Other than a morning workout, breakfast, and her commute to the University of Washington Tacoma campus, Anne Bartlett, dean of interdisciplinary arts & sciences at the school, insists that no two work days are alike.
And how could they be? Bartlett has worked in higher education for more than 25 years. Though her days are no longer filled with lectures and grading term papers, she does oversee a faculty of 146 people and a budget of approximately $14 million.
Today, for instance, Bartlett doesn’t have much time to chat. She spent the morning writing a recommendation for a faculty member to visit New Zealand to study the impact of robots as therapy companions for teens at an elevated risk of suicide. Later, Bartlett has back-to-back conference calls while also planning her upcoming nuptials, which are due to take place before classes at UWT are back in full swing this fall.
“There isn’t a normal day in this job and I like that. It’s very appealing to me,” she said.
— Joanna Kresge
What are your primary duties as dean of interdisciplinary arts & sciences?
My major responsibility is to support the faculty. The faculty’s priority is the students first, and my priority is the faculty first. That is sort of my major focus.
When working with the faculty, what are some of the challenges that you face?
I’m very attentive to work-life balance, especially of my employees. I do not send emails on the weekends. I do not send emails in the evenings. I really want people to go home and do whatever they do. I mean, I know people do work after work hours, definitely. But as far as having to engage with this kind of work, I’m very conscious not to bother people. I really want to contribute to having the ability to be refreshed in the evening, so they can come back the next day ready to dive in again.
As a dean, do you ever have the opportunity to continue teaching?
I don’t teach at this point. I would love to at some point. You know, teaching, even just one class for most (individuals on) faculty, takes up all of the intellectual space that you can possibly give to it. That’s because you are always thinking about your next lecture, or your students’ papers, maybe the next paper assignment, or how well the students are doing. And you’re meeting with students. It’s really not something I’m able to do at this point and give the full attention to the tasks at hand.
It often seems most folks who go into education have a real passion for teaching. Was it hard to go from being a lecturer to working at the administration level?
Absolutely! And I certainly have a love for it. Early on (in my career), I did not accept any administrative positions before I made full professor. That was really important to me especially given the newness of my field. I really wanted to go through tenure promotion, associate professor, and the promotion to full (professor), which is a really important stage of completion in your career.
Did you make the switch right away?
Once I became a full professor and I continued to publish and teach, I thought, “OK, maybe I can explore and see if this is something that interests me.” When I was more junior in the field, I was really involved with these scholarly organizations that I belonged to. So, I wondered if this was something similar.
What was your area of study before you went into administration?
My field is Medieval studies, which sounds maybe not so exciting. But what I have studied is the contributions of women to culture and society. Especially regarding the patronage of book publishing and book translating in very early reading circles.
What specifically about this period in time drew you in?
It used to be assumed that women were chaste, silent, and obedient. That is sort of the common phrase, and it is absolutely not true. And why should it be true, because of human nature? My research has found that women were very active culturally. Even though there were laws against the ownership of property, for example, and writing of wills, women who were of good economic standing were responsible for managing their entire households because the men were at war or at court. They were convening juries, collecting taxes, imprisoning criminals, and training their kids in the art of warfare — even defending their castles and taking on very prominent roles in their church as well.
Do you ever notice any parallels between what you know of that period of time, and the role of women in today’s society?
There are some trends that seem to keep going no matter how much we sort of push against them. It is difficult. Things have changed, but some things have not. Women are sort of being forced into the childcare, domesticity realms, and men not necessarily having that option … If there was a little more looseness in who took care of the home, we might actually see more equality because people who are domestically oriented don’t necessarily come in one gender or the other.
What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing graduates these days?
I worry about the cost of education … That sense of economic security has been breached. That state and federal sort of disinvestment in education has really contributed to the rise of tuition. That is a huge concern. I basically paid my own way through college. I had taken some time off, I paid my way, (received) guaranteed student loans and Pell grants, and worked some. But not the way students have to work now. It’s painful to see how much people have to work.
Being at a public institution, the price is far less than it was at my previous institution, which was private and three times the amount of tuition. Both institutions have an expressed commitment to students of limited means, first generation students, and underrepresented minorities. Those folks are even more vulnerable to the debt. That is really frightening.
Does that mean that you are in favor of some type of universal education for all Americans?
If part of the public has collectively made the determination that we are not going to support higher education for all our students in the country … if we could rethink that decision (because it’s) really self-defeating for us as a country. It’s just really horrible for us as individuals because it locks people in to the circumstances in which they were born, and that’s really sad.
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