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Margin Notes

Female university presidents

March 8 is International Women’s Day. This prompted me to check: how many women presidents are there at Canada’s universities?


This coming Sunday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. This got me wondering how many of Canada’s universities are led by women.

I don’t pretend that this particular metric is indicative of much, but it is interesting nevertheless. (Years ago, when I was responsible for media relations at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, it was a question I was asked with some regularity by journalists.)

I have included in my count two women who take up their posts this coming summer, which is also the time when one current president relinquishes her post after 11 years on the job (Bonnie Patterson, Trent University). The president of Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Johanne Jean, finishes her first term this summer, but she has indicated that she will ask for her mandate to be renewed for another five-year term. So, as of August 2009, of the 94 member institutions that make up AUCC, 15 of them will be headed by women, or roughly 16 percent.

If anyone wishes to offer an interpretation of those results, or offer a more meaningful measure of women’s participation in academia, I would be pleased to hear from you. You can use the comment function below by clicking on “comments.”

Addendum, Mar. 20, 2009: The circle of female university presidents has expanded. Luce Samoisette, a professor in the faculty of administration at Université de Sherbrooke, was just elected rector (equal to a president) of the university for a five-year mandate that begins June 1.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Murray Young / March 9, 2009 at 11:36

    An alternative measure might be female participation in areas that carry the term “president” in a title. At Thompson Rivers Univ., I believe Dr. K. Scherf has one of 3 VP’s, and 3 of 8 AVP’s who are female. (Thus, a higher percentage than 16. One wonders if having a female university president corresponds to more (fewer) female VP and AVP than when the Presidency is held by a male.)

  2. Aruna Srivastava / September 15, 2009 at 12:54

    Just having read of Dr. Scherf’s firing from TRU, sad to say, these numbers have shrunk again. Notable in the media in Kamloops how much attention was and is paid to her “style” and “unusual” nature. Of the list above, notable, too how few female presidents are presidents of large institutions. As Murray Young suggests, an survey of senior admin in presidents’ offices and dean’s offices would reveal how many women might make it to the presidential fold.