Hockfield prepares to leave Yale for the presidency of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she will become the fourth woman to leave the second highest office at the University in order to lead another institution.
The University does not see Hockfield’s departure as a sign that women are losing ground at Yale, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. Hockfield said the current status of women at the University is promising.
“We have an incredibly strong group of senior women faculty and it’s growing stronger,” Hockfield said, noting that administrators come from this group and that two other officers of the University are female — Secretary Linda Lorimer and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson.
Throughout higher education, women have risen in the ranks in recent years and now make up slightly more than 21 percent of University heads, said Claire Van Ummersen, the vice president of the American Council on Education. In 1986, only 9.5 percent of college presidents were women, she said.
Almost 30 years ago, Hanna Gray became the first of four female provosts to leave that senior Yale position to lead another school; Alison Richard and Judith Rodin, who left to head the University of Cambridge and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, later followed suit. This winter, Hockfield will become the fourth. Of these, only Gray and Rodin served Yale during a time of presidential transition.
“Yale has been very successful, as has Princeton, at grooming women for the presidencies at some of these more high-profile universities,” said Van Ummersen, the director of the ACE’s office of women in higher education.
In 1977, some members of the Yale community assumed the next president of the university would be a woman — Hanna Gray, who was also the University’s first female provost. When Kingman Brewster stepped down from the presidency, he appointed Gray as acting president. But the prospect of Gray becoming president met with some skepticism.
“I won’t give until I see that a woman isn’t president,” an anonymous alumnus told the News at the time. “Yale just isn’t psychologically prepared for a woman.”
Immediately before Yale officials announced A. Bartlett Giamatti as the new president, Gray accepted the presidency at the University of Chicago.
Members of the Yale Corporation, the governing body that selects a new president, may not have been ready to select a woman president at that time, University historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said.
“My own sense was when Hanna Gray was a possibility, the Yale Corporation was still fairly dominated by an older [generation],” Smith said.
When the presidency became open in 1993, again a female provost, Judith Rodin, was a top contender. Again she was not the ultimate choice and some professors at the time said gender may have played a role.
But Levin said that at the end of his tenure, he imagines the presidency will be open to candidates of either gender.
“I don’t think these days gender is much of an issue,” University President Richard Levin said. “I would think that the choice is 50/50.”
Officials said the fact that Yale has never had a woman president is largely a result of poor timing. When Levin took office, no Ivy League school had ever had a female president. Now three members of the Ancient Eight are headed by women. Rodin was the first female Ivy League president.
Bringing more women into top University positions has been a priority during Levin’s term, Klasky said.
“President Levin has employed very strong competent women,” Klasky said. “It’s hardly surprising that these women have gone on to become presidents of universities.”
With Hockfield’s departure, Yale has lost another of its female administrators. When Hockfield served as graduate school dean before becoming provost, two of the three leaders of the academic side of the University were women. Now there is a possibility that men could fill all of these roles for the first time since 1991.