Sherry Penney former Chancellor University of Massachusetts Boston

Sherry Penney

Interview: How to become a college president with Sherry Penney

Sherry Penney rose to become the Chancellor at University of Massachusetts Boston and President of the UMass System. On her way she was told she could not advance in academia as a woman. Listen to the podcast to find out how she overcame.

Below is a summary of our interview:


“Enter here to learn. Go forth to serve” – The entrance of Sherry’s high school

The Journey

I want to be a lawyer

Sherry grew up a feisty  young woman who did not just things how they were, she always looked to the future. She wanted to be a lawyer. Sherry’s mom always told her “get yourself a degree. Women can always teach”. Her dad, a school superintendent, encouraged her.

You can learn here but you can’t teach

Sherry wanted to go to law school but at the time there were quotas on how many women could enroll. So she went to graduate school at University of Michigan. Sherry dropped out after having a child. After having her two boys, she finished school and began teaching at Union College in New York. Sherry’s graduate advisor at Michigan told her

“You can get your degree at Michigan but Michigan will never hire a woman.”

He was trying to be realistic about her chances of landing a faculty job. For Sherry, it was an “earth shattering experience.”

Getting an admin job by accident

The new Title IX laws made it so that colleges had to have female candidates for all positions. Even just one. Sherry helped coordinate a huge conference was by the New York Board of Regents to discuss the implications of this new law for colleges nationwide. When a position at the Board of Regents opened up months later, there were hundreds of applicants. At first. the board picked candidates from the “good old boys network.” The new Title IX law mandated the Board of Regents to have female candidates. Since they knew Sherry from the conference, she became the lead female candidate — and eventually landed the job. The new job tripled her salary.

Only on the Podcast Sherry chats about the various roles she had at Yale and SUNY before becoming Chancellor at University of Massachusetts.

The Work

Low Point

Before Sherry even started her job as the Chancellor at UMass Boston, there were massive budget cuts. She learn via a phone call that $2M which was 37% of total budget had been slashed. Sherry had to quickly learn about how to navigate difficult times as a leader on Day 1.

Aha Moment

By 1994, Sherry was able to spearhead a lot of great changes at UMass Boston.

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Lightning Round

Book Sherry Recommends Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ron Heifitz [easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B004RBTEK0″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”” tag=”purposerockst-20″ width=”104″] Where to follow Sherry Penney Sherry’s Website

We are looking for current college and university presidents to interview for the show.  If there are some awesome candidates you would like to suggest, please Derrick at

One More Thing

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Derrick Duplessy

Executive Director at Duplessy Foundation
Derrick has coached 500+ executives in 10 years as an executive coach. He runs Duplessy Foundation which is dedicated to creating meaningful careers for everyone. He also hosts Purpose Rockstar, a daily show on iTunes where he shares the career stories of a variety of guests.

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