Monthly Archives: March 2015

Blog17
Photo credit: ateart, Imgur

This is my first blog without that annoying pro tempore designation in my job title. Yipppeee!  It was starting to feel like a heavy suitcase I had to drag around from email signature to email signature. People who didn’t know Latin or what it meant (and who can blame them?) sometimes thought pro tempore was some special designation, giving me way more authority than I actually had. No, I would say (sometimes) to puzzled looks, the position is temporary….

And so, yes, I feel a lot lighter this week. I also feel excited and energized and definitely heartened by all the expressions of good will and congratulations. It’s been both satisfying and humbling, really. And it makes me happier than ever to work at Memorial and to know how many good people are here and dedicated to moving forward in the best possible ways.

A colleague just sent me the picture above. My husband is still killing himself laughing over it. The declaration of skills itself is pretty popular, adopted by women leaders all over the planet. You can easily buy sweatshirts, t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with the tag line. What I really like here is the photo itself. That could be me and my younger brother whom I started torturing with my, er, leadership skills when I was about seven and he was five. Our parents had bought me a large green chalkboard and I set it up in my room so that I was the teacher and he was the poor, beleaguered pupil whom I constantly reprimanded for one no good reason or another. That early period became a kind of family joke about which we still have a good chuckle. But over time I started to realize the joke had something to do with me and something to do with my gender.

Among the expressions of congratulations in my inbox were many from women—close friends, and those whom I have taught or worked with or both—celebrating my being the first woman at Memorial to occupy the permanent position of Provost and Vice-President (Academic). We are one of the last large universities in the country to have appointed a woman to that job, and I am thrilled to be breaking that ground. Better late than never, wha?

It’s commonplace now that women in positions of power and authority are vulnerable to charges of bossiness or worse—the other B word. Men are not. They might be called bullies, a word for our time, but never bossy or bitchy. Those are gendered words that signify a profound discomfort with women leaders. There’s a great big mountain of literature on the subject, sometimes called the “Hillary Factor,” for obvious reasons, and all of it underscores that tired old persistent double standard. Popular examples point to the difference between, say Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who is labeled “crazy” and “too tough,” while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is “audacious” and “determined,” a “rare leader who obsesses over finding small improvements.” Let’s not even think of returning to the infamous comparison of former NL Premiers Kathy Dunderdale (and other women premiers in this country) and Danny Williams, and the different ways their leadership styles were commonly characterized in the local media.

Leadership is something one thinks about a lot when preparing for job interviews. I parked my gender at the door, never wanting to make that an issue or excuse to get the job. I’m a woman and I showed up, enough said. But I did think about it a lot, and about how high the glass ceiling remains. Long may it continue to shatter.

I can’t tell you how much I feel the good will of colleagues and friends, and how grateful I am to you all for your support. We simply cannot make things better or move ahead if we keep leaving qualified women out of the boardrooms.

Tina Fey has famously pointed out that you’re no one until you’re called bossy. Well, I am delighted to be called Provost and Vice-President (Academic) and don’t feel I have to wear bossy pants while I’m at it. The pro tempore has gone, but I am mindful of our Latin motto provehito in altum. It’s inevitable that I will not only be launching forth into the deep but et ego ero in innixa – that is, I’ll be leaning in, big time.

Blog Week 15

I hate skipping blogs but last week was a perfect storm of, well, storms. Throw in the St. Paddy’s Day holiday and the normal routines of university life were considerably disturbed. Yes, it’s March, one of the four cruellest months of spring in these parts.

I did spend one day of last week doing something completely different. This job has me doing some interesting stuff. The president’s office punted an opportunity over to me, being a juror for a new public service competition. This was the first time that the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) sponsored a “Case Competition” with our provincial government. In order to compete, public servants must not have been in their roles for longer than five years, and so the crowd was relatively young—and, it follows, fresh and energetic. IPAC is known for developing case studies and they have a large database of these to help administrators with learning and developing public policy.

NL Deputy Ministers and their staffers were polled last year as to what kind of problems the case competition could or should tackle. Apparently, there was a lot of feedback and so the IPAC organizers clustered the really challenging and relevant ones, and then formatted the material for the groups who would be taking them on. Ten teams of five or six people had been determined, and deputy and assistant deputy ministers then coached these on how best to respond to the problems. The challenge for each team was to shape their response to the case example into what would be, in effect, a problem-solving proposal for Cabinet.

If you haven’t dropped dead of boredom yet I can assure you the actual day of competition was really exciting. Maybe you had to be there, but I found the whole exercise totally inspiring. The teams had 15 minutes to present while the six jurors had 10 minutes to pepper them with questions.  The topics included nothing less than the challenge of delivering essential services to rural Newfoundland, preparing for climate change, solving the serious provincial diabetes problem, taking the province to 2.0, and enabling electric vehicles. Big ideas, indeed.

The jurors chose two of the best of the presentations—a hard call—and then each had an hour to take on a case study cold. While we drank coffee and munched on cookies, these two teams had to do some research and come up with a set of slides in a very short amount of time. They each did a terrific job, but, ultimately, one team dominated, and they are the ones going off to Halifax to compete in the regionals.

I came away from the whole experience quite energized by all the big and bright ideas of the day, and wondered whether or not Memorial shouldn’t be doing more of the same case competition exercise in our classes or faculties. We should at least be partnering with public servants in the provincial government on how best to tackle some of the really big challenges we face locally and globally. Of course, government does rely a lot on the expertise we have at the university to inform its own thinking on policy and programs, but do they rely enough on us? How can we best harness all the talent and experience we do have to work together with such well meaning and smart people, such as all those young employees who competed for IPAC? I had taught English to one or two of them way back when and it was heartening to see where their career paths had taken them so far.

Someone pointed out to me that these young servants had experienced some anxiety about whether or not they should be spending so much time preparing for the competition. Some supervisors were—allegedly—not altogether supportive of so much time being taken “away” from their normal duties. But other supervisors saw the competition as an essential part of leadership training and team building, and considered the time invested as a necessary part of learning on the job.

Funny, because at first I thought a whole day of adjudicating a case competition would be taking me away from my own normal duties. But, then, how could participating in some big thinking with such bright young people be considered a distraction? It should be my new normal.

 

BLOG PHOTO 2

When I was an undergraduate student at McGill in the pleistocene era there was no language around harassment of any kind. It wasn’t the good old days by any stretch, but our minds were free of the vocabulary of complaints and rights, victims and perpetrators, let alone harassment boards, tribunals, investigations, and appeals. I am sure some version of all of this went down somewhere, but it was all very far from the consciousness of my peer group.

McGill was such a weird place, too. A lot of eccentric people in the Arts faculty were leading tutorials and seminars. One of my TAs was a shameless flirt. Every woman in the class knew it, acknowledged it, and rolled her eyes. He was far too familiar with me for his own good, but I discouraged his advances and, fortunately, nothing ever came of all that. I got a good grade in the course and ended up studying film, in spite of him, really.

Things would be different today. I am not sure he would try anything, but if he did my antennae would be way up. Universities are working to catch-up with a culture that insists on zero tolerance and carefully considered procedures for handling complaints of all kinds. What’s pretty astonishing is that Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynn is leading the conversation by just announcing a province-wide initiative to curb sexual violence and harassment. The project is called “Safer Campuses” and so it really is all about us. Universities in Ontario are being directed to adopt sexual assault policies, many for the first time. Now, that’s leadership, and it underscores the obvious priorities of a woman premier. Brava, Premier Wynn. You da bomb!

I vividly recall the first campus conversations at Memorial about sexual harassment policies. In fact, I was the first chair of the first Sexual Harassment Board here, at a time when we really did not have a lot of experience dealing with the language or the reality of harassment, let alone assault. The main concern was making sure the sexual harassment office was so buried in the Health Sciences complex you’d need a divining rod and your GPS to find it. The whole idea was that no one would drop in because of the stigma, and so you had to have the office hidden away, for discreet callers only. How times (and thinking) have changed.

I was the MUNFA rep on the Board, and my (all-male) colleagues at MUNFA were concerned that I remain there to ensure MUNFA’s members’ rights to proper procedures. I am not suggesting that faculty member rights might have trumped student rights, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that faculty member rights were a priority for the bargaining unit. That gave me some anxiety, to be sure, and I always feared being in a situation where I would have to choose whose side was I really on. I was younger, less certain of boundaries, and generally trying to do the right thing, whatever that was. We dealt with some serious complaints but I never felt compromised in dealing with them. Lucky, perhaps.

Campuses face a significant challenge because we must ensure procedures protect everyone, not just one interest group over another. Most complaints are by students against each other, but we all know there are bad apples among staff and faculty on every campus, and in those cases students especially are incredibly vulnerable. Over the years we have tinkered with our Sexual Harassment Policy, refining procedures, clarifying next steps, and adapting to keep pace with universal principles of fairness. We have not, however, been very focused on the difference between harassment and assault. Where do these unwanted behaviours appear on the spectrum, and what is the difference in the way we handle them? It would be nice to think we shouldn’t have to worry about these matters and let criminal acts be handled by criminal experts, but that’s naïve. Campuses have to take responsibility for the behaviours that occur in our dorms and classrooms and we better have fair, clear, and well-articulated ways of dealing with all those involved.

Memorial is actively working on all this, I am happy to say, as we must.

 

 

Blog 14

This isn’t the prettiest picture I snapped while on holidays the last two weeks on the French Caribbean island of St. Martin, but it was calling to me. It’s the only one of its kind I saw on the island, hanging on a French shop in the small marina in the charming town of Marigot. Perhaps earlier versions of its kind had already been taken down. St. Martin, although French, is a far cry from the dirty, gorgeous streets of Paris. In the blazing sun of a Caribbean holiday in February one might not want to be reminded of the outside world, or of politics of any kind, and I bet shopkeepers are well aware of that. Still, I found it more hopeful than anything, a connection to and a reminder of the larger world. It snapped me out of the self-involved world of tourism and marguerites. Not that that’s a bad world to inhabit for a time. Indeed, I always think that if we all had a couple of weeks to tune out winter, to stop and read and think, then we’d be better people all around for it. Less grumpy. More serene. Grateful, perhaps, just for the privilege.

It’s not just battery recharging; it’s about being somewhere else, facing new experiences, observing other cultures and tasting different foods. Being a tourist can and should be a humbling experience, being out of one’s element, vulnerable to experience that the daily routine just doesn’t permit. In one of my future lives I will be a travel writer. Trip Advisor doesn’t quite do it in this one, but I have earned a number of badges.

I don’t get the advice that people like to offer, though, about tuning out while on holiday. How am I supposed to unplug? Return after two weeks to the job without having looked at one email or text message? I’d have hundreds a day, thousands to have to scan and delete or file. I would have more anxiety not plugging in. How do people do that? It’s not the world I live in anymore. In fact, I took great satisfaction in being in touch with the office regularly, knowing there were no crises, dramas, or looming problems on the go, or if something was rearing its head then I was more than happy to help try to fix the situation, even while lying on a beach in the middle of Blissville. Multi-tasking at its most sublime.

Between my elegant Kindle reader and my sand-swept iPhone I was happy as one of the clams I greedily devoured every now and then, washed down with a grand glass of chilled Premier Cru something or other. The Kindle brought me to a world of books I also devoured, a long queue of them awaiting my greedy eyes. The iPhone connected me with home and the even larger Real World, which seemed to consist largely of menacing noises from Russia, obnoxious bawling from Republican Americans, and sinister portents from Israel. Connecting those dots is a scary thing to do on a beach or anywhere. I also saw a white and gold dress (don’t ask if you have no idea what I am talking about), a lot of severe Canadian weather warnings, far too many YouTubes of cats, and a lot of chatter (still going on) about whether a Norwegian writer did or did not see obese Newfoundlanders on wings night at the St. Anthony Jungle Jim’s.

Unplugged? Hardly. Rested? You bet. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. A February escape is a gift of civilization. I am ready for the march of March.