Diversifying the College Presidency Is Essential


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired May 11, 2023

The American College President: 2023 Edition reveals that presidents of color make up a little more than one out of every four college and university leaders. While the undergraduate student population continues to diversify, people of color remain underrepresented in the presidency. Recorded live at the American Council on Education’s recent annual meeting, this episode features Bill Pink, president of Ferris State University, and Leslie Gonzales, associate professor of higher education at Michigan State University, in a conversation about how we can continue to diversify the presidency and why it’s essential.

Part one in this series:

Where Are All the Women College Presidents?

Pamela Eddy and Kenya Ayers-Palmore discuss the different pathways men and women take to the college presidency and what the higher education community can do to promote more women campus leaders.

The dotEDU Live-ACPS recordings and the American College President Study are generously supported by the TIAA Institute.


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. We are here live at ACE2023, and I’m your host, Jon Fansmith from ACE’s Government Relations office. I am joined by my esteemed colleague, Sarah Spreitzer. Hi, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Jon. How are things?

Jon Fansmith: Things are good. We are wrapping up ACE2023. It has been an exceptional conference.

Sarah Spreitzer: It really has. I think we only have about five hours more to go. There’s an ice cream social, I’m hearing a lot of people talk about. Looking forward to that.

Jon Fansmith: Wait, is that going on during this?

Sarah Spreitzer: No, after. It’s going to be a celebration.

Jon Fansmith: That’s good, all right. People would be leaving for ice cream while we’re recording. That would be a bad thing.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, that would be very bad. So, Jon, we are here today because this episode of dotEDU, one of our live episodes, with this amazing audience, we’re actually going to be talking about data from the recently released report, The American College President 2023 Edition. And we’re going to discuss how we can continue to diversify the college presidency and why it’s an essential task for the postsecondary sector. You can download that report at acenet.edu/acps, but just a little background before we get into the discussion. The ACPS supported by TIAA Institute is the most comprehensive in-depth survey and report about the college presidency and pathways to higher education leadership. The survey has been conducted approximately every five years since 1986. And we are joined for our podcast today by Bill Pink, who is the president of Ferris State University and a return guest to the dotEDU podcast.

Jon Fansmith: Yay.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yay. And we also have Leslie Gonzales, the associate professor of higher education at Michigan State University.

Jon Fansmith: Yay.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yay. Thank you both for being here. We thought that we would start with both of you talking about your pathway within higher education and how you came to the positions that you’re at now. And Bill, I think we’ll start with you.

Bill Pink: Good. Thank you, Sarah. Thank you Jon. It’s an honor to be here with Leslie, and I appreciate you having this podcast with the Michigan contingent here. You’re going from west central Michigan in Ferris State to more of the central and eastern side with Michigan State. We’re honored to be a part of this. So my pathway and where I am in this point in my career, my life has been ever since the first year after graduating from college in higher education.
So it was always this dream of being a college basketball coach one day, and I thought maybe at some point in my life I could be a college basketball coach. And my first year out of college I was a head college basketball coach, and I think that was God’s way of humoring me to say, “Okay, do this. Get it out of your blood. I have something else for you.”

And so I did that for about eight years and about eight years in decided that this idea of higher education from a standpoint of the presidency was something that I had interest in. Because at some point in eight years of being in higher education at that point, I looked at what was happening and instead of sitting back saying “I wish we were doing this, this, and that,” one day I had that epiphany of, well, if you were in the seat, then you can make that decision yourself. If you think that’s what works for an institution, then you can be the one to try it out and you can be the one trying and succeeding or trying or failing. So that’s when I started in on this pathway.

And that pathway has been full of mentors who looked like me and mentors that did not look like me. One of the most compelling mentors I had. It was what I called, at that point in my undergraduate, was one of the hardest days of my life, when I was a junior at the university and was interviewing to be admitted to teacher education. You guys know the process. You have to go through an interview, and they have to ask you questions, all those good things. I will never forget my professor, Dr. John Vincent, who I still just love to this day, of his mentorship. At the end of the interview, he said, “Bill, I will be disappointed in you if you do not get a doctorate degree one day.” Dang it! Because I’m thinking, “Wait a minute, I got to get this first one done, right? And now you’re going to...” And so it was almost that speak it into existence because you almost feel like, “Well, I got to do it now because I respect this individual so much and he sees something in me that I do not see in me.”

And so that really showed me the power of mentor, that you can’t ever take for granted what you say to those mentees in your life. Because they are so tuned in and listened and will bring that back to you years later in saying, “You remember when you told...” And that’s what happened; I still can tell John to this day. And years later, as a faculty member at my alma mater, my office was right across the hallway from his. And so we had that of a relationship that I could every day remind him, this is what you did.

That pathway was at the point of stepping away from coaching into this path of getting as close to the presidency as I could without being a president. Because I wanted to be able to ask the presidents that I worked under, “So tell me how your day is. Tell me what you did today. Tell me what you’re doing this evening.” Because I wanted to know what the life was before I put my foot in it.

And so my vice president role, at Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City, I was 20 feet away from the president’s office. So I was going down there every day, three, four, five times a day. And Natalie, our president, I’d go tell Natalie what’s going on with faculty, what’s going on with programs, but also say, “What are you doing tonight?” Wasn’t trying to get a date or anything. I was wanting to know, what is her life like? What are you doing? And sometimes it was, “I’m going to a gala, I’m going to a dinner, I’m going home.” Because I wanted to know the life without being in the life.

And so for me, that was so imperative of every leader I’ve lived under to try to figure out the life before I made it to the life, so that any point that I’m asking her those questions and I’m thinking “No,” that I could stop at that point and redirect so that I wasn’t. Because one of the worst things you can do is to get up every day and hate the job you’re going to.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. How about you, Leslie?

Leslie Gonzales: Yeah, sure. So thank you for having me as well, and thanks Bill for sharing that story. So often when I introduce myself for the first time to students, I say, “I’m a Latina, working class, first-generation college student, turned academic.” That’s always how I introduce myself. And so I think that that’s a really important part of my pathway. I earned all three of my degrees at minority-serving institutions, particularly Hispanic-serving institutions. So that’s something that I’ll probably talk a little bit about today as we think about tapping into potential really talented folks that are sometimes unseen in higher education as potential leaders.

So I went to New Mexico Highlands as an undergraduate and I studied political science, and I had a mentor who said to me, “Leslie, come with me in my office.” And I thought, “Oh, I did something wrong.” It was my first reaction. And I went with him to his office, and he said to me, “You’re a really good writer.” He said, “I think you should submit this paper to a conference.” I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t understand what a conference was. I had no real clue, but he helped lay that pathway for me. And he started talking to me about graduate school. Again, I didn’t really understand what that was.

I went on to pursue a master’s in political science at University of Texas, El Paso. And then I got my doctorate of education there as well. And I’ve studied for the last, I finished my doctorate in 2010, and I’ve studied since then faculty careers and organizations and leadership. And so it’s one of those things where I’m becoming increasingly interested in leadership, particularly as I think about how do we create campuses that can really create caring environments for students, staff, and faculty. That’s kind of how I landed in this space.

Jon Fansmith: Great. And so taking a slightly different tack, but something we’ve been talking a lot about during this conference, higher education moment right now, where there are some voices who are being quite critical of efforts like DEI on campuses. You see a politicization of things like critical race theory, all of which highlights in many ways the need for more diverse voices and perspectives in higher education. And you’ve both related how you came to your roles. I think this is an interesting question following up on that. How do we start building spaces where we’re not just recruiting and identifying diverse voices to be leaders, but then creating an environment where they can succeed as leaders? Either one of you can start.

Bill Pink: Yeah, I think it has to have several pieces to it. So first of all, it is imperative that folks who we bel-. Leaders of color and potential, even, if you want to put that word out there, it is so important that we speak into the lives of these individuals the possibilities. Both of us have talked about how someone said something and it stayed, it stayed with us. And for so many people in these end positions that they aren’t sure of whether they have the potential, you have to help get them there sometimes. Because if there’s no one, either at home or elsewhere or in their life growing up…

When I think about being first-generation, so same here. Youngest of five, and in our household, my mom and dad worked at the university, but they were janitors. That’s what their job was at the university where we grew up. And so when I was going to the university, and to me I was, “Yeah, they’re working in that.” We never knew how poor we were because they never said “we’re poor.” They said, “We’re raising you, and here’s what we’re doing, here’s what life is.” And we were fine. But when I was at the university, it was in such a different-. I wasn’t going to a classroom to see my mom and dad teach or anything like that. They were in a different capacity. And so there was really not that person at the house that was able to say, “Bill, here, here’s what I think you can do.”

So when you don’t have that person, it is so important that you have other people who are more mindful and you don’t take it for granted that young man or young woman, that they already have that, someone has already said, don’t take that for granted. They need to hear those type of encouragements and those type of admonitions to say, “Look, you need to really think about this, and how can I help you get to that space?” Because if no one else is saying that, there’s no one else at the house saying that.

So once that is the case, and once we get to this position, it gets at another question, Jon. But what’s so important is I do not know a single leader of color in my life that says, “I got this job because I was a leader of color.” Matter of fact, you tell me that, you’re going to insult me by that. Because, trust me, I understand the need to have more faces of color and gender that look a lot like the people that we’re ser-. I understand that, but I don’t need your job if all you’re doing is hiring me because of the color of my skin. I don’t need your job. What I do need you to do is give me the equitable opportunity to get to that space. Because if you give me the same chance, now, let me take it from there. But don’t hire me just because you see that. Hire me because you’re the best person for the job, and that’s where I’m going to prove myself to you, or I’m going to try to find what I need to do. But it is so important that those folks who are in the lives of our leaders and our potential leaders, it is so important that we’re speaking that into their lives. And then as they start to aspire to these roles, that you are realizing the potential of the person, not just the color of their skin.

Leslie Gonzales: Yeah, I’ll build a bit on some of what Bill shared in terms of thinking about what is best. My comments, I really want to think about search firms, boards, campus communities as they’re engaged in the selection process of hiring or finding a new president. I would like to encourage folks, in order to diversify, to think about what best or what excellence, how that can look different, particularly if we think about, for example, tapping into pools of talent that are coming in from maybe minority-serving institutions. Maybe if we’re tapping into, I said this, I think, yesterday, if we think about what happened during the summer of 2020.

There was a racial justice reckoning following the murder of George Floyd. We saw all these institutions going into high gear, trying to up DE&I efforts. And a lot of what that manifested in in terms of practice was hiring lots of folks, particularly folks of color, many women of color, and putting them into CDO offices, chief diversity offices. That means that perhaps they were taken off the traditional track of a presidential pathway, because they’re not in the academic side of the house. What that means to me is that search firms, boards, campus communities, have to be willing to rethink what a portfolio of good potential qualifications look like in order to diversify the president.

Sarah Spreitzer: And so that actually goes to my next question, Leslie, so thanks for setting me up that way. But you spoke about boards and the board of trustees, board of directors. What would you say to a board member or a board that’s looking to really diversify leadership or support leaders of color in higher education? Are there certain best practices for board members or actions that they need to take?

Leslie Gonzales: Yeah, I think this is a really great question. So I’ll give two answers. I’ll give one speaking from my research hat. There’s a great contingency of scholars, Felecia Commodore, Raquel Rall, and Demetri Morgan, who do a lot of education and training working with boards to really help them expand how they’re thinking about the evaluation of presidents, particularly thinking about diversifying the presidency. So I want to uplift that work.

And then drawing on my own practice and some of my own research, I would say to boards, think a little bit, again, outside the box, if you will. We saw in the report that most presidents continue to come up that academic pathway, which is fine, but that academic pathway is probably very select still. So I again, point to minority-serving institutions as being a place that is unexplored, I think, for a lot of talent. So I’ll just lay that on the table.

Bill Pink: And Leslie and I were talking about this earlier about just that pathway and how so often through the academic side of the house that happens. When it comes to boards, I think it is important that if a board says that they are truly wanting to get down the road of having what is more of a diverse candidate pool. Let’s just start with the pool. You’re not going to have a diverse candidate if the pool isn’t diverse.

And what I’ve seen as a problem in my career, and I know friends of mine that we often would talk about this, so I think about several of my African American friends that are presidents now, and we would have different conversations and still have different conversations. And we would sometimes email or call each other and say, “Hey, did you get that announcement from so-and-so search firm about X presidency?” “Yeah, I got that one too.” “And did they call you?” “Yeah, they called me too.”

And part of what we knew was happening wasn’t just the idea of yes, you’re a great candidate. It was because, well, what do you do when you have a search. If you’re a board. And I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it. When you’re a board, you say things like, “We want to have a diverse candidate pool.” So you tell the search firm, “Get us a diverse candidate pool.” What does the search firm do? Yep. Start calling up the usual suspects who have darker skin. I’m a search firm; I want to say that I tried to get you a diverse candidate pool. And so I will tell you that I still get some of those outreach that it’s just, “Hey, are you interested in...” My role that I am in right now at Ferris State University, I am nine months into my job, and I’m talking to search firms that know how early I am into a presidency. “But we just want to ask Dr. Pink if you’re interested.”

Jon Fansmith: Are you happy?

Bill Pink: Yes, yes. No, I’m good. But that idea of well just need to, and the box checking of a candidate pool is so much different than a board saying, “No, we really want a firm candidate pool that we feel like is going to truly be candidates that we’re going to look at, and we say, ‘These folks are qualified for this position.’” Not just a search firm that just can check a box and say, “You know what? We tried to get you...” Or “Look, we’ve got five people of color in the pool.” And then you’re going, but… We asked for them.

So what is important is that if you are truly looking for the diverse candidate pool, be serious about it and truly seek what that looks like. Tell a search firm, “No, here’s who we’re looking for. We want that diverse candidate pool. But as you do that, make sure that you’re not just checking a box for us. Make sure that when you come back to the table, that now we are looking at the pool that is truly qualified and interested in the job.” Because we were qualified for the job. But no, you’re not going to put my name in that pool just so you can check a box. Because that’s not right either.

Leslie Gonzales: And I think just building on that, it is important also to, you build a diverse pool. You get diverse folks, racially, gender diverse folks on campus interviewing, engaging, or whatnot. You also want to be, I don’t have the right language, but ready to receive that leadership can look different. We know in the literature that women, women of color, we tend to move different in our leadership approach. I have a very good friend who just ascended to a really important job on a campus, high level leadership job. She refused to give a defined vision and mission in her interview because she wanted to build that with campus constituencies. And so that was different. And that’s a challenge because she said, “I have some guiding commitments, I have guiding principles, but this is something we build together.” That’s a different take on leadership.

Jon Fansmith: And it’s so interesting. We are talking on the podcast and in this conference to presidents of colleges and universities, leadership of colleges and universities. And you’re talking about building that culture, that environment on a campus that’s supportive and it creates those pathways. When you talk to presidents, Bill, other presidents, when you talk with presidents, is there an actionable item? Is there something you say, this is the thing you can do if you do one thing, this is the thing you can do in your campus that can support that environment, create that kind of a process that supports people ascending to leadership roles?

Bill Pink: Yeah, I’ve made a statement. I was speaking to, we have several groups on camp-. One of our groups on campus is BLACK: Black Leaders Aspiring Critical Knowledge. And this group of young men are just, and they have young ladies in it, just incredible group, fun to talk to, but I told them, I said, as being in a institution that’s 135 years old and being the first African American president of that institution, if I am not being intentional about what I can do to help move them in directions they want to move at a rate that they haven’t had before, I have failed. I don’t care how successful the institution is under my leadership, I have failed them. Because they now have someone in the presidency of Ferris State University that looks like they do. They’ve never had that before. They’ve never been there.

And so I take it personal that if I am not able to be that person that can help speak into their lives and help give some levels of guidance that I probably, and I’ll just be honest, I’m probably not doing for every single student on that campus. But if I’m not doing that, I’m not serving one of the reasons why I believe the Lord put me there. And so if I can get to that space of how we help those students, because I know many of them, from talking to them, come from backgrounds that they didn’t have anyone in the household that was helping do that. Some did; many did not. And so if I can help in getting to that space, I think it’s imperative that we are paying that close of attention. So it’s efforts like that I believe that we have to be very intentional about and not believe that, oh, it’ll happen just because we, mm, no. Always believing that I have to assume it’s not going to happen unless I’m the one that’s pushing that.

Jon Fansmith: That’s great.

Leslie Gonzales: I’m going to tweak the question just a little bit. And I’m going to share some thoughts on how I think campuses, boards, search firms, again, can create an environment that is conducive and welcoming to presidents of color, leaders of color in general. So the first thing that I’ll say is we know that lots of leaders of color often get appointed at times of crisis. It’s called the glass cliff effect, I believe. And so being really mindful as to when folks of color are being tapped for those positions, I think that that’s really important.

I think the second thing to be mindful of is that when presidents of color assume leadership on a campus, they’re dealing with pressures that I think white dominant presidents will not have to think about. Because not only do they have to think about the campus writ large, but they have to think about the particular pressures or the particular hopes that their own community might be assigning to them. And oftentimes, faculty particularly, I’ll say this, faculty can be a hard crew, and they can be really fast to critique. And so I think being mindful that presidents are having to grapple with, presidents of color are having to grapple with juggle with these multiple very different kinds of pressures, what in the literature we’d refer to as a cultural tax, it’s really important for a campus community to keep that in mind and to really support, make sure that presidents of color have access to communities of support, coaches, et cetera, et cetera.

Bill Pink: I appreciate that, Leslie. It’s been, what, eight, nine months now, but it still happens on occasion that I am at a restaurant, a store or something in Big Rapids, Michigan, small town. Our university is about 10,000 students, so we are the economic driver of the area for the most part. And it still happens that I may be somewhere that someone says, “Hey, what do you do?” Because I may have a Ferris State shirt on, I’m usually with something Ferris State. “What do you do with-?” “Did you go to Ferris State?” “No, I didn’t. I work there.” “Oh, really? Well, what do you do?” “Well, I work in the president’s office” is what I sometimes say. And if it gets all the way down, “so what do you do in the president’s office?” “Well, I am the president.” It’s amazing how many times you get the, “Oh, you’re the president.” “Yeah, it’s me.” And that reaction speaks volumes. And hopefully my experience with that, and just by the grace of God, hopefully now my reactions to that can help teach a little bit, in the reaction of saying, “Yeah, it is me. Yeah.” And give a little background of saying, “Here’s why it’s me. They picked me on purpose.” But helping the fact of what you’re talking about, Leslie, is that some levels of expectation or no expectation that may be in place.

Jon Fansmith: Well, we have some time for questions from the audience. This is the rare privilege you get of attending a live podcast recording. There is a microphone right there. For the people listening, I’m pointing to the microphone, so helpful stage direction. Anyone want to step up and come up and ask a question of our two great panelists?

Narcisa Polonio: I’m Narcisa Polonio, and I’m affiliated with Greenwood Asher and also the Steve Fund that’s dedicated to the mental health needs of students of color. My question has to do with the pressure of your own community. What you call that cultural tax is a two-way, the same way that we pay federal tax, state tax, and New York City tax or Washington, DC tax. If you are a president of color, what’s your experience and the expectation that your own community and other communities of color have, which is very different than what they have of other presidents?

Bill Pink: Yeah, I would say, and I appreciate that question. I will tell you that I call it, I have in my last six years of being a college, university president, I’ve called it the Obama expectation because of what that means of that first African American president in the seat. And all of a sudden, so I will have people who will tell me, and this has been for all the years of my being a president, I have people who tell me, “Dr. Pink, I’m happy you’re the president now. I’m looking forward to the changes you’re going to make.” And I say, “That is awesome. I’m looking forward to them too. What are they? What do you expect? What are you thinking are those changes? And what is that?” Because I want to know early on, just so I know, because I can pretty much tell you if I’m going to fail or succeed at what you think those expectations are. Because some of them aren’t even on my radar of those expectations.

And so from my perspective in the first presidency being in Grand Rapids at Grand Rapids Community College, the internal community and external community, both communities, that I wanted to make sure that I am doing some levels of outreach. I had a luncheon for all the African American pastors in the city. A lunch just come to... And we met at one of their church fellowship halls. We had a luncheon. And I just wanted to sit down and say, “Okay, look, how’s this institution? How’s the community college? How have we served you and how can we serve you more?” And actually put some promises out there of, if this is what you need, here’s what we’ll do. That in itself, that regular connection and helping them also understand, now here’s my world, here’s what I’m dealing with, helped a lot in terms of those levels of expectation.

And so part of it is the realization that I will never, ever be able to make everybody happy. And I’ve stopped trying that. It’s always number one on my list when I speak to leadership groups, when they ask, what’s one piece of advice I can give you? Never try to make everyone happy because you won’t be successful. But if I can make sure that I’m doing all I can in outreach and touch on those communities to say, here’s what the opportunities are.

And also I’ll leave this one with this. Also helping them understand what their role can be. Because it’s not just my job. It’s not just on me. I need you to come and meet me on some of this. And so always helping them to understand here’s how you can help us get to this place too, and if we both have some focus, we can do some really good things for people who look like us.

Jon Fansmith: Come up to the microphone please.

Marvin Adames: Good afternoon, I’m Marvin Adames from Kean University in New Jersey, and this is for Dr. Pink. So certainly you need a lot of skills and credentials to be in your space. Do you feel as though coaching those years has helped you in this space that you’re in now? And how so?

Bill Pink: I just had this question earlier today. I had the same question. So I would say without a doubt, and not just the coaching side, but also just from the student-athlete perspective of what that entailed. As a student-athlete, knowing your role, playing your role as far as the team is concerned. From a basketball perspective, what’s your role? What do you do? And what do I do well? What can I not do well and someone else does it well? So how do I get the ball to him? That has been helpful to me in leadership because I can’t do everything as far as the institution is concerned.

I am not the person that you are going to put all these spreadsheets in front of to talk about budget. We can get there, but I have to make sure that the team has a rockstar CFO with me. Now I can work with you. I know enough about it that we can do some things, but that’s not going to be on me. And so from a coaching and student-athlete perspective, that was probably one of the main pieces that I really learned. And then the other thing was just team building. So how do you take the team? And I have certain folks who are good at X and Y, but these over here are Y and Z. Not only do I want to make sure the team is set in terms of what we need, my next level of that that I have not accomplished well enough is, as a coach, I learned what motivated my players.

And this motivated them some, if I yelled and screamed at him, that wasn’t going to do a thing for him, that was going to get the opposite effect. So understanding with my team, what motivates them, that’s where I am now in my own leadership and trying to get to a place where I now figure out if I have the right team in place. Now, how is it that I motivate and really feed those individuals so that they are their best? I haven’t gotten there yet. That’s part of my journey right now.

Jon Fansmith: And I think we have time for one more.

Ericka Hollis: Hello. Thank you so much. I’m Ericka Hollis from Regis College. I’m assistant provost for academic innovation and faculty development. My question is, we know from the research that there are not enough college presidents of color, women of color, we know that. We know that presidents are leaving faster than they have ever left before. So my question for you, Leslie, and for President Pink, is what are you all recommending to higher education at a larger level to meet this need, to make pathways for college presidents of color, women of color, in various diverse backgrounds? What’s your thoughts?

Bill Pink: Go ahead. I’ve been talking too much.

Leslie Gonzales: No problem. Yeah, I think I’ll just go back to some of the points I raised earlier, which is really encouraging search firms, boards, especially because boards are the final say, to really reevaluate how they evaluate potential and capacity and skill in college presidents, university presidents. And that may mean, oh, that-

Jon Fansmith: For people listening, the room just went dark. This was not planned, audience. I promise you.

Bill Pink: Because that was an awesome answer. That’s why.

Leslie Gonzales: That was it. That’s it.

Jon Fansmith: It was such a good answer it collapsed our lighting system.

Sarah Spreitzer: It was.

Leslie Gonzales: But I would just reiterate that from earlier.

Ericka Hollis: I’m sorry for my question.

Leslie Gonzales: I know, that’s it.

Sarah Spreitzer: It was a great question.

Bill Pink: So I would say you have to think about this in the same way that I speak to companies. When companies come to me and talk about, “We want your students, we want your graduates,” what I talk to them about is that’s awesome. How are you making your job and your company attractive to those graduates? And quite frankly, to your point, I mean, you made the great point. We have to make sure that these are jobs that are attractive and that someone says, “I want to do that.”

Because it’s one thing to be able to say, “Hey, I get to call the-” But calling the shots versus how much headache the job may cause one. We have to think about what makes these jobs opportunities where people say, “I want to do that, and I want to do it where you are.” I will just say, it’s less attractive if you’re faced with state mandates that tell you that you can’t do some of the very things that you feel are some of the most important things of your institution. when your state is telling you you can’t do those things. For many of us, that’s just not attractive. I’m sure there are some that it is, but for people that I know, not so much.

Leslie Gonzales: I’ll just pick up one point that Bill laid out here, and it reminds me of something that was said yesterday on one of the panels, I think by Dr. Gloria Thomas of the HERS Institute. She noted that higher ed has to do a better job of investing in the leadership development of folks on their campuses. That seems like an obvious one, but it’s really, I have many women of color friends who are ascending to these leadership roles, and they are really craving that leadership development. And oftentimes what we do, we do what the report says we do. We build our own little communities of color to exchange information and networks and tips. But institutions should be taking that work on their own.

Bill Pink: That’s a great point.

Ericka Hollis: So how do you make them do it?

Jon Fansmith: So people might not be able to hear, but she asked “how do you make them do it?”

Bill Pink: I have yet to be able to really make it happen. I think all we can do is help them understand what the result can be. I mean, we have so much data that talks about what the result can be of successful organizations. It’s not just higher ed, it goes beyond higher ed, of success of organization. And so if I can give you all the evidence, I can push it out to you. I can lead you to the water. Now it’s up to you to drink it. And some people, in my opinion, in my experience, I won’t even say opinion. In my experience, there are just some people is not going to drink it.

And I had a friend of mine ask me about an open position in a different state. Won’t say what state it was, “Dr. Pink, would you consider this position? Even though you’ve only been at Ferris State for eight months, would you consider this position?” And I said, “Not even close, because your state, already, before I even walk in the door, I’m already one hand behind my back when it comes to how much I can support students and faculty and staff of color, diverse individuals on your cam-.” So if you’re telling me that I already have, it’s not even a consideration. And I know many of my friends that would say the very same thing, not even a consideration. There’s one thing to say, I can go and I can drive change, but there’s another thing to walk into a room and just beat your head against a wall. And I’m not into that. Too old for it now. My head gets sore.

Sarah Spreitzer: This has been such a great conversation. And as we wrap up, is there one key takeaway you would like the audience to leave this conference with, to think about this discussion? I mean, there were a lot of great points. Leslie, I keep thinking about how you were talking about minority-serving institutions and that we need to tap into MSIs more if we truly are going to diversify our leadership. And I thought that at least that’s my takeaway.

Leslie Gonzales: Thank you. Yeah, I’ll reiterate that point. It’s not to say that MSIs are overwhelmingly employing faculty of color. They’re also behind on that metric as well. But you are going to find lots of young, promising students of color there. You are going to find faculty of color there, staff of color. And so I think it’s a pathway that we haven’t necessarily taken seriously as we think about the pathway to the presidency.

Bill Pink: Yeah, and in the days that we are in right now, there’s a level of boldness that we’re going to have to have with this work, a boldness that really requires you to step out there. It’s an interesting environment we’re in right now because some of our states, my state right now, I am in a place right now where I have a governor who earlier this week said, “Dr. Pink, you’re going to love the budget coming out.” And a representative of appropriations saying, “Dr. Pink, you’re going to love our budget.” What it is, it’s an executive, senate, and house that are all aligned, all in the same party, all Democrat party this way. All of them aligned. So governor has put out this budget. The other two I think are going to be right in the same space. All of them are saying, “We’re going to support you in higher education.” Oh my goodness, I’ve never had that. And I don’t expect to ever have it again, where I can get that level of my state saying, “You’re going to like what we’re doing because we’re looking out for you.”

That’s not the story of all my colleagues across the country. And so it is so imperative that in, and by the way, in the state of Michigan, that can change any November. That can flip. And all of a sudden my life is a whole lot different. And so what it means is that when our windows are open, we’ve got to take advantage of the open windows when we can for the sake of our students, for the sake of the folks who work on our campuses.

Jon Fansmith: Well, thank you both for that. Before we go, we’re going to actually do a few thank yous. It might be an appropriate place to cheer. I’m just saying. First and foremost, we want to thank our producers who make this all happen. Audrey and Laurie and Jack and Rebecca, and especially Malcolm and Anthony and guest producer for our two podcasts, Andre there in the corner, who has kept all the tech running. So thank them. We’d like to thank one very special audience member listening in, who is our number one fan, Mary McCormick. She will understand this. None of you will when I say that, but Mary McCormick, thank you.

We want to thank all of you for coming in person and being such a lively audience. All these cheers we’re prompting you to do, but you’re delivering very enthusiastically. We’re very grateful for it. Give yourselves a round of applause. And finally, and probably most importantly, please, a huge round of applause for Bill and Leslie who have been amazing, amazing guests, given us all a lot to think about and a lot to take away from this. So thank you to all of the people mentioned above. We’ve really enjoyed doing this. Hope you enjoyed the podcast.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. While there please take a short survey to let us know how we’re doing. You can also email us at podcast@acenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together: Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you for listening.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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