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Sunday, August 4, 2019

A new dimension of empathy

This is part II of the lessons I took away from the Executive Leadership Academy...

The other surprising and amazing aspect of the ELA was meeting the other fellows, many of whom were also women and people of color. Simply being in a room with so many people who are leaders on their campuses, who are deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, and who are not afraid to talk about that commitment in the context of their roles as leaders was a first for me. Again, I’m not sure I can explain it well but I am pretty sure it was the first time I have been in a room where I felt completely accepted, even part of the “in crowd”, not IN SPITE of being a woman of color who cares about diversity and inclusion, but BECAUSE of it. That feeling, in itself, has given me a ton to think about. In particular, I keep wondering: is this what white people (or at least white men) feel all the time, maybe without even being aware of it?

There is a quote I like that goes something like, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equity can feel like loss”. When I first heard that, I thought it captured in such a simple way the source of so much of the anger and violence we have seen from certain groups in this country in the last few years. And I thought I understood it. But while I may have been able to understand it on some intellectual level, I have to say that a big part of me only gets it on an intellectual level – I don’t think I have ever actually felt that same loss. Not that I don’t experience privilege in many ways, but I don’t believe I have ever felt threatened, less special, when that privilege has been extended to others.

But I keep thinking about how I felt for a brief moment at the ELA, and how I might feel about the world if that feeling were my norm and then that norm were threatened. I honestly have no idea if this is an appropriate parallel, but I believe it has added a new layer to the empathy I feel for those who are pushing back against all the diversity initiatives on my campus that I am so excited about. That has reinforced my belief that to be successful, we need to make sure we are truly being inclusive. At the same time, it has also added a new dimension to my motivation to make sure these initiatives are wildly successful, so that what I experienced does become my (and every other person’s) norm…

Learning to be an authentic leader

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the Executive Leadership Academy (ELA) at UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education. When I arrived for the first day, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the agenda and knew that I would learn a lot about aspects of higher ed administration that I have not been involved with before (like fundraising, working with governing boards and crisis management); I also figured that at least some of the sessions would not be too new (like recruiting and retaining diverse faculty). I was correct on both counts.

But the most valuable aspect of the ELA was not really in the content of those sessions (though that content was all excellent and I know will prove incredibly useful in the future). The real benefit was in something I had no way of anticipating: hearing the stories and personal experiences of the many speakers who were from minoritized backgrounds. Almost all of the presenters were former Presidents or Provosts and for me, hearing from women of color, in particular, who had not only made it into those positions but who all did so while continuing to be completely authentic and true to their cultural backgrounds, affected me deeply, in ways that I am still processing (and will likely continue to process for a long time to come).

I don’t know if I can even explain it. It was not just inspiring; I suspect that it was literally life-changing. I found (and continue to find) myself questioning beliefs and assumptions that I did not even realize were beliefs and assumptions – I thought they were simply facts and realities, about how leaders of universities are “supposed to” talk and behave. I listened to Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet, the first Native American woman to be president of a university outside the tribal college system, talk about practicing her culture’s customs IN that presidential office; and I heard Judy Sakaki, the first Japanese-American woman in the country to be president of a four-year university, talk about how the family heirlooms – including kimonos from her grandparents – that she had displayed at Sonoma State were the only family treasures she still had after losing everything else in the Tubbs fire; and I heard SDSU’s own President, Adela de la Torre, talk about prioritizing family, even with all the demands of a presidency. With each presentation, I could feel something in me shift, something that at first felt like some level of surprise to hear what I was hearing but then thought, “Well, why NOT that?”

Throughout the week, I kept thinking about my struggle to call myself a leader. These women, as well as most of the men and women sitting around me in the room, not only were unafraid to claim their role as leaders but they seemed able to do so while remaining completely authentic to cultures and upbringing that are so different from the “traditional” model of what a leader a “looks like.” I can’t say that I am yet completely comfortable with calling myself a leader – maybe there is a part of me that will always feel a little weird about that – but I can say that I left with far more confidence that I can be exactly the person I want be AND be the leader I want to be.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Fun is in the eye of the beholder

In my last post, I highlighted four criteria one might use to consider what projects and roles to take on. I posted a link to that on my personal Facebook page, with the summary comment, "Realizing that maybe what is missing from my work is fun. Next step is figuring out why and how to get more of it..." A friend pointed out that "If everyone declined things missing the fun element, every RTP committee would be empty, as would most governance" and she is absolutely right. So let me clarify that I don't need everything I do to be fun, and certainly not all the time, as long as at least one of the other criteria are satisfied (i.e., I feel I'm growing, or it's something I feel passionately about, or it gives me a sense of accomplishment).

At the same time, if I don't feel like anything I'm doing is particularly "fun", then that's a problem too. And what I've realized is that while my work with the CTL generally provides a sense of accomplishment, and some aspects of the job certainly contribute to helping students in a way I feel passionate about, I really don't find any of the day-to-day work fun anymore. I also feel like I've hit a plateau in terms of what I am learning, and that doesn't seem likely to change unless my institution makes a very different decision about the resources it is willing to invest in faculty development. In contrast, because I was able to catch up on a bunch of stuff over Spring Break, I just spent a big chunk of my weekend mucking around in school finance data, and the time flew in a way I haven't experienced in a while. On a few other occasions recently, when I have had the opportunity to talk about education policy, or play around with data, or talk to people about economics, I have come away from those times feeling energized, rather than drained. Maybe it's a function of novelty - since my consumption of those activities is lower these days, my marginal benefit is higher :-). But I suspect there is something more meaningful going on.

This all reminds me, once again, of that quote - and I don't know where it comes from - that a professor is someone who thinks the world would be better off if everyone knew a little more about her subject. Deep down, I am an economist, not a faculty developer, and I am happiest when I get to 'do' economics. So I need to start figuring out how to make more space for that...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

What motivates you at mid-career?

My first sabbatical was in 2006-07, right after I got tenure. I took the full year and moved back to the Bay Area for a year, feeling like I really needed to get completely away from everything about my life in San Diego, in order to think more clearly about what I really wanted. I did a ton of soul-searching that year. I remember feeling really conflicted. At that point, I had spent eleven years basically working toward one goal - tenure - and I'm not sure that I had ever really stopped to think about what would happen after that. For the first time in my academic life, I could actually step back and ask, "What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is this what I want to keep doing for, potentially, the rest of my life? If not, what do I want to be doing instead? And is San Diego State where I want to do it for, potentially, the rest of my life? " Big questions.

I can't say that I figured it all out but by the end of the year, I think I had identified the goals and values that really drive my work, and I realized that a) I really did love my research but b) I also wanted to spend more time on my teaching. I also admitted to myself that although there were (and still are) things about my department that drive me nuts, there is no other combination of location and institution that I'm aware of that could ever Pareto-dominate San Diego State. The dominance of the location is obvious (hello, San Diego!), but what it took me a while to appreciate was that being at SDSU is rewarding in ways that I don't believe I would ever find at an elite institution. I will never forget the first time I was at a commencement ceremony and one of my students came up to me with her parents who hugged me like I was a long lost relative, thanking me profusely for advising their daughter, the first in the family to attend college. Although I was attracted to doing ed policy research originally because I was raised to believe in education as the great equalizer, it is my job as an instructor at San Diego State, more than my academic research, that makes me feel like I am truly contributing to that ideal every day.

Over the years, the soul-searching I did on that sabbatical has helped me stay grounded and to navigate priorities, particularly as I moved away from ed policy research to do more work in Econ ed. I've been able to accept my dwindling publication record in certain types of journals because the other work I was doing still fit into my larger goals and values.

When I took on the CTL gig, things got a bit more complicated. At first, it was fun, and challenging, if a bit overwhelming, to think about how to help faculty across the University to be better teachers. But I have come to feel that something is missing and I wasn't quite sure what until I read a recent article in the Chronicle, "You're a Full Professor. Now What?" The author, Kathryn McDaniel, talks about the challenge of deciding how to prioritize her time and she highlights four questions that she asks about new responsibilities or projects:

- Is it fun?
- Is it helping me grow or develop in a new area?
- Is it connected to something I feel passionate about?
- Does it provide me with a sense of accomplishment?

McDaniel uses these questions to guide her choices about what projects and roles to take on. She has two rules: "The projects and roles I choose should inspire a "yes" to at least one of the questions." and "If something I am asked to do generates a "no" when applied to all four criteria, then I politely decline the request."

This really resonated with me but as I have thought about it more, I would add another rule: my work as a whole should be satisfying ALL FOUR criteria. Not everything has to be a 'yes' to all four, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to say that I've got all four covered by all the different things I am spending time on, put together.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more clear to me that while most of my CTL work hits three of the four, there is currently almost no aspect of my job that I think is 'fun'. So I've got to spend some time figuring out what IS fun for me and how to get some of that into my work day.

What criteria do you use to help prioritize your time?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do you call yourself a leader? Part II

In my last post, I wrote about my resistance to calling myself a leader and how I think I've figured out where that resistance comes from: 1) it feels like bragging, 2) I don't fit the mental image I hold of what a leader looks like (i.e., white male), and 3) I don't want the responsibility I associate with being a leader. So the next questions I'm asking myself are: Does it really matter if I claim the leader label? And if it does, how do I get past this resistance I feel? Some of the conversations I had with colleagues earlier this week are helping me see that yes, it does matter, and what's particularly interesting to me is that I think some of the reasons why it matters are actually going to help me get over the resistance.

For starters, a big reason I think it matters if I call myself a leader, and that also definitely makes it easier to do so, is that those first two sources of resistance are essentially founded on sexist and racist beliefs, and that's just bullshit (pardon my language). I mean, whether I want to call myself a leader or not, I am doing the work of leadership, and others see me doing that work. So if I shy away from fully owning that, I am just perpetuating the implicit bias that says girls (and particularly Asian girls) shouldn't "brag", or that says girls taking credit for their own good work is "bragging" in the first place. I do have to say, that voice inside telling me that it's presumptuous to call myself a leader is a really hard one to shake, and I know it will continue to be. But if most men don't seem to worry about this, why should I?

As for the belief that leaders are "supposed to be" white men, that's a lot easier to reject. Not only is that just objectively wrong, but if people like me, a Japanese-American woman, don't step up and call ourselves leaders, how will we ever really get rid of that bias? The more I've thought this, the more I feel like I practically have a social obligation to get over myself and claim my leader identity.

The third source of my resistance, that sense of obligation that I feel comes with the leader label, is also hard to shake off. But one of my colleagues at the Leadership Institute said something that really resonated with me. He talked about how he views his leadership as an honor and privilege that has been bestowed on him by colleagues and he thinks about being a leader for them. Others made similar comments, about focusing on the work, on serving others, and I really like that too. I think the more I can re-frame my mental beliefs about being a leader in terms of opportunity instead of obligation, the less resistance I feel. If I focus more on the fact that being a leader is an honor and allows me to serve others, instead of focusing on the expectations and responsibility, then it feels less like something scary and stressful, and more like something I can (and should) be proud to claim. I think this is also why the leader label matters - by not thinking of myself as a leader, I wonder what opportunities I may have missed out on. Are there times when I might have been able to do more, to offer more, if I had thought of myself as a leader, as someone who could and should do more?

I suspect these ideas will be rumbling around in my head for a while and are sure to come up on this blog again. As always, I'm curious if others have similar thoughts (or complete different thoughts!) so please feel free to share in the comments... 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Are you doing leadership? Do you call yourself a leader? Part I

This week I participated in a Faculty Leadership Institute at school that has my brain kind of spinning. There are many things I want to write about but I am particularly grappling with the title questions right now. Basically, I know that I am "doing leadership" - for most of my life, I have always done work that others would call leadership, like I was in student government in high school and college, I always held leadership positions in other student organizations, I've been on Boards of professional associations, I've chaired committees, etc. And currently, I'm not only the CTL Director but a University Senator and the chair of one of the more "powerful" Senate committees. And I know I'm pretty darn effective at all that work.

But a few years ago, when a colleague first referred to me as a 'faculty leader', I had an almost visceral negative reaction and immediately wanted to disagree with him. And in the last couple weeks, I have been in a few different situations (including this Leadership Institute) where I have been asked to think of myself as a leader and I feel a HUGE resistance to the label.

As I have started to really examine why, there are three aspects of my resistance that I think I can identify. One is that it feels arrogant, presumptuous. Leaders are Important People, People who Get Things Done and, often, they are Above Others, so some part of me feels like it would be bragging to call myself a leader - and nice people don't brag. That's my judgmental nature coming out but I do know that feeling comes from values instilled in me since I was pretty young. So when I dig into that a little deeper, I also find myself wondering: is it maybe that I think nice girls don't brag? Or that nice Japanese-American girls don't brag? I don't typically bring gender or race into these sort of discussions but I can't help but wonder because a) I'm pretty sure that girls are more likely than boys to be told that it is somehow unbecoming to brag and b) I suspect that Japanese-American parents are more likely than white parents to tell their children not to call attention to themselves.

Being a Japanese-American woman is definitely related to the second aspect of my resistance that I can identify, which is that when someone uses the label "leader", the mental image I see is more likely than not a white man. That is, when someone talks about "leaders", I picture political leaders (who are mostly white men), or business leaders (who are mostly white men) or even academic leaders (who are mostly white men, certainly in economics anyway). So in my mind's eye, "leader" conjures up "white man" and that sure ain't me.

The third aspect of my resistance comes from a very different place and that is a reluctance to accept the responsibility that I feel comes with calling myself a leader. Yes, leaders are People who Get Things Done - which means that if I call myself a leader, I will then be expected to Get Things Done. From one perspective, that makes no sense because I am already doing the work (I do, in fact, Get Things Done) so why should it bother me to claim the label? But there is a difference between doing the work and being expected to do the work - the latter carries the possibility of not meeting those expectations and that's scary / stressful. It also creates a sense of obligation that I just really don't want, even if I have every confidence I can meet that obligation.

In Part II, I'll share how my thinking is evolving to address each of these but I'm curious whether others feel this same resistance and if so, does it come from similar places? Have you found ways to overcome it?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Simple way to diversify the pipeline

I don't usually mind missing the ASSA meetings - I hate to travel, I live in California so going to meetings almost always means going someplace a lot colder and an earlier time zone, and 90% of the economists I encounter at those meetings are the type of economists I dislike (and the other 10% are people I can see elsewhere). But there are occasionally sessions and papers that make me wish I had gone. One such paper in Atlanta is by Amanda Bayer, Syon Bhanot and Fernando Lozano, part of a session titled Gender in the Economics Profession I (the fact that there is more than one session with that title also makes me happy). The paper is "Does Simple Information Provision Lead to More Diverse Classrooms? Evidence from a Field Experiment on Undergraduate Economics" (link is to download the preview paper from the AEA conference site) and here's the abstract:
Significant gender and racial/ethnic gaps have been observed in the economics profession, a reality with roots in the decisions of undergraduates and their professors. Indeed, despite representing almost 60 percent of the U.S. college population, women account for only 30 percent of economics majors. While disparities in knowledge of economics and its value undoubtedly exist before students set foot on college campuses, economists could do more to directly address student misperceptions and knowledge gaps. This paper reports the results of a field experiment in which faculty provided incoming students with information about economics via two emails sent in the summer as students considered courses for their first semester of college. We evaluate whether this outreach has an impact on course taking using a randomized control trial involving 2,710 students across nine U.S. colleges with a strong record of sending students to PhD programs in economics. We randomly assign all incoming women and members of underrepresented minority groups to one of three experimental conditions: a control (no email messaging), a simple “Welcome” treatment (two emails encouraging students to consider enrolling in economics courses), and a “Welcome+Info” treatment (two emails encouraging students to consider enrolling in economics courses plus information showcasing the diversity of research and researchers within economics and providing links to educational materials on the AEA’s website). The Welcome+Info treatment increases the likelihood of completing an economics course in the first semester of college by 3.0 percentage points, which is nearly 20 percent of the baseline rate. Additional exploratory analyses suggest stronger effects on first-generation college students. Our results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that how economics is presented at the undergraduate level affects who is attracted to the field.
That last sentence, "how economics is presented at the undergraduate level affects who is attracted to the field," highlights one of my longstanding frustrations. I hate that so many people in the world do not know the economics field that I know, that I am constantly explaining to people how the ed policy work I do is completely typical of the applied micro work that a lot of economists do, and that economics is much more about choices and behavior than business and money. Sigh.

At any rate, the intervention these authors used strikes me as a pretty darn simple way to diversify our economics classrooms and I really encourage everyone to share this with your colleagues and consider how you could do something similar at your own institution!