Today, September 1, should have been the first day on the job as Brock University president for Wendy Cukier. However, on Monday, the Canadian university dropped a bombshell — Brock and Cukier had mutually decided that she would not take up the position. So far, both sides are mum on the reasons for a move with huge costs (as they must have known) for both Brock’s and Cukier’s reputations — not to mention the costs of running another presidential search. But much of the speculation, both in the Canadian post-secondary scene and in the media, has it that the break-up is evidence of gender problems at Brock.
Here’s Globe and Mail reporter Simona Chiose’s take on the story. Predictably, an overwhelming number of contributors to the comment thread below that story are hostile to speculation that Cukier’s gender played into the shocking breakdown of her relationship with Brock.
However, there is good reason to think that the Canadian post-secondary education sector (like PSE sectors in many other countries) is not only less welcoming of women presidents but also less good at retaining them than their male counterparts when troubles emerge. Earlier this year, a group of mostly-male Canadian uni presidents agreed that the lack of senior women leaders at Canadian universities is an urgent problem. For decades, the percentage of Canadian university presidents who are women has remained unchanged at less than 20%. Despite this, Cukier is one of a series of high profile premature departures by women university presidents in recent recollection. Put simply, we (in Canadian PSE) are bad at hiring women presidents, but we’re pretty good at letting them go.