MARY I’d like to introduce Denis Sullivan, a leader at Northeastern University in Boston. Denis is a Full Professor in Political Science and Director of both the Middle East Center and the International Affairs Program. He is also a fantastic friend and colleague of over fifteen years. Denis continues to be a close confidant and a key voice in my feedback loops. So Denis, did I cover the important pieces?
DENIS Definitely! The main “piece” is our friendship. That is our primary connection, link, driving force. All the professional “goodies” on top of that are, in some ways, “means to our ends” – ways to keep working together, keep promoting great things for students and colleagues and friends around the world.
MARY I agree. I wanted to include a conversation with Denis on The University of Venus because he has always been such a strong advocate for women, the next generation, international students and scholars, and international education.
DENIS As a bit of background — Growing up with 4 sisters, a strong single mother – and at 84, still strong! – and a nurturing grandmother, and then becoming a father of 2 amazingly brilliant and talented daughters … that helps explain a bit about the ‘strong advocate for women’ you mention – for which I thank you!!
MARY So I guess the question I would like to start with is – What do you see as the big opportunities for the next generation of women in the academy, women between the ages of 30-46? How do we guarantee our success? How do we make sure we get tenure, get promoted, and take on senior leadership roles? And the flip side of that, what should we avoid?
DENIS The academy is in the lingering throes of male dominance. Women academics (faculty, staff, administrators) should leverage their collective power to push even harder –without throwing the baby out with the bath water! With the decades-long push to hire more women faculty, this is the time to put up the best and the brightest for faculty positions – and senior staff positions as well. And to allow for a more balanced leadership in academia – men and women who are the best suited for the positions they hold.
MARY However, studies show that women are less likely to get tenure, get promoted, and less likely to be appointed to senior leadership roles. I think once they get tenure, they are in somewhat of a better place and I stress somewhat here. So, what is your one piece of advice for getting to the next level?
DENIS Well, I have a recent case of a young woman who is finishing her PhD and is trying to balance work, life, and future career opportunities. Senior academics (such as me) have been pushing her to finish her PhD before taking on an administrative role but she tells us very clearly that this is not her priority right now. So who am I to say what is best for her? She is considering quality of life issues, economic necessity, having a child. It is not for me to “push” her; it is for me to give advice as a senior academic and to listen and learn from her – what she wants/needs, what her generation will build, which will in fact be what I deal with in the future, when I transition out of my life-long career in this profession – a long time from now I hope!
MARY It will be a long time! The academics I know are working well into their late 70s and early 80s. Denis, I hear you saying that the rules of the game have changed. The process that you and your generation in academia went through is not the same for my generation – the next generation. In some ways it seems that there are more options – mixing administration and teaching/research but that the expectations are greater.
DENIS As I see it now, women in academia are EXPECTED to have a PhD if they want to get into a senior administrative ‘track’ or in an area that MIGHT in future lead to senior leadership …
MARY … And that women are also trying to balance work/life pieces where women of a prior generation either gave up husbands and children and/or worked through some very rough personal times.
DENIS Don’t do that! Balance, balance, balance. Yes, there are now many more options to mix administration and teaching. It is absolutely a balancing act – think Dr. Seuss and Oh, the Places You’ll Go: “Life is a great balancing act”
Check out Denis Sullivan’s’ blog for a longer version of this conversation.
This is the first post in our Voices from Mars series.