Bloomberg News

Female College Leaders Criticize Augusta’s Male-Only Membership

April 11, 2012

The male-only membership at Augusta National Golf Club, home to the Masters Tournament, has drawn the ire of female college presidents, who are leading increasing numbers of prestigious schools in the U.S.

“It’s just an embarrassment that it’s still all male,” said Debora Spar, president of Barnard College in New York. “Any argument that can be made anymore for male-only recreational sites is just kind of past its day.”

The annual golf tournament, which concluded April 8 in Augusta, Georgia, has been the subject of criticism for years over its male-only practice. The spotlight amplified this year because one of the event’s long-time sponsors, International Business Machines Corp. (IBM:US), has a new chief executive officer, who happens to be a woman. Augusta National and IBM have refused to comment on whether Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, who took over at IBM in January, will be invited to join the club.

Both President Barack Obama, through a spokesman, and Mitt Romney, the leading Republican contender for president, said last week that women should be allowed to join Augusta, a view shared by Nannerl O. Keohane, former president of Duke University.

“Augusta National has become an international institution of considerable significance for golfers, and the club should recognize that there are serious women golfers and accomplished women CEOs and other professionals who deserve admission as much as their male counterparts,” Keohane, now a visiting professor at Princeton University, said in an e-mail. She has also served as president of Wellesley College near Boston, and is a fellow of the Harvard Corporation, which governs the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based university.

Ivy League Women

Women lead four of the eight Ivy League colleges in the northeastern U.S., including Harvard University, Princeton, Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania. Of the major research schools in the U.S. that belong to the Association of American Universities, 25 percent are led by women.

That far exceeds the 3.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies that have CEOs who are women, according to Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit group that analyzed data on women in management.

“This is something all Americans should be able to agree upon: the era of excluding women from prominent private clubs is over,” Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, said in an e-mail. “They have long served as a significant part of business and job-related networking, and as such are intimately intertwined with the fabric of access to opportunity in our country.”

Gutmann is the second female president at the Philadelphia- based school. Harvard’s Drew Faust, Princeton’s Shirley Tilghman and Brown’s Ruth Simmons declined to comment.

‘Not a Politician’

IBM’s official 10-year sponsorship of the Masters put Rometty, 54, in a tough spot, said Spar of Barnard, which is an all-women's college. During the tournament, IBM officials declined to comment about the male-only practice or even confirm whether Rometty attended the event. She was photographed near the 18th hole on the final day of competition, though wasn’t wearing the club’s signature green member’s blazer. The past four CEOS of IBM have all been Augusta members.

“She is in a role where she is valued for her managerial expertise, her business acumen,” said Spar, who became a director of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US) in June. “She’s not a politician. She’s not a spokesperson for women’s rights. She’s relatively new in the job. So I can really see why she may be reluctant to get front and center on this issue.”

Rometty is a graduate of Northwestern University and currently serves as a trustee, according to the Evanston, Illinois-based school’s website. Morton Schapiro, Northwestern’s president, declined to comment.

Corporate Boards

Women who lead universities, such as Spar, are increasingly being tapped to become corporate directors. Last week, Harvard’s Faust was nominated for the board of Staples Inc. (SPLS:US), the world’s largest office-supply retailer.

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, sits on IBM’s board. She declined to comment on Augusta, according to Theresa Bourgeois, a spokeswoman at the school.

Augusta should take a lesson from American higher education, Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said in an e-mail.

“Lehigh University’s benefit from admitting women 40 years ago tells me that Augusta would be wise to do the same,” Gast said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Lorin in New York at jlorin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net


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