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Bentley University president is stepping down, ‘stay tuned’ for plans

Gloria Cordes Larson (Photo/submitted)

By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor

Ten years after becoming Bentley University’s first female president, Gloria Cordes Larson, 67, is scheduled to step down at the end of this academic year. Her future is unclear, but no doubt it will be as rewarding as her past.

“I still want to be connected in some way to higher education. I don’t have any desire be a serial president,” Larson said. “I consider myself kind of an accidental tourist in the college presidency.”

During her tenure at Bentley, Larson has overseen an expansion of programs in business, and at the undergraduate level, instituted double majors that “fused” business and liberal arts.

“As Bentley’s first female president, I established the Center for Woman and Business, extending Bentley’s influence into the business community, supporting young women entering the workforce, and helping companies remove barriers to gender equality,” she said.

“I championed life as a signature part of the Bentley experience, including committing the university to adoption of the Gallup-Purdue Index measures to encourage the long-term success, workplace engagement, and overall well-being of our graduates,” she added.

According to the Purdue University website, “The Gallup-Purdue Index … provides higher education leaders with productive insights for meaningful performance improvements.”

As a member of the Executive Committee of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, she was part of a joint effort to create an environmentally sustainable future.

Larson’s path to college president was unusual. She was an award-winning lawyer, and an expert in public policy and business. She was not an academic.

As a child, she moved frequently with her father, a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, her mother who was a homemaker and an active volunteer, and her sister.

Her path was influenced greatly by the classic novel by Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which she read when she was 12.

“I was inspired by Atticus Finch’s dedication to the law, belief in justice, and unwavering moral compass. Midway through, I decided that I would become lawyer, just like Atticus,” Larson said.

She went on to graduate from Vassar College, and then earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.

Larson achieved great success in the legal community. She was a partner at the Boston-based law firm Foley Hoag, where she was co-chair of the Government Strategies Group.

She held high-level positions in business and consumer issues in the administrations of Governor William Weld, Governor Mitt Romney, and Governor Deval Patrick.

Larson was involved in education as well, as a member of the think tank MassINC, the Great Schools Campaign, Global Massachusetts, and the Readiness Project.

She said that her transition from the practice of law to the presidency of Bentley was influenced by “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century,” a book by Thomas L. Friedman that analyzes globalization, primarily in the early 21st century.

“When I was a (law) partner… I recruited prospective summer associates. It was eye-opening because I met students with a much different view of the world and their place in it than my generation had,” she said.

As for Friedman, she added, “… the forces he identified to shape the world —connectivity, vast information and collaboration — seemed immediately relevant to the students that I was recruiting. The world Friedman described was so different from the stable, predictable world that Baby Boomer and Generation Xers had grown up in. Millennials were growing up in a world of constant change but the education system itself wasn’t keeping up.”

When she steps down from the presidency at Bentley at the end of this academic year, Larson no doubt will carve a meaningful path.

“I’m really taking a step back and thinking, you know, what can I do that would have an impact and at the same time be as rewarding as this… So it could be something that’s radically different — stay tuned.”

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