Harvard Educational Review
  1. Against the Tide

    Career Paths of Women Leaders in American and British Higher Education

    Edited by Karen Doyle Walton

    Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1996. 263 pp. $35.00

    In Against the Tide, editor Karen Doyle Walton offers twenty autobiographical stories or "profiles" that reflect on women's leadership and the role of gender in higher education in the United States and Britain. Walton's intent is to offer readers a look at the career trajectories of women working as university executives (presidents, vice-chancellors, and college principals in Britain) and to highlight commonalties and contrasts within their careers. In particular, Walton hopes that readers will recognize, within these stories, experiences that explain why academic women become interested in administrative academic career paths, as well as how they develop and then sustain these prestigious careers.

    Walton's sample of twenty women is diverse not only in terms of the institutional cultures in which the women work -- for example, the self-contained U.S. college versus the university-regulated colleges of Cambridge and Oxford. It also represents diversity in terms of the women's backgrounds -- the types of institutions from which the women received their undergraduate training; the income, education, and ethnicity of their parents; terminal degrees received; and patterns of recruitment into and advancement within academe. Emphasizing the range of experiences, Walton has enabled each author to speak in her own voice by allowing her the latitude to determine the content, format, and style of her essay.

    In her introduction to Against the Tide, Walton discusses the "steady increase in the percentage of women chief executive officers [in academe] over the last 20 years" (p. 4). Noting that few women have held top posts in Great Britain, she suggests that one of the barriers to women's advancement in the UK may be the lack of an academic career path comparable to that in the United States, a path on which a college presidency is considered to be the apex. In fact, because academicians in the UK regard a professorship as the pinnacle of their profession, women who head colleges are more likely to be recruited and appointed from high-level posts in business or government service.

    In editing this collection, Walton has not attempted to identify any significant or compelling themes about the causes of development, advancement, or leadership across the women's careers. Thus, her book won't satisfy a reader interested in generalizable evidence of pauses, turning points, continuities, or discontinuities in the women's academic career trajectories. Other than a nod by most of the women to the existence of pressures of dual-career families in their lives, there is little attempt to explore more than superficial similarities among this group of women. Indeed, Walton does not make any claims about commonality other than that all of these women have followed highly successful and satisfying paths.

    In asking twenty women to construct their own individual profiles to be edited under their own names, Walton risked ending up with a set of self-serving examples of high-level women executives in higher education. Nevertheless, among the portraits are several interesting stories that suggest that moving "against the tide" means more than women's beating the odds or making serendipitous progress towards a college presidency. For example, Ruth Deech, a lawyer and the only woman head (principal) of a coeducational college, St. Anne's College in Oxford University, is an interesting case. Her comments on coeducation include her determination to "behave as if equality between the sexes prevailed" (p. 83) and her belief that she was able to establish daycare at Oxford because "she seemed to lack the usual female fear of committees and realized . . . the virtue of the university's overly democratic process [where] a good case is bound to win in the end, no matter how much it is disliked subjectively by members of the committee" (p. 85). Such comments suggest that researchers interested in the characteristics of women who become academic managers might want to explore the differences and commonalties between women managers' beliefs about gender.

    Of course, almost any reader might expect that Walton would include in this collection of twenty portraits at least one woman who had made it to the top but was not able to sustain her work at this level, which she does. The final story in the collection is that of Dr. Judith Sturnick, former president of Keane State College and the University of Maine at Farmington who, although now sober, has waged a lifelong battle with alcohol addiction. Sturnick is an example of a woman who in swimming against the tide has had to redirect her career. Her comment that it is important that women "tell each other the truth of our individual lives, instead of our gilded, self-serving myths . . . [and that] her life has been wonderful, as well as marked with grief" (p. 256) contributes to our sense of the trustworthiness of the autobiographies in this volume.

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    Book Notes

    Channel Surfing
    By Henry A. Giroux

    Against the Tide
    Edited by Karen Doyle Walton

    Working in Higher Education
    Edited by Rob Cuthbert

    Making School by Hand
    By Mary Kenner Glover

    Teaching Reading and Writing in Spanish in a Bilingual Classroom
    By Yvonne S. Freeman and David E. Freeman