SC college boards of trustees short on women

abeam@thestate.comMarch 27, 2013 

  • S.C.’s boards 51%

    South Carolina’s population of women

    59%

    Population of women at South Carolina’s public colleges and universities

    19%

    Seats on South Carolina’s boards of trustees at colleges and universities filled by women

    SOURCES: U.S. Census, S.C. Commission on Higher Education, staff research

— Melissa Johnson Emory was the first of her family to go to college, graduating with a degree from Francis Marion University in 1991 that propelled her to a successful legal career.

Now, Emory is one of three women on the 16-member Francis Marion board of trustees – and she is in danger of losing her seat to a man. Because of restructuring, she has to run for re-election against Randall Dozier, the board’s chairman.

Emory is one of 98 candidates being vetted this week by a panel of state lawmakers for one of 54 seats on the boards of public colleges and universities – boards that are mostly filled by men.

Of the 121 seats elected by the General Assembly, 24 are women – or just more than 19 percent.

Of the 54 seats up for election, 21 of them are contested. And of those 21 contested races, 17 of them have at least one female candidate.

“(Lawmakers) have a possibility of electing these ... women, which will move the needle a bit,” said Ginny Deerin, founder of Project XX, a dual nonprofit/federal super PAC dedicated to electing women to state boards and commissions.

Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville and a member of the screening committee, said she was pleased to see more women apply. But that does not mean they are all qualified.

Rock Hill attorney Leah Moody, the only woman on the USC board of trustees, said she wants more women to run for seats on college boards – but she understands why most do not run.

“I might be different from most women. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, I run my own business and up until December, the only thing that I had that ... (was) top priority to all of those was my mom, who passed away,” she said. “I can’t imagine what’s on most women’s plates in terms of how they have to juggle their time.”

Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said where a candidate lives matters more than their gender.

“I think geography trumps everything. Politics is local,” said Peeler, who is chairman of the screening committee. “If you are from a larger county with a larger delegation, you have a leg up, male or female.”

Most college and university board members are elected by congressional districts, with two members from each district. In 2011, the state General Assembly created a 7th congressional district based on the latest Census numbers. This caused a lot of shuffling on state boards and commissions.

For Francis Marion, board members decided among themselves who would run. At the time, many thought Emory would be elected to a state family court judge seat, forcing her to give up her seat. But that did not happen.

Emory said she was glad to see more women applying to run for seats on college boards.

“I just think it’s very important for women to know they are needed in leadership roles,” she said.

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