Leadership & Governance

A Woman Leader Advises: Get the Right Credential

On Leadership: Judy L. Genshaft

March 29, 2017

Produced by Carmen Mendoza and Julia Schmalz

Judy L. Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida, is among the still-small group of women who lead research universities. She was recently recognized by the American Council on Education for her efforts to advance other women in higher-education leadership. Her advice to others? Get the right credential, and be prepared for the demands and sacrifices of the job.


ERIC KELDERMAN: We're here today with Judy Genshaft, President of the University of South Florida. Welcome to The Chronicle, Ms. Genshaft.


ERIC KELDERMAN: Tell us about the award you just received yesterday at ACE.

JUDY GENSHAFT: It was really quite an honor. It's the Donna Shavlik Award, that's given out to women who have made a difference in higher education, especially for other women and moving women forward in their careers.

ERIC KELDERMAN: Terrific. Congratulations. You've been at your post since 2000. That's an extraordinary tenure for pretty much any college president. And I was thinking, I can only think of a few women who are leading research universities currently. Tell me, is it really that uncommon still for women to be in charge of an institution like yours?

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JUDY GENSHAFT: When I started, it was around 5 perecent, and now it's somewhere around 20 percent to 22 percent of the presidents who are women in higher education for doctoral-degree-granting institutions. So we've made some progress over the years. But it's hovering around 20 percent to 22 percent and seems to be staying at that level for a while. So we're eager to see more progress.

ERIC KELDERMAN: Sure. Can you describe for me, what are some of the biggest barriers that you still see for advancing women through leadership and higher education?

JUDY GENSHAFT: Well, I just hope that more and more women achieve the kind of credentials that you need to be competitive for these presidential positions. For example, you really — especially for doctoral-degree-granting — you must have a doctorate of some sort. You must have a terminal degree, a law degree, or some kind of a doctorate, and have a full-professor standing.

ERIC KELDERMAN: And so you see it as a pipeline issue. Not enough women moving through the advanced — through the pipeline of advanced degrees to rise in the leadership.

JUDY GENSHAFT: Yes. I really caution women not to stop at the associate level and get sidetracked in doing too many administrative jobs and not achieving their full-professor status. Because it will never happen for a person that's still in an associate position to have the kind of power that you need and prestige that you need at a doctoral-degree-granting institution without that full professor. Because you look at other faculty and other deans who are full professors, and if you don't have that yourself, that really disqualifies you.

ERIC KELDERMAN: And for the women who make it to that level, who get their Ph.D .in an appropriate field, what are some of the other hurdles that still remain?

JUDY GENSHAFT: Well, one is having the credentials, and then the other is — some of it is your own choice of lifestyle. And are you willing to pursue this challenging career and give it your all? And sometimes the families and issues get in the way, because this really is a very — it's both a rewarding but challenging position that requires a great deal of time, a great deal of energy.

ERIC KELDERMAN: I see. Is there a growing recognition, do you think, among your male colleagues as well of the limitations that have been placed on women in higher education and leadership?

JUDY GENSHAFT: I don't know whether it's — I really don't. I do know that when you go to a presidency position, the search committees are looking for particular specialties or particular areas of strength that you'll bring to the institution at that point in time. So it gets harder and harder as you're looking for positions when you go up the ranks to a presidency position.

ERIC KELDERMAN: As we see more women, a growing number of women in higher-education leadership, how do you think that impacts other areas of campus leadership or campus management?

JUDY GENSHAFT: Well, I think women bring some different personalities and different characteristics to the job, and one is particularly in communication skills, because women are very much interactive, typically, very much interactive, collaborative. Not that we can't make decisions. We can. But the openness to hearing and listening to other voices and to working collaboratively with others is oftentimes more of a hallmark for women than it is for men. And I think that's an asset, something that's very helpful to me as I'm leading a very large university.

ERIC KELDERMAN: Tell me, on your campus, have you tried to mentor many women through the process and help them rise up the ranks, either in your university or at other institutions?

JUDY GENSHAFT: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have this motto: The first third of your life is the learning, the second third is earning, and the third is returning. And it's very important for all of us to return and help build the pipeline and help others achieve whatever their career goals are, and help them move forward.

So I've done that in a variety of ways, through American Council on Education fellows and giving them — these are females as well as others who are interested in moving forward. We've set up professional-development programs for personnel who are staff or faculty who want to achieve more. And everywhere I've been, because of my history as an assistant, associate, full professor and intern to the president, chair of my department — I was at Ohio State for 16 years, and there were a group of us that formed a program called the Critical Difference for Women program, which was completely philanthropic and that helped women students, faculty, and staff in scholarships, helped them achieve their career goals.

When I went to the State University of New York at Albany, I set up the Initiatives for Women program. Very similar. A philanthropic program to help women of SUNY Albany set that up.

And now, at University of South Florida, we have Women in Philanthropy and Leadership. And that program, again, is a philanthropic program where we raise money to help students who are family — they have a family, they're coming back to school, and they need some kind of assistance — or for staff or faculty. As long as you're part of the institution in each of the programs that we've set up, you have these opportunities to achieve your career goals.

ERIC KELDERMAN: Well, thanks again for your time today, Ms. Genshaft. I'm glad you had a chance to visit us, and we hope you can come back again sometime.

JUDY GENSHAFT: Oh, I really appreciate it. It's very, very good to be here.

Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including such areas as state policy, accreditation, and legal affairs. You can find him on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at eric.kelderman@chronicle.com.