January 22, 2021
Good morning everyone. I am honored to accept this award–first, because my dear colleague Dean Rashid nominated me and, second, because the ACAD Board of Directors selected me as the 2020 recipient. Thank you.
Before I begin, I want to inform you that although I am using American Sign Language (ASL) to make my remarks rather than speaking to you, I am not a Deaf person; I can hear. I began to learn ASL at the age of 23 when I was introduced to the Deaf signing community and subsequently began to interact with Deaf people. Soon, I understood that the Deaf signing community is a linguistic community, a languaculture, based primarily on vision.
Gallaudet University is the only university in the world established to educate Deaf students (92% of its undergraduate students are Deaf). Our university uses two primary languages for education and for conducting business: ASL and English. I decided to make my remarks today using ASL instead of speaking in English for the following reasons:
- I am representing Gallaudet which is a signing community.
- Using ASL assures that my colleague, Dean Rashid, and other Deaf participants will have full, direct access to my comments.
- If you do not know ASL, you have access to my comments because there are interpreters with us today translating ASL to spoken English.
Now I will proceed with my brief remarks.
Success as a leader is a collective endeavor. ACAD is presenting me with this award, but it does not represent a singular accomplishment. Rather, I accept this award on behalf of the dedicated and creative team of academic leaders at Gallaudet University—faculty leaders and senior academic administrators—with whom I collaborated. Together we worked hard to realize the promise of shared governance. We valued and sought a diversity of people and ideas. We listened carefully to each other for understanding. We committed to the time required to build trust, to struggle with conflict and misunderstanding, to admit mistakes, apologize, and move forward together. We kept our passion for our university’s mission, our passion for our students, in clear focus. It was my honor to work with them and I am deeply grateful for all that they taught me.
I began as a reluctant academic leader; serving in an administrative role at the University was never my ambition. Until 2007, I had been a professor and researcher at Gallaudet University for 30 years and expected to continue in those roles until my retirement. I was also firmly committed to supporting Deaf leadership and regarded myself as an ally. But, in 2007, an accreditation crisis occurred and the incoming provost, himself a Deaf leader, asked me to serve as a member of his leadership team. I accepted his offer to become interim dean out of a sense of duty to the institution and because I respected him; I felt grateful for everything the university and the community had given me and I was passionate about Gallaudet University’s mission and its survival. In 2014, I applied for the provost’s position for similar reasons.
In her new book, Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World, Stephanie Schrioch, the president of Emily’s List, informs us that women frequently decide to compete for leadership roles for such reasons, even though they often believe they aren’t qualified because they don’t meet 100% of the criteria listed in the job description. If the provost had not asked me to serve on his leadership team in 2007 and if the search committee had not persisted in asking me to apply for the provost position in 2014, I would not be here, sharing my story.
You, as academic leaders, face enormous challenges at this time in our history and these challenges require leaders to act differently. Shaun Harper, president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), often reminds us that we have a pipeline problem. I challenge you to solve that problem by recruiting and mentoring diverse and currently underrepresented people to become the leaders who will replace you. Be determined to bring as many perspectives to your team as possible and persist in your efforts to convince reluctant future leaders to accept leadership roles. Continuously scan the environment for diverse individuals who are underrepresented in academic leadership roles—for example, women and especially BIPOC women—who show leadership potential—and ask them to serve. If they are reluctant or decline, build relationships with these future leaders and listen to what they need. Use the resources you control to create a community around them to support their success and, in turn, encourage them to be a member of a community of support for others. Then ask again. Persist. Encourage them to risk taking that first leadership role with supports you have put in place to ensure their success.
Make progress every day and don’t delay. Don’t give up. Our students, our institutions, and our nation need your leadership—and theirs—now.
Related topics: leadership