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In 2007, Bentley University named respected attorney, public policy expert and business leader Gloria Cordes Larson as the 7th President and first woman to be appointed as the campus leader. By the time she stepped down in 2018, she had a long list of impressive accomplishments that grew Bentley from a small regional business college to one that became a highly ranked nationally recognized institution.

Larson earned her J.D. at the University of Virginia School of Law. During law school she worked on pro-bono mental health and environmental projects, and after school she ran a statewide legal services program for the elderly. She was then tapped to work for Commissioner Pat Bailey at the Federal Trade Commission – an experience that was transformative in the 1980s since Pat Bailey, a woman, hired other women attorneys. Larson moved to Massachusetts when Governor William Weld asked her to serve as Secretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, and then later as his Secretary of Economic Affairs. Larson departed government to join the firm of Foley Hoag. A friend recommended that she apply to become the President of Bentley as they were looking for a new model for a college president.

Gloria Cordes Larson’s advice to women is, “…find the ability to take risks professionally, so you’re not just treading water. It’s the only way you can move forward while we collectively address all those other challenges to progress.”

Today, Bentley University is home to the Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business, which is dedicated to advancing gender equity from the classroom to the boardroom and providing thought leadership in this space. In naming the Center in her honor, the Chair of the University Board of Trustees noted, “The founding of the Center for Women and Business under Gloria Larson's leadership comes after a long career spent blazing new trails for women in government and business. She understood workplace gender equality issues were not going to be an easy fix--we needed to both focus on preparing students for the world we want to see tomorrow and help businesses enact meaningful changes today.”

In 2021 Larson was invited back to Bentley to deliver the Commencement address to the last class admitted during her tenure. In that speech, she offered five professional and personal life lessons to the graduates (which she went into some detail to explain): pursue opportunities the bring the most meaning to your life; bring a consistently positive attitude to the workplace while adopting a realistic view of mistakes and challenges; mentors, sponsors and networks matter; ask for new opportunities and take bold risks throughout your career; and life beyond the office is critical to personal well-being.

While at Bentley University, Gloria Cordes Larson authored a popular book, PreparedU: How Innovative Colleges Prepare Students for Success. Among other things, the book is a guide to success by how one goes to school, not where one attends.

Updated: Mar 10

With the announcement that Laura Rosenbury has been named President-elect of Barnard College, by Fall of 2023, the presidents of NYU, Fordham, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Cooper Union, Brooklyn College and Barnard College, in New York City will all be woman lawyers. They join a lawyer president at Kings College. Hunter College President, lawyer Jennifer Raab, announced she will be stepping down at the end of this academic year as is Lee Bollinger at Columbia University.

Rosenbury is the first woman to serve as dean of the University of Florida Levin College of Law in Gainsville, FL, where for the last eight years she has also been the Mabie & Levin Professor of Law. In announcing her appointment, Cheryl Milstein, the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees said, “Laura’s appointment is a culmination of a life and career dedicated to empowering women.” Ina Drew, co-Chair of the Search Committee and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, said, “it was not just her incredible biography and remarkable scholarship that led to the unanimous decision by the board, but also her character and belief in the mission of our liberal arts college. Her devotion to an arts and science education, thoughtful and strategic approach to leadership, and striking emotional intelligence demonstrated that Barnard and Laura Rosenbury are a perfect match.” President-elect Rosenbury has a long list of impressive accomplishments at the University of Florida.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Rosenbury clerked for Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and for Judge Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She also served as a litigation associate at the Big Law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell in New York City (a number of lawyer presidents had previously been employed at Davis, Polk). She also served as a law professor (2002 – 2015) and vice dean (20120-2015) at Washington University School of Law in S.t Louis. She visited at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago law schools. A scholar on feminist legal theory, she is the co-author of Feminist Jurisprudence: Cases and Materials.

On July 1, 2019 Joan T.A. Gabel became the 17th President of the University of Minnesota and the first woman to hold that office in the 167 year history of the institution. Prior to joining the University of Minnesota, Gabel was the first female executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of South Carolina. Before that she was the Dean of the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business – where she was also the first female dean. At Florida State University she was chair of the Department of Risk Management/Insurance, Rea Estate and Legal Studies Director, and at Georgia State she was the interim director of the Institute of International Business. Gabel was also a Fulbright Scholar.

Gabel went to college at the age of 16. earned a J.D. from the University of Georgia, after which she practiced law before joining the faculty at Georgia State University and Florida State University. Reflecting on her background, “ she has credited that legal education for sharpening her skills to think, solve problems, and communicate—skills that come in handy in any job but particularly in higher education administration.” She commented, ““My education and professional experience across the liberal arts, business, the law and in higher ed administration position me uniquely to listen carefully, meet challenges and identify opportunities to collaborate with students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, policymakers and others to make this great University even greater.” When asked whether she feels any additional pressure breaking the glass ceiling and being the first woman president, she responded, “There is pressure, but I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. Every university president feels pressure. I don’t know that there’s any immunity from pressure, just because you’re not a first. But I do feel a sense of responsibility that may be unique.”

Joan Gabel joins a growing number of lawyer business school deans who have been appointed to lead the campus.

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