Vol. 19, No. 32
May 25, 2000
In her new book, Women in Power:Pathways to Leadership in Education, Barbara Curry, educational development, examines the lives and backgrounds of eight women who have served as college presidents and top administrators. The book is part of the Athene Series of feminist scholarship on culture and education, published by the Teachers College of Columbia University.
Through in-depth interviews with the women, who come from very different backgrounds, Curry analyzes their self-perceptions, the influential forces in their lives, the encouragement or the lack of it they received, their goals, their leadership styles and how they have achieved success in academia. The women are given pseudonyms, and the schools they attended and have led are described but not identified.
"Leadership in women is not a quality that can be developed by prescription or by following 10 steps to management or by copying male models of leadership," Curry said. "There are many factors that contribute to developing women leaders, including their life experiences, their sense of identity, their organizational skills, their priorities and their environment."
In the introduction to the book, she writes, "I have attempted to explore the idea of women as leaders in less conventional ways. As such, I have steered clear of prescribing kinds of leadership. This includes acquiring behaviors typically viewed as masculine or aggressive...I have attempted to chart a course beyond characterizations of leadership...."
"Leadership and becoming a leader is a fluid, adaptive process oriented toward individual development, she concluded."
"There are different paths to leadership, different styles of leading and different goals, as represented by these women," Curry said.
For example, Samillia, president of an urban school with a diverse population, is a first generation immigrant from the Caribbean. Her father deserted the family, and she grew up caring for her younger brothers and sister and taking care of the household. Curry writes "she found little support from her family to achieve scholastically or to develop intellectually and socially."
A summer science camp and early discovery college program were pivotal experiences, but when she went to college she was told never to return home. She had to reject the limitations of her cultural background, and according to Curry, "Samillia evolved from child caregiver to caregiving as a parent and as a chief executive who facilitates development of faculty and staff at the institution she leads."
Anna, who heads a prestigious, well-endowed college, had a totally different background than Samillia and a different approach to leadership. She grew up with a "take-charge," activist mother, a hard-working, organized father and a family philosophy of "getting things done rather than simply complaining." She recalls she took leadership positions all through school, because she was "frustrated with people who don't make decisions."
"I also could see how it is that I could get from here to there, and other people don't want to put in the time or effort to do that...I could get people organized around trying to achieve something....I seemed to know how to do it," Anna said.
In discussing the women leaders, Curry points out that they had to "surmount both private and public expectations of them...to seek responsibilities that were considered risky for women."
She writes, "Through the experiences they sought out, the women were able to explore the use of power...and tended to approach the use of power in unconventional ways."
Using a psychological approach, the book is useful in or out of the classroom as a springboard for understanding the development of adult identity and ego of women leaders and the many paths to leadership, Curry said.
Curry, with coauthor James Michael Brodie, also has written a children's book, Sweet Words So Brave: The Story of African-American Literature, which received the 1997 Learning Magazine Teachers' Choice Award.
A graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, with master's degree from the University of Wisconsin and a master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, Curry joined the UD faculty in 1990.
- Sue Moncure