A Provost Leaves Academia, Part II – #Postac Guest Post Series

Dr. Terri Givens is a consultant in higher ed, and soon to be former provost at Menlo College. She has been a professor at the University of Washington and University of Texas at Austin, and is the proud mother of two teenage boys.

KK:  I encountered Dr. Givens’ story of imminent #postac departure on social media and immediately asked her if she’d be willing to share thoughts of her transition with us. She generously agreed, and this is her first of several posts. I encourage you to click through all of her links, especially on the theme of mental illness and higher ed.

As I discussed in my previous post, my journey to leaving academia began many years ago, when I realized that I would never be valued the way that I should be. I could give everything I had, and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, I had given everything I had, started new programs and majors, been a successful research and teacher, involved in the community, everything a university should want in a faculty member and leader. But it became very clear to me, that as a black woman, I would never be rewarded the way that my white male colleagues were for just doing the minimum. I went for 6 years without a pay raise and had minimal support for my research. Academia is not designed to reward those who don’t fit into a particular profile.

However, I did make it to provost once I left my previous institution and my next logical step should have been to become a college president. Having seen the life of several college presidents up close, it was clear to me that the job can be even harder than being a provost. You have to take responsibility for everything that happens under you, whether you knew about it or not, you have to raise tons of money, and you have to work with a board of trustees that in my case, would likely only tolerate me, because I’m a black female.

I also know that my desire to be politically active is inconsistent with the constraints that both a provost and a president must deal with. I have been a news junkie from the time I was old enough to sit in front of a TV. I grew up obsessed with network news and looked forward to the Democratic convention every four years – one of my favorite childhood memories is of watching Barbara Jordan speak at the Watergate hearings and at the Democratic National Convention. I also have fond memories of knocking on doors with my sisters to campaign for George McGovern. So, it is not surprising that I chose political science when it came time to choose a major.

One of the unfortunate truths about being an academic, particularly in my field of political science, is that it is hard to be politically active or to address current events in one’s writing. My research had to be empirical and objective. That didn’t keep me from studying topics that others considered on the fringes of the field, i.e., immigration, populism, antidiscrimination policy, which are all of a sudden considered important. I did manage to find ways to incorporate some forms of activism into my research. I worked with organizations like the German Marshall Fund that were working to develop young leaders from minority groups on both sides of the Atlantic. I also work very hard to provide clear facts about immigration policy both in the U.S. and Europe.

It is true that the opportunities for public scholarship have improved greatly, but I will feel much more comfortable about being outspoken regarding current issues when I’m no longer in an institution that frowns on such actions. I have felt even more constrained when I have been in administrative positions where the things that I say may be construed as official positions of the college. It will take me a while to develop the muscles that will allow me to be more vocal, and to figure out how I want to use the platform that I have in a positive way.

I have been on twitter for several years and have slowly developed a following. I am clearly on the side of the #Resistance and have promoted movements related to the murder of Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, Gun Sense and the Women’s March. I have used my personal blog to discuss relevant political issues, and I hope to expand on that going forward. Current events with the rise of populism, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism are pushing me to move toward the front lines to fight for the future of my boys. We are in a critical historical moment, and I want to believe in the words of Martin Luther King that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but it can’t do that without some help from those of us who believe in equal justice for all. I know that I can do a better job of this outside of academia.

Photo credit, Dwayne Hills, Sr., dhillsphotography.com

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