Publications & Research

Whiteness Rules: Racial Exclusion in Becoming an American College President

paper heads going from white to colorful

While the majority of students in California’s public higher education system are Latinx, Asian American & Pacific Islander, and Black, the racial-ethnic and gender makeup of the presidents of these colleges and universities is much the same as in the 1970s: almost exclusively white and male. Why has so little changed in California’s colleges and higher education institutions nationwide? Why does it matter? New research conducted by Bensimon & Associates for College Futures Foundation uncovers answers and solutions.  

Diverse, equity-minded college presidents and other higher education leaders who reflect the state’s learner populations are needed to develop welcoming and inclusive campus climates, enact policies and practices that close equity gaps, support faculty of color, and better enable students of color to access resources and graduate. The state’s higher education segments have an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to closing equity gaps by diversifying leadership at the top.  

The new research published in Whiteness Rules: Racial Exclusion in Becoming an American College President illustrates how racialization happens in college presidential searches in California’s public higher education institutions—the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and California Community Colleges (CCC). The findings on structural bias in these processes, and the proposed solutions in the companion toolkit to the report, have implications for racial equity at other levels of administrative and faculty leadership, at the system level, in other states, and nationally.  

With two open Chancellor positions at the California State University system and the California Community Colleges, and active college president searches underway throughout the state, the time is right for California’s public higher education systems to play an important role trailblazing equitable hiring practices in their leadership positions.  

The research by Bensimon & Associates for College Futures Foundation involved extensive interviews with college presidents, executive search firms, and other stakeholders. It identifies aspects of the standard approach to presidential searches taken by many colleges and universities that exclude Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and AAPI presidential prospects. It also provides a set of tools that stakeholders can use to take concrete steps toward executive leadership that is more representative, culturally competent, and equity-minded—to the benefit of all students, faculty, staff, and the society they help shape. 


Key Findings of the Report and Companion Solutions Toolkit  

The report, Whiteness Rules: Racial Exclusion in Becoming an American College President, provides evidence and analysis around a range of findings, including:  

  • A host of racial and gender biases candidates face in how they are seen and evaluated  
  • Lack of transparency around presidential searches  
  • Problems with job announcements and recruitment and interview processes that miss the mark on racial equity  
  • The role and influence of search committees, boards, and executive search firms  

The companion toolkit, Tools to Redesign Presidential Search for Racial Equity, offers context and concrete steps that higher education institutions can take to reduce bias and improve equity and inclusion within their presidential search processes and open the door to more diverse leadership. These strategies include: 

  • Assembling and training search committees  
  • Hiring race-conscious executive search firms  
  • Evaluation and accountability throughout the recruitment process  
  • Assessing and improving job announcements