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A college president, and a working mother

Tracy Fitzsimmons, president of Shenandoah University in Virginia, is 43, a mother of three -- and, of course, a woman. All this may seem unremarkable, but for the fact that the average college president is a 60-year-old man.

Fitzsimmons arrived in 2008. Not only was she, at 41, the youngest college president in Virginia, and the only one with three preschoolers, she was also the first woman president in Shenandoah's 133-year history.

She replaced James A. Davis, 63, who had completed a marathon 26-year term.

Fitzsimmons had served Shenandoah as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences since her early 30s, and had long since learned that the college was a hospitable environment for young children.

The president lives with her husband Charles Call (an assistant professor at American University), their daughter Shayla and sons Dash and Jag in a converted schoolhouse on 25 acres in nearby Reliance, Va. She gardens at dawn. All administrative meetings on campus now start at 8:05, giving her time to get to preschool.


Shenandoah nursing students attended the births of all of her children. After the twins arrived, she said, "I went back after two weeks and I brought them in," she recalled. "I had twin bassinets in my office."

With the college president population aging and more women reaching the top of the profession, Fitzsimmons assumes she will see more moms with young children in president's offices.

As of now, she knows of only a few college presidents with young children. One is Ronald Liebowitz, president of Middlebury College, whose family has expanded by two since he took office in 2004.

College administrators who have small children or are planning to start families look for employers that have made provisions for working parents. "I think we choose schools that already have these policies," she said. "Or if they don't have them, we make them."

Shenandoah has a day-care center. "I went on the waiting list, just like everyone else," she said.

Students drop by and borrow her children for hours at a time; they sometimes get passed from one student to another. (It's a close-knit campus.) Fitzsimmons thinks they have brought her closer to the students.

"You might not want to approach the president," she said. "But if the president's kids are running around in the dining hall..."

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By Daniel de Vise  |  June 17, 2010; 8:57 AM ET
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There looms a profound metaphor, educating young (forming age) students is sort of like raising kids...

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | June 17, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

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