The Nose has never considered himself a sexist.

Although he's been known to pick up a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and laugh, despite himself, at the punchline to a blonde joke, the Nose has always felt that neither gender held bragging rights when it came to courage.

Now, he is beginning to wonder.

Take a gander up the hill at Lewis & Clark College, where President Michael Mooney announced he's stepping down. A lot of people have told the Nose that Mooney wouldn't be packing his bags if not for a couple of guys at this newspaper who uncovered the disastrous $10.5 million loan that the college president made a couple of years back.

Maybe so. But from the Nose's viewpoint, the real heroes in this tale are the women.

Consider the actions--or inaction--of the college's board of trustees, a group of 30-plus (mostly) men who perfectly symbolized Mooney's ability to seduce money and influence like a magnet attracts metal shavings.

What did the board of trustees do when it learned that Mooney loaned $10.5 million of college funds to a company with a balance sheet that made Enron look solid? What did the board do when it determined that his actions violated several of the college's own policies? When it learned Mooney also bought stock in the company and had managed to keep the entire thing a secret for almost a year?

In short, how did the board handle a $250,000-a-year employee who exhibited the kind of common sense one associates more with Jackass than a college chief?

The trustees decided that the proper response was to do nothing and hope no one--not faculty, not staff, not alums, not students--would notice.

Almost all of the trustees, that is. A small contingent, it turns out, had problems with the status quo.

Three people had the courage to resign when it became clear the board of trustees was going to do nothing, see nothing and say nothing. Two of them were women: Debi Coleman and Gert Boyle (the third was David Stern).

In addition to those three, only three other board members spoke out and/or asked tough questions during the trustee meetings, both about Mooney and the way the board was seeking to handle it. All were women: Cheryl Perrin, Joan Smith and Elizabeth Johnson.

Lest you think this was merely a case of a few gals who are unable to understand the nuances of high finance, college politics and the need to keep certain things on the QT, the Nose has news for you. Coleman is the former CFO of Apple Computer, the founder of Merix Corp. (a leading circuit-board maker) and a venture capitalist. Perrin was a top exec at Fred Meyer and a member of the Port of Portland commission, and she's a consultant in high demand. Smith is a former member of the Public Utility Commission, a national expert on utility regulation and a senior fellow at the American Leadership Forum. Johnson runs a foundation in Southern Oregon. And Boyle, of course, is Columbia Sportswear.

It was these women, not the men, who took the risk of disagreeing with trustees who have names like Pamplin and Schnitzer, something that is not exactly on Steven Covey's list of the seven habits of highly effective people.

As Coleman told one of the Nose's associates this week, "What matters to the old boys' club is acquiring and keeping power. They set the rules, but they don't feel like you have to obey them all the time."

Thank goodness there were some women with the cojones to set Mooney, and his male cheerleaders, straight.