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Monday, December 5, 2011

Geographers as University Presidents

I read last week about how Bowling Green State University celebrated the inauguration of Mary Ellen Mazey as its 11th president. She comes to the university from her previous position as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Auburn University (press release). And, she's a geographer. Among those speaking at a panel in her honor titled "Geography in the Changing World of Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges," was Duane Nellis, president of the University of Idaho and a geographer (article in BG paper). If things weren't so chaotic at Penn State, its president Rodney Erickson, also a geographer, might have chimed in. A quick look suggests these geographers have at least one more fellow university president/geographer: Professor Abdulaziz Bin Sagr Al-Ghamdi, a geographer (Michigan State PhD) leads Naif Arab University for Security Sciences in Saudi Arabia.

I didn't know much about university presidents or geographers until I went to college. I learned that it was (in 1982) a big deal that a woman (Hanna Holborn Gray) served as president of my school. She was, if I recall correctly, the only woman leading a major university at that time. Now, well, even Harvard has a woman president! I also learned during my college years, that Saul Cohen, a geographer, was president of Queens College. I suspect I would not have known that had I not gone into geography and had my parents not been friends with Mr. Cohen.

So, here we stand with no fewer than three geographers (one a woman, no less!) running significant state universities in the United States. How does the geographic lobby for education (currently defined by, well .... the Geo-Literacy Coalition might be a contender) take advantage of this situation? How do we leverage these voices, their vision and standing to bring geography to the fore in our nation?

I'm not exactly sure, but I didn't want this happy accident to go unnoticed by those who might be able to take advantage of the situation.

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