Adler University President Raymond Crossman admits that leaders in higher education sometimes feel that they have to act as robots.
"We always have to give the right answer, and not offend anybodybecause you don't want to offend an alumnus or a donor," Crossman explained. "You want to make sure that you are everything to everybodyand that's impossible."
But Crossman, who is gay, rejects the idea that leaders need to maintain a veneer of removed perfection, and has not been afraid to share details about his life with the Adler community. He came out publicly in 2003, at his installation ceremony, at a time when that revelation was more fraught with professional risks. Several years into his tenure, he also publicly revealed that he is living with HIV as well. Crossman is now the longest-serving openly LGBTQ+ university leader in the U.S. and Canada.
In the two decades since he came to Adler, numerous other university leaders have also publicly identified themselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Crossman recently edited and published a book, LGBTQ Leadership in Higher Education, collecting 15 of those individuals' stories and insights. He will discuss the book and his work with Windy City Times Owner Tracy Baim Tuesday, Feb. 28 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the University Club of Chicago. The event is presented by Adler and the Chicago Community Trust and is free to the public.
Crossman told Windy City Times that that he, as well as the other university leaders contributing to the book, usually "take the opportunity to 'come out' in every interaction it makes sense to do so. When I'm addressing a class or leading a meeting, I'll mention my partner with the right pronoun. Or I make sure that I'm situating myself as a gay manor more specifically as a gay white manto make sure that we are talking about the complete selves that we are bringing to the learning environment or to our work."
A university president's main responsibility is corralling the many stakeholders involved in the institution's shared decision-making, he said.
"You're making sure that you are incorporating the voices of students, alumni and faculty, and bringing that to the board ultimately," Crossman explained. "I report to the board of trustees, and make sure that the board knows enough from all those stakeholders to set the right mission, vision and values in our strategic plan."
In the book, Crossman recalls coming out at his installation, when his partner was mentioned. He braced himself for what he called a "gay gasp," when audience members are momentarily shocked and left breathless by the revelation. He could see that the "gasp" did indeed occurbut his eyes were drawn to a student moved to tears of joy by the moment.
"Adler is certainly a different place than it was in 2003," Crossman said. The school was founded in part by Jewish individuals as a safe haven from professional anti-semitism, and the institution continues to make significant progress on what he called "a journey of diversity."
He further explained, "Representation from different kinds of populations has gotten better, and our inclusion agenda has gotten better. We are a lot more ethnically diverse, and there's a hell of a lot more gay people at all levels than there were in 2003."
Adler is currently made up of about 45% students of color, as is its work force. Crossman credited "hard work around diversity issues" and hopes that he has made a significant contribution to that progress.
He has nevertheless experienced his share of heterosexism and homophobia "in the form of everything from micro-aggressions to people just not realizing what they are saying on a broader level to a gay person. But I don't worry so much about myself as I do about students, or kids down in Florida or Texas. I'm privileged, from that leadership perspective. I can brush myself off and go on my way, but a kid can't."
A queer student entering Adler should have the "same expectations that a Black student, or an indigenous student, or any student should have when they come to the university," he said. "They should feel specifically welcomed, and they should see themselves and their interests represented within the curricula and practical experiences that are available within the university. They should also feel encouraged to pursue their own queer passions, the same as any student would follow their own passions."
Queer leaders need to bring an especially empathetic "humanity" to their professional life, according to Crossman; that trait is so important for him, he refers to having it as being gifted with a superpower.
"My experiences being bullied as a kid, for example, result in me as a leader having a queer intuition, where I'm looking around corners," he explained. "I find that helps me with my creativity, where I'm trying to find the alternative, out-of-the-box solutions to problems."
Navigating a heteronormative world has led to Crossman willing to be figuratively "messy" in front of others, he added. "These jobs are normally not set up to reward authenticity. But I found out early in my presidency that it goes better when I share my process with folks. … I 'show my work.'"
Tickets for the Feb. 28 talk are available at www.eventbrite.com/e/lgbtq-and-diverse-leadership-from-stonewall-to-the-university-tickets-511779304677.