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ACE Brief Examines Scarcity of Asian Pacific Islander American Leaders in Higher Education

May 01, 2013


Despite leadership inroads made by other racial minority groups, only 1.5 percent of college and university presidents are Asian Pacific Islander Americans, according to 2012 data from ACE. A brief issued today by ACE examines the barriers to advancement for Asian Pacific Islander Americans and calls on the higher education community to take immediate steps to ameliorate the situation.

Raising Voices, Lifting Leaders: Empowering Asian Pacific Islander American Leadership in Higher Education is based on the results of a roundtable of 25 Asian Pacific Islander American leaders of colleges and universities representing various types of institutions across the country. It is the second installment in ACE's Diversity Matters in U.S. Higher Education issue brief series, which is generously supported by the GE Foundation.

According to the brief, Asian Pacific Islander Americans lead all other racial minority groups in the percentage of full-time tenured faculty at 7 percent, but they occupy just 2 percent of chief academic officer positions and 3 percent of deanships. Thus, a pool of potential leaders is available, but work remains to be done to move faculty into deanships and beyond.

"We have learned that Asian Pacific Islander Americans face particular challenges in making that last step up to the presidency," said Kim Bobby, director of ACE's Inclusive Excellence Group. "Whether it's the perceptions of outsiders or an absence of mentoring opportunities, as higher education leaders we can and should do more to help Asian Pacific Islander Americans overcome these obstacles and become presidents. We are grateful to the GE Foundation for their continued support of our efforts to delve deeper into the issues and work for solutions." 

The roundtable participants identified several barriers to leadership advancement they have faced or seen others face, including:

    • Racial bias: Like other minority candidates, Asian Pacific Islander Americans struggle against the prototype of a college president that some hiring committees hold. 
    • Stereotypes: Their leadership qualities may be viewed as not matching Western qualities that are typically valued, such as charisma, assertiveness and direct communication styles.
    • The forgotten minority: Even though Asian Pacific Islander Americans are underrepresented in senior leadership, they are rarely recruited in efforts to diversify candidate pools.
    • "The Model Minority": The high representation and high success rate of Asian Pacific Islander Americans in American higher education leave many oblivious to their stark lack of representation in the field's leadership.
    • Lack of mentoring: While participants largely acknowledged the value of having a mentor, they concurred with the findings of a 2009 ACE study that indicated a lack of mentoring among Asian Pacific Islander American chief academic officers.

    "One of the striking things we discovered is the lack of a perception of a problem," said the report's author, Gailda P. Davis, associate director of ACE's Inclusive Excellence Group. "We hope that by calling attention to the issues impacting Asian Pacific Islander Americans in higher education, we can take some steps to diversify the pipeline and our leadership."

    Among the steps the brief recommends to empower Asian Pacific Islander Americans are: sponsoring faculty and administrators in leadership development programs at the national or on-campus level, developing appropriate mentoring opportunities, and working with search firms and boards of directors to ensure Asian Pacific Islander American candidates are included in presidential searches.

    The brief is free to ACE member presidents and can also be purchased on ACE's website. It is part of the Diversity Matters in U.S. Higher Education series, which is designed to provide campus leaders with timely, cutting-edge and actionable information they can share with the members of their campus community on a broad range of topics revolving around diversity and inclusion in U.S. higher education.

    MEDIA CONTACT: Ginnie Titterton ▪ 202-939-9368 ▪

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