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Exploring higher education leadership: The life history of a female administrator

Nancy Mockelstrom, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Women are not only disproportionately underrepresented in higher education; they are over represented at the lower ranks and conspicuously missing from administration. The greatest need in addressing the disparity for women in academia is first to raise the awareness of its existence and the subtlety with which it is perpetuated. Academia may provide the perfect proving ground for demonstration of value, competency, and worth without regard to gender. ^ The purpose of this life history was to explore the experiences of a female chancellor. The study focused on the meanings of these experiences as well as her role in academic leadership as she perceived and lived it. The informant for this study, a chancellor at a public four-year institution with approximately 15,000 students, was in an elite group accounting for only 7% of all women CEOs. ^ Through a series of extensive interviews over an 18-month period, the story of this woman's life was elicited. Interviews with secondary informants including her spouse supplemented information about her life and leadership. Review of various newspaper accounts and other writings by the researcher as well as her attendance at university functions and meetings provided additional insight. ^ The major themes of the chancellor's early life were structure, multi-task role modeling, precision and deliberateness, education as a value, and growing up in an adult world. As she grew into adulthood and her professional life, she added high achievement, a feminine approach to leadership, her spouse's horizontal career lattice, and her own vertical career ladder. ^ The chancellor's career path was not a traditional woman's path; rather her path was linear and vertical with few, if any, deviations. Although this path may be unique for women in general, it is more the norm for women in high-level leadership positions in higher education. In addition to her own abilities and attributes, a key contributing factor to this atypical career was her supportive spouse and his willingness for a horizontal career similar to the role assumed by wives throughout the years. This career patterns may be reflective of careers for married leaders in any field. Any leader will need to weigh benefits and costs in assuming high-level/high-profile roles particularly concerning familial roles. The support of the spouse or partner is critical regardless of gender. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Education, Administration|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Mockelstrom, Nancy, "Exploring higher education leadership: The life history of a female administrator" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967393.