Female deans discuss leadership at the University

Cayla Bush/Editor-in-Chief

The most successful women in academia act like men, according to Lesley Northup.

“That doesn’t mean being ‘mannish’ or whatever,” the dean of the Honors College explained to Student Media. “It means being aggressive and assertive and being willing to participate in the often very nasty politics that occur in academia.”

Northup, one of the four females who serve as a dean at the University, says that the same traits valued in men who are leaders are not valued in women who are leaders, though they are necessary.

Ora Strickland, dean of Nursing and Health Sciences, says this is a cultural issue.

“Gender does not determine who can lead — it’s your readiness to lead,” Strickland told Student Media. “Where women are different from men and why men are in higher positions in education and administrative positions is because the culture has predetermined that it should be so and it has provided more avenues for men to move up into key professional roles than it has for women.”

Both Strickland and Northup say while they may be pioneers in many fields they have worked in throughout their life, such as creating some of the first Ph.D programs in the nation and being the first woman in the Episcopalian church to be a naval chaplain respectively, it was never their goal.

“I don’t focus on being first at anything, I don’t focus on being female at anything. I don’t focus on being black at anything. I am just what I am,” Strickland said.

According to her, she is someone who works to serve the University, its students, faculty and staff.

“In my role as dean, my first obligation is to serve students because that’s why all of us are here — to serve students, to make sure that they get the best possible education in the field that they have selected,” Strickland said. “The second part of my role is to serve the faculty and staff who are trying to deliver curricula to students, to help bring in the resources they need to do the very best job that they can do once they are in faculty.”

The third, she says, is to serve the University by turning out the best possible students hiring and supporting the best possible faculty and staff building the reputation of the University as an outstanding educational institution throughout the world.

Northup says her job with the Honors College is a lot of fun and probably the best job on campus because it doesn’t have the accreditation constrictions of a degree-offering program.

“We’re kind of an experimental lab for the University in terms of pedagogy and new types of courses,” Northup said. “We can do really exciting things that are hard for someone else to do.”

She says because of this and honors education’s core value of having smaller classes, exciting classes are not jeopardized by low enrollment.

“We get to try a lot of new things. A lot of those things have either been adopted by the University or adapted.” Northup said.

Both women agree that in order to advance in academia, a Ph.D is necessary, and that mothers can find success in the academic field and at home. Strickland stresses, however, that being a dean is a 24-hour job.

“If you’re going to do it well, you are need to have the time to do it well. As dean, you are responsible for the quality of every program [in the school],” Strickland said.

Northup advised that women interested in becoming an administrator in higher education may have to adapt to the reality of the job market.

“Certainly, we need more women getting Ph.Ds in STEM fields,” Northup said. “I don’t think being inherently female isn’t keeping you from getting a job.”

Strickland also feels this way, saying that it’s more about the candidate knowing her strengths and talents.

“You’ve got to be self confident,” Strickland advises. “It’s ok to push against the tide of your profession. Sometimes, you will have to lead your profession against the will of your profession.”

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