In June, Maria Marron will even the score.
When Marron assumes her position as the next dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the university will boast five female and five male deans. That 50/50 split is hard to come by in Big Ten schools.
With a male chancellor, two female upper-tier administrators, three male upper-tier administrators and a current split of four female and six male deans, UNL’s leadership is 37.5 percent female. Of Big Ten schools, UNL ranks third in female leadership, behind only the University of Minnesota (38.5 percent female) and the University of Michigan (55.2 percent). The Big Ten average is 31 percent female leadership.
Dawn Braithwaite, the first chairwoman of Communication Studies at UNL and the Willa Cather Professor of Communication, said she’s seen an increasing number of women in leadership roles during her time at UNL.
Braithwaite has now been the department’s permanent chairwoman for almost three years, after moving up from her graduate director position of 13 years.
“I’ve been here for 15 years, and I would say that we have more female students on both undergrad and graduate levels,” Braithwaite said. “We’ve always been half and half on the faculty.”
According to Braithwaite, women are “naturally moving up,” and although she doesn’t think universities such as UNL may need to take specific steps to hire more women, she does believe mentoring and support are beneficial to women early in their careers.
“While things have equalized a bit, women are still challenged as leaders,” Braithwaite said. “There are still people who struggle working for women, and I think if a woman is tough or takes a tough stand, it’s still judged negatively. Hillary Clinton, when she’s tough, they see her as cold or bitter.”
According to “The White House Project: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership” report in 2009, 89 percent of Americans are comfortable with a woman in leadership positions. But Susan Poser, law college dean, said that women still have to prove themselves more than men do. Poser agreed with Braithwaite that while universities should not limit their spectrum to just women, institutions should make sure women are welcome.
“The issue often is whether, first of all, the university does enough to get women in the pool and second of all whether search committees give women a fair shake when they look at applicants,” Poser said.
But in relation to UNL, Poser said, “I don’t think we’re in bad shape.”
Chancellor Harvey Perlman said it’s “critically important” that women students can look at other women in leadership positions to understand that those positions are open to women.
Perlman also said UNL is in better shape than others.
“Women play very significant roles within university administrations, from president through the top administration levels,” Perlman said. “I think when you look at the private sectors or Fortune 500 companies it’s more newsworthy because (women in leadership positions) are less frequent.”
About 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, according to a study by the Catalyst research firm.
UNL’s two top female administrators, Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ellen Weissinger and Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Christine Jackson, did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this report.