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Asian American Leadership in Higher Education: A ‘Glass Cliff’ or ‘Golden Opportunity?’

What do we mean by a “glass cliff?” It happens when a member of an underrepresented group assumes a leadership role during a period of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest. Research has documented the “glass cliff” for Asian Americans in corporate America; for instance, when companies are in decline, they’re two and a half times more likely to appoint an Asian American CEO.[i] This made me wonder if there is also a glass cliff for Asian American higher education leaders.

Asians make up 5% of the population, 6.5% of college students, and 8.4% of faculty members — but they comprise only 1% of college presidents.[ii] Based on an annual growth rate of 6%, racial parity in the presidency for Asian Americans will occur by 2036 (see Figure 1 below). Parity is defined as the year in which the representation of Asian Americans in the presidency reflects their overall representation in the U.S. population. Data on the future demographics of the United States come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections.


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