38 Rising to Our Best Selves | Carolyn O’Grady

At my tenure interview with the Personnel Committee I was asked in what ways I envisioned becoming a campus leader if granted tenure. I can remember thinking “I’m way too burned out to even imagine any form of leadership,” but I answered politely enough that I would try to put my skills to use where they were most needed. It was one of those noncommittal answers that didn’t really mean much. Now, several years later, I find I have taken on a number of leadership responsibilities and these have forced me to examine my own ambivalence about leadership while exploring the challenges inherent in holding a position of some power and authority.

I was elected to the Personnel Committee and was elected chair. My experience on the Personnel Committee still counts as the most rewarding committee work I have had at Gustavus. Faculty members consistently rise to their best selves on this committee, and the work seems meaningful and purposeful even while it is time consuming.

Currently I am in my second year as chair of Curriculum Committee, having first been elected last year despite never having served on the committee before. As chair I have tried to move the committee in more of a policy making, and less of a rubber stamping, direction. In doing this, I was responding to concerns expressed by committee members who take seriously the committee’s charge to “recommend to the faculty policies and programs that affect the college in general and … review and recommend departmental, interdepartmental, and interdisciplinary programs and policies.” This year the committee decided to meet twice a month in order to accomplish some of the ambitious goals we’ve set for ourselves. These include monitoring the effects of moving to a six course load on inter-departmental programs, participating in the January Term review, addressing some of the challenges raised by the Academic Planning task force, clarifying the relationship of the Curriculum Committee to the Dean of Faculty and the Faculty Senate, identifying procedures for assessing faculty-wide support for inter-departmental programs, and trying to clarify what we mean by (and how we do) “engagement” on campus.

In chairing this committee, as with chairing Personnel, I have been able to do a good job in large part because I have had excellent committee members with whom to work. I do bring strong organizational skills, the ability to facilitate discussion (which includes ensuring that competing viewpoints are expressed), and an understanding of group dynamics. Ultimately, this committee work allows me (forces me) to quell my knee jerk impatience and practice listening deeply. I tend to be very impatient; it annoys me how much we faculty tend to talk things to death. Yet as chair of a “talk-y” committee like Curriculum I know that the quality of the conversation depends in large part on how well I invite everyone into it and how sensitive I am to when and how to wrap things up. So, I get to practice this at every meeting.

There are several other leadership roles I have recently played on campus. Those I am most proud of include the following:

  • Student of Color Mentoring Program (pilot, 2006-07)
    Virgil Jones and Sujay Rao first had the idea of establishing this mentoring program. They invited me to be part of the leadership team. All first-year students of color were invited to participate. About half of this entering group responded affirmatively. Sujay, Virgil and I identified faculty and staff mentors (14), planned and co-facilitated an off-campus retreat on Sunday, September 17th, and have continued to monitor and assess the program. At Fall mid-semester, those students who were involved in the mentoring program were doing better, on average, than students who did not have mentors. My work with this project is another example of my inclination toward collaboration. I could not have pulled off this program on my own, but working with Sujay and Virgil has resulted in synergy.
  • Search Committee for Director of Multicultural Programs (Fall 2006)
    This committee was chaired by Jeff Stocco and included faculty, staff, and students. There was a large pool of highly qualified and very diverse candidates. The ultimate appointment of Virgil Jones to the position was a positive outcome of this well conducted search. Although it was time consuming, work on this committee was especially valuable because of the quality of the conversations among committee members and the significant input of the student representatives.
  • Chair, Third Year Review Committee for Dean of the Faculty John Mosbo (Fall 2004)
    I was one member elected to this committee by the faculty, and was ultimately “appointed” chair by President Peterson during one of our meetings with him. Any member of our committee would have been an excellent chair, and I do not know why he singled me out in particular. However, as chair I took on the responsibility of making sure our review tasks were completed efficiently, and I also co-wrote (with Claude Brew) the first draft of our committee’s report to the president. This draft was reviewed by all members of the committee before submission. Our committee worked extremely hard, and very ethically, to gather as much information as possible and to present it in a way that was even-handed and formative. Once our report was submitted to President Peterson, our work was finished.
  • Co-facilitator, “Teaching Multiculturally” Bush summer workshop (June 2003)
    I helped plan this summer workshop (in collaboration with Steve Griffith, then Faculty Development director). As an expert in multicultural education, I facilitated the first day of the June session and co-facilitated the follow-up days in August with Laura Behling. Twenty-three participants from 12 departments applied for this opportunity. I also coordinated the visit of Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita in the College of Professional Studies at California State University Monterey Bay, as our resident expert during the June week and I compiled resource packets for participants.
  • Director, Writing Across the Curriculum Program (2005-present)
    I receive one course release a year for this work. I enjoy being able to work with faculty on WRIT proposals, and as part of this role I have facilitated conversation on WAC during Faculty Development Day.