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Lack of gender diversity in administration provokes concerns

Carlos Herrera
NMSU faculty expressed their stance on gender diversity in the university’s administration. Graphic by Carlos Herrera

Equal representation has been historically deficient in all levels of authoritative positions. New Mexico State University’s recent search for a new provost reflected a lack of gender diversity among its candidates, sparking dialogue on the pattern of systematic shortcomings at the university. 

While the majority of the provost search committee included women – including Interim Provost Dorothy Campbell – none of the finalists were women, and less than 20% of all candidates to be considered were women. The gender representation among the candidates does not adequately reflect the demographic of NMSU’s student or faculty population.   

“Women have largely shifted to represent the majority of students in college,” said Gina Lawrence, associate professor in English and Gender Studies. “Even faculty-wise – there are a lot more women in faculty – but our voices, our concerns, I feel like never get heard by the higher administration.” 

Lawrence said she feels like NMSU’s upper administration is always “turning over” and has never felt stable or consistent. She’s noticed a pattern at the university where women are hardly considered for higher-powered positions.    

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“In rooms full of men, it feels almost impenetrable for women’s voices to be heard,” Lawrence said. “In not including women, it also silences so many other voices of people that have things to say.” 

She said that involving women is the first step to inclusion, but by not even interviewing a single woman for this administrative position, the university cannot call itself progressive. 

“I would like to feel like I could walk into a space and be heard,” she said. “I’ll be honest, when I see a line of five men up there talking about the university, it doesn’t feel like a place that I can go and talk about my concerns at NMSU.” 

Lawrence said that in order for things to change, the university has to intentionally seek representation that is fair to make up for the fact that administrative equality has not been prioritized throughout NMSU’s history. Additionally, she said that many of the recent issues that NMSU grad workers have faced with fair compensation and contract inadequacies can be traced up to a lack of diversity in higher administration.  

“Labor issues are a huge problem on our campus, and I fully believe that those issues would be solved if we had more inclusion in higher ed, and more diverse voices,” Lawrence said. “I think faculty need to make it clear that we want our voices heard about this … It doesn’t seem like the Board of Regents is directly taking action.” 

Rolando Flores Galarza is the Dean of the College of ACES and was chair of the search committee for a new provost. He was appointed to lead the committee by NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu. The 23-member committee first met in Jul. 2022, with the deadline for receiving applications in late Oct.. NMSU hired an external company, Academic Search, to assist in the search process by nationally promoting the position to qualified candidates.  

According to Flores Galarza, they began the selection process with 41 candidates, with seven of them being women. He said that some of the most important qualifications that the committee was looking for in a candidate included, but were not limited to: experience working in higher education; values of equity, diversity, and inclusion; and a minimum of an earned Ph.D.  

As the committee narrowed down the candidates, four finalists were chosen, leaving the final decision of who to select for the provost position up to Chancellor Arvizu. Flores Galarza said the committee was very conscious of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in the selection process.    

“Traditionally, the higher ed positions have been white male dominated,” Flores Galarza said. “We weren’t that happy, to be honest, that there were not more female applicants … The previous provost, fortunately, was a female. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to finish her work.”  

Flores Galarza went on to suggest the possibility that the university is more skeptical in hiring a female provost because of the events that transpired with former Provost Carol Parker. He also said that females who are as, or more, qualified than males are very sought after in administrative searches. Additionally, he mentioned that as a dean, it is important to him to have females and Hispanic people in administrative positions, to reflect the majority of NMSU’s student population.  

“A student succeeds more in an environment in which the student sees himself/herself in the faculty member,” he said.  

Newly appointed provost Alan R. Shoho was favored by the committee because of his strong initiative to bring inclusivity to NMSU. Flores Galarza remarked that bringing in more female candidates for leadership positions is a way of challenging the system in place, and he thinks that it is the duty of administrators to make the best effort they can to do so.  

“Here, the conversation is starting late, but it’s starting,” he said. “We are looking to see how we expand the demographics … not just only the one traditional demographic.” 

Julia Smith, assistant professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies, has studied gender within culture and literature – specifically the representations of gender in power. She thinks that one of the reasons for society’s uncomfortability with women in authoritative positions is rooted in the gendered nature to associate power with masculinity. 

“Our culture still has a fear of women in power,” Smith said. “I think those reasons are probably unconscious for most people, but the patterns speak the truth … There’s a lot of unconscious biases.” 

She added that it seems like “the only avenues for women to gain currency in our culture” are either by adopting more masculine qualities or appealing to the male gaze in a particular way.   

“We unconsciously assume that because women might lack masculine traits, they don’t have what it takes to do the job,” Smith said. “Men tend to have more networks. They might have more confidence that this [a higher-powered position] is something they should apply for, and women are often encouraged to apply for more ‘women-oriented’ jobs – not leadership positions … It’s on the onus of the employer to widen their networks and their searches to make it their responsibility to ensure that there are a lot of women applicants.” 

Smith reflected on the importance of representation in all aspects of life, especially in places of leadership, as diversity in power should be normalized and encouraged. She thinks that the lack of representation in administrative positions comes down to sexism – which she called an “irrefutable fact” within our culture – whether it be a personal or a structural unconscious bias.   

“I don’t think that just because someone is a woman means that their politics are better or they’re going to serve the institution necessarily any differently,” she said. “But that’s still the point – that women can do the exact same job, or have the exact same skills, or even political alignments, as men – so why aren’t they there [in positions of power]?” 

The Round Up contacted NMSU Marketing & Communications with inquiries to speak with the interim provost about this issue, but they declined our request.  

This story was originally published on NMSU Round Up on March 30, 2023.