Molly Connor speaks during a presentation at the Indiana University Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 8, 2019, at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union while Trustee Quinn Buckner listens. Courtesy photo
Molly Connor speaks during a presentation at the Indiana University Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 8, 2019, at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union while Trustee Quinn Buckner listens. Courtesy photo
In her first meeting as a member of the Indiana University Board of Trustees, Molly Connor made history.

The 22-year-old law student walked to the front of Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union last August. Her black high heels stopped near a white “X” on the red carpet. She raised her right hand and placed her left on former IU President William Lowe Bryan’s Bible. Then, she recited the installation oath.

Connor is now part of the largest group of women to ever serve on the IU Board of Trustees at one time. It’s something she described as exciting and wonderful, but also bittersweet.

It took nearly 200 years to get four women on the nine-member board. While IU started as a state seminary with only 10 male students, women have been admitted since 1867. It is now a majority female institution and has been since the late 1970s. Today, about 55% of IU students are women, 58% of IU staff are women and 55% of IU alumni are women.

“The board of a university should look like the university,” Connor said.

At this point in the board’s history, near equal representation of men and women is the exception. But for students at IU now, it’s become the expectation.

How it happened

The formation of this group of women was largely out of Connor’s control. Indiana’s governor appoints six of the board’s nine members. IU alumni elect the other three.

There were two women on the board before Ind. Gov. Mike Pence appointed Melanie Walker in 2016. But that increase only lasted a year.

When student trustee Anna Williams’ term ended in 2017, Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed Zachary Arnold, a 24-year-old medical student, as her replacement.

IU alumni elected Donna Spears, an associate broker for Coldwell Banker, in 2018. She defeated six other candidates. All were men, including incumbent Philip Eskew, who had served on the board since 2006.

In 2019, incumbent MaryEllen Bishop won reelection. Holcomb reappointed three board members, one of which was Walker. He also appointed one new member, Connor, to replace Arnold after his two-year term ended.

While Connor could not control the outcome of board elections or gubernatorial appointments, she did everything in her power to be selected.

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