Female Leadership in Religious Academia

I like to watch trends in female hiring. I asked my brother, who is a stand-up comedian, if he thought there was anything to the fact that women are being asked to host the celebrity award shows. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes just before Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars, all with extremely positive reviews. He said, “I think it shows that Hollywood has now seen (through the hard work of proving it by these women) that you can build strong female leads into a profitable industry. All of this obviously has been predicated by other talented women, but I think this generation has proven women’s humor for men and women can make money. Which I think opens a huge door for networks to take more chances on other female oriented pilots. Not to mention that these women are just good at entertaining.” There is a talent aspect, yes, but I agree with my brother that this too comes down to money. We now, finally, live in a world where women like Tina, Amy and Ellen can make money in a very male-dominated industry to the point where it is financially advisable to hire them for big award shows.

Being a woman who likes following trends in female hiring, then, my interest was also piqued when I got a note from my undergrad and graduate institutions that they both appointed female presidents. On August 21, my post Female Leadership in the Church discussed Rev. Elizabeth Eaton being named presiding bishop of the ELCA church. Her appointment made her the first ever female presiding bishop of the ELCA church. The post says:

She believes Jesus meant it when he said that all people can serve.  She speaks about asking young people, “What are you longing for?  What brings you joy?  What keeps you up at night?  Well, let me tell you a story.”  Her election to the position of presiding bishop is noteworthy.  It is an interesting time in the Lutheran church.

Now, ELCA Lutheran academic institutions seem to be following suit. On July 1, Rebecca M. Bergman will start serving as the first female president of Gustavus Adolphus College, my alma mater. Bergman shifts to Gustavus after a successful career as a chemical engineer. Also on July 1, Paula J. Carlson will be Luther College’s tenth president. Previously she was the vice president for mission at St. Olaf College. She, too, will be the first female president at Luther College. Then just in March, Luther Seminary, also my alma mater, announced that Rev. Dr. Robin L. Steinke will take office on June 1 as the first female president of the seminary. She is coming to Luther Seminary after fifteen years at  the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. It continues to be an interesting time in the Lutheran church when women are taking the call to step up into strategic positions of leadership.

It’s not just the Lutherans. On April 3, Le Moyne College appointed Linda LeMura as the school’s fourteenth president. The unanimous appointment made her the first lay woman president at any Jesuit college or university in the world. She joins the group of women making firsts and making news across denominations. Part of me is amazed that it took until 2013 for these institutions to elect female presidents. Women have been at the heart of good education for as long as we can remember. Put the truth is that presidents are responsible, too, for bringing serious money into these institutions, and well, men still have an inordinate amount of power in that sector. Men are still associated with being the face of power in religious institutions. The appointment of women as president in these religious academic institutions is a sign, I believe, that the workforce and access to financial power is shifting slowly toward equity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

Published by Ellie Roscher

Ellie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace. She holds a master’s degree in Theology/Urban Ministry from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

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