S.10 E.5: “My Life Would Have Been Profoundly Different”

Learning for Life @ Gustavus podcast host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alumna and Provost at Queens University of Charlotte Dr. Sarah Fatherly.
Posted on October 5th, 2021 by

Dr. Sarah Fatherly ’91, history major, historian, and currently Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Queens University of Charlotte, in Charlotte, North Carolina, on being a chief academic officer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, what brought her to Gustavus and its history major from Newburgh, New York, working at the then-new Women’s Rights National Historical Park, her scholarship on the social and gender history of colonial Philadelphia, innovating general education at Queens, concerning and hopeful trends in higher ed, and the professional and personal benefits of liberal education.

Season 10, Episode 5: “My Life Would Have Been Profoundly Different”

Greg Kaster:

Hello and welcome to Learning for Life at Gustavus. The podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus college and the myriad ways that Gustavus liberal arts education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, faculty member in the department of history.

In the spring of 2020, still early in the COVID-19 pandemic, I spoke with the provost of Gustavus, Dr. Brenda Kelly, in an episode I titled Pandemic Provost. Today more than a year later in late June 2021, with several hundred million doses of vaccine now administered in the United States, I’m speaking with another provost at a different institution. Dr. Sarah Fatherly, Gustavus class of ’91 is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina. A position she has held since 2017 having previously served five years as associate provost and dean of university programs there. A history major and women’s studies minor at Gustavus, Sarah went on to earn her MA and PhD in US History from the University of Wisconsin Madison where she specialized in early America and women’s history. Prior to Queens University she was a member of the history department and interim dean and associate vice president for academic affairs at Otterbein University in Ohio.

Sarah is both an accomplished administrator and an accomplished historian. Her excellent book, Gentlewomen and Learned Ladies, Women and Elite Formation in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia won the prestigious Philip S. Klein Book Prize on the Pennsylvania Historical Association and she has published and presented numerous articles, reviews, and conference papers in her area of historical expertise. As an administrator she’s achieved notable successes in student retention, learning communities, undergraduate research and general education and has published and presented extensively on these and other areas of higher ed. Historian, professor, provost, Sarah has excelled and continues to excel at all three and is a recognized leader and innovator in undergraduate education. And as one of her former history profs at Gustavus, I’ve followed her career with great interest and pride. And it’s my pleasure to converse with her now for the podcast about her path from history major to provost, leading amid a pandemic, trends in higher ed, and more. Welcome Sarah. It’s so great to have you on.

Sarah Fatherly:

Thank you so much Greg. It’s wonderful to sort of be in this conversation with you and to get to sort of catch up and also talk a little bit about where things are and how I got here.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Well, we’re two historians. We know how important that is. How we … And thank you so much. I know we’ve kept up and we’ve seen each other in person a little bit now and then over the years but it’s been a while so it’s a treat for me. Let’s begin in the present and then work our way backward. So what has it been like for Queens and for you as the provost amid this god awful pandemic?

Sarah Fatherly:

Wow. How long do we have for this?

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s the whole podcast. I know.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. No, it’s such an important and such a hard question. I was not long ago actually doing an interview for someone who’s in a local educational leadership program and she wanted to interview a higher ed leader so I was in the Charlotte area, she asked me if I’d do it and I said sure. And this was the question she asked me. And part of what we talked about a little bit is it was incredibly difficult I think on any given day being a chief academic officer is … It is an amazing privilege, it is also an amazing responsibility. And to lead through a pandemic … I can honestly say that I’ve had to do a lot of things in my higher ed career that point. I had never realized I was going to have to make some of the decisions I had to make in the last year. So in general I’m really proud of where Queens landed, where we landed, but I think it was a tough year with a lot of really important decisions to make. Which also made me think a little bit more intensely and distinctly also about the premises of decision making. And in that moment, what do you preference? What are you making your decisions based on? And I think that became a really intense set of conversations for our internal leadership group here at Queens.

Greg Kaster:

Give me an example of some of the decisions, at least one, that you’re referring to that were so difficult, so hard.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. So about a year ago … Because we’re located right in the heart of Charlotte, the sort of ramp up of COVID in the southeast was really starting to take up really terrible speed at this time last year in the summer. And so one of the choices we had to make was whether or not to go entirely virtual in the fall. Among the many fond memories I have of Gustavus, one of the things is about the geography there. Not being from the mid west and that being my first introduction to it, I was sort of really taken with and intrigued by sort of the way in which the campus there, while it is to some degree porous, at least when I was there, it was also fairly self contained. And Queens is very different. We are smack right in one of the historic districts on Charlotte, North Carolina. So we really had to weigh critical questions of safety of our students and our faculty and our staff. But also we are a tuition driven institution and so what was going to be the financial consequences for that and just really being able to make sure that we had a good, moral, and ethical compass on how to balance out in those conversations. It was difficult. And I was very proud of how we got through those conversations and why we made the choices we made.

But that was a good one. “Hey everyone, when you come back to campus in six to eight weeks, you’re not coming to campus. You’re all going online. Good luck.”

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I mean, Gustavus as you know, and so many schools, we faced that same issue also. Of course, we’re tuition driven. And just as you’re proud of Queens, I’m proud of Gustavus so I have to say, we did it, we made it. And no one signed up for this. In fact, I wonder about you. I’ve been thinking at times, what was it like to be a faculty member or a provost let’s say in 1918? I actually did some work on Gustavus. I tried to find some things about … The main thing I could find was that the football schedule was interrupted. No sense of the college no shutting down or anything like that. I want to learn more about that if possible. But yeah, you had your work cut out for you. You hadn’t been provost that long there right? Before the … Was it two years roughly before the pandemic?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yes. I’d been in the role for two years. I was in my third and we had a brand new president. He finished his first year after COVID hit. So he started in the summer and then that following spring when everybody basically went to emergency remote instruction he was still in his first year. So I think that was also tremendous in terms of someone new in that role and it’s also his first presidency and I think he’s just a great guy. I so enjoy working with him and I respect him. But that’s also … That’s quite a leadership challenge.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. No kidding. Talk about learning curves as they say.

Sarah Fatherly:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg Kaster:

So how many students is roughly Queens? Is it Gustavus’ size or a bit larger?

Sarah Fatherly:

It’s a good question. So we have these days about 1,750 undergraduates who are full-time. We also have about 600 graduate students who are more professional part-time programs. So kind of altogether we’re around 2,400, 2,500 but I think the proportion of those numbers is a bit different.

Greg Kaster:

Right. So your undergraduate numbers are lower than ours. Yeah. But the overall numbers sound about the same.

Sarah Fatherly:

About the same.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Well, congratulations. I hope we’ve gotten through it. The whole thing with the delta variant as we speak is worrisome. I’m planning to go back. I’ve been online almost since we abandoned campus I guess in mid March of 2020. I put in to go back in person so we shall see. You’ve seen me teach. Can you imagine me teaching with a mask? I said to myself, there’s no way. I mean there’s no way. It’s not going to work. And social distancing. Not going to work. You know. So my memory is you grew up in … Is it upstate New York? You grew up outside of New York City right or upstate New York? Tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah, sure. No. And actually that is the perfect explanation of where I grew up. Because it depends on who you are, whether you think it’s upstate or down state. It’s the social geography. I grew up about 60 miles north of New York City in a Hudson River town, Newburgh. So kind of on the west side of the river. Sort of right across from Beacon which of course now is very chic chic as they’ve got a Dia gallery and all sorts of other stuff. It’s the new outpost for folks from the city. But that’s where I’m front originally is the lower Hudson Valley in New York.

Greg Kaster:

And I have a memory … Again, correct me if I’m wrong. Was your dad working for Eastern Airlines? I’ve always been interested in airlines.

Sarah Fatherly:

Wow. I’m impressed.

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. He was working for American Airlines.

Greg Kaster:

American.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. He worked for a small regional outfit that was then acquired by American when they were doing a lot of their point to point service in the ’80s.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. Yeah. Since I was a little kid I’ve had an interest in … Like a little … Airplanes and the airline industry anyway. So yeah, I got the airline wrong. Bur American’s still in business. That’s even better. Now, why Gustavus? How did you … Growing up there … Yeah.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. Why Gustavus? Talk about … I will say because of being a faculty member full-time for so long and then moving into some of my administrative roles, boy do I have this conversation with students all the time actually. And others. Because I sort of use it a little bit to illustrate I think what is so important to me about higher ed very genuinely, which is that it’s transformative. It can be.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Right.

Sarah Fatherly:

I was a working class kid. My mom had gone to college but honestly culturally our family was very first gen. Both my parents supported us going to college but they didn’t have the money to pay for it. And so I was a kid who did pretty well in high school and so everyone assumed I was going to go to college. My family didn’t know whether or not they had the money and my mom actually … Here’s a plug for the Lutheran church. My family was a good Lutheran going church family at the time. So my mom actually took me to a Lutheran college fair night in New Jersey actually. Because her alma mater was Valparaiso. And the only reason she went to college was because she was a smart girl in the early ’60s and she got a scholarship. Because certainly her family couldn’t have sent her. So I went to that college fair. Talk about the way not to do a college search. College fair. I looked at a bunch of places. There was like Gustavus rep there. There were some other people there. And then I got all the literature when it all used to be coming in the home mailbox.

And one of the … There were two things that were really important to me. This I knew. One, I knew that I wanted to go to a small school because I went to a fairly large urban high school and it just meant that my … I got a really good public education. But 950 people in my graduating class.

Greg Kaster:

Wow.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. So I wanted something that was a smaller environment. I don’t know that I could have said exactly why but I had that feeling that I wanted to be known and to know people differently than I did in high school. And then the other thing I knew is that music performance was incredibly important to me. I had been a cellist. I started playing in the 4th grade actually thanks to public education and the funding of the arts. And so I knew that I wanted to continue to play in college. And so I wanted a place that had a good music program but not a program frankly that was so elevated that you had to be a performance major in order to participate. And so those are some of the things that really interested me in Gustavus actually.

Greg Kaster:

And that is a great thing. Maybe it’s true at Otterbein too. Where you can … Sometimes I wish I had gone to a place like Gustavus but I probably would have participated in so many things. But including something like that. And I forgot about the cello. Kate … My wife Kate Wittenstein who’s retired from the department, she loves the cello. I forgot you played the cello. And that’s cool. Yeah, you don’t have to be a star performer or star athlete to participate. Now I have a memory, yeah. You were in the orchestra. Is that right?

Sarah Fatherly:

Oh yeah. Got into the symphony. Did chamber work. Continued to do one on one lessons while I was there. It was a huge part of my experience at Gustavus in all sorts of ways. And it was great because I really could participate as much as I wanted even though I knew … I knew I wasn’t going to do performance. So when I came to Gustavus, I was a kid from New York, I played the cello, and I actually knew I wanted to major in history. And so the admission’s office was like well, you’re definitely ticking the out of state box. That’s awesome.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great. I love these sort of origin stories when I podcast with people. For a faculty, how’d you come to Gustavus? But also students. And they’re all different ways. So thank goodness for that fair at the Lutheran college fair that you went to. So I was going to ask you about that. About whether you knew wanted to major in history. Sounds like you did. Is that because of teachers you had in high school?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It’s interesting. I did know that I wanted to major in history. I knew that I also … I’d had a very positive experience in literature courses in high school too. So I knew the humanities kind of world I really enjoyed. Here’s a fun thing you may not recall Greg and this is one where, again, especially when I was on the full-time faculty and had my own advisees and I talked to them about where they were at and the courses they needed to take. I came to Gustavus knowing I wanted to major in history but I also was convinced, and it was entirely based on my experience in junior high and high school, that I only wanted to do European history because I thought American history was boring.

Greg Kaster:

No offense taken.

Sarah Fatherly:

Well, I resemble that remark too. So when I came to Gustavus I signed up for the … This was the curriculum as it was in the late ’80s. So I signed up for my western civ sequences instead of the American survey for instance. And then I had a moment that’s called curriculum requirements. And the history department was like, “No, no. You have to take something in American history.” And I was like, “Oh, crap. That’s going to be boring.” And that was entirely a reflection of teachers I’d had who all due respect were definitely doing the let’s march through the wars and the presidents.

Greg Kaster:

Deadly.

Sarah Fatherly:

That was the version of American history I knew which is why I had this ridiculous bias about it. And so I remember very distinctly two of the earliest American history classes I took. And one was with you and one was with Kate. And they completely transformed the way that I understood American history. So I took an American … I’m not going to remember the exact course title but it was basically social protest movements.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, my American … I probably called that American Radicalism at the time.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah, yeah. That’s it. So I took American Radicalism with you and I took American Women’s History with Kate.

Greg Kaster:

Okay, we can stop here. We can stop here. You’ve made my day.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah, right?

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Sarah Fatherly:

It’s true. It’s true.

Greg Kaster:

Women’s History with Kate, is that what you said or African … Yeah.

Sarah Fatherly:

Well, I did Women’s History. And so those were the first two I did. And then I did African American History with her and I also did … There was another one that I did after that with you as well. And so that was sort of like my brain just kind of went poof, oh my god, this is super dynamic and interesting and tells different stories than I have ever heard. And so I was that kid who when I went to pick my book report topics like in 4th grade and seventh grade … And I got to give some credit to my mom for certain. But I would pick the weirdo topics at the time like I did a book report on Mary McLeod Bethune. I was in like fourth or fifth grade. Like that was not your average choice. So the funny thing is once I had classes with you both and I really had a very different understanding of what it meant to learn about the American past, then it also helped me see some of the choices I’d been making kind of on the margins if you will as a young student.

And it’s like wow, now I could actually really study these things. As opposed to let me go find something in this assignment where I can get something that I’m finding more intellectually stimulating or meaningful.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I mean Mary McLeod Bethune … I don’t know how old you were. You were in grade school? Is that what you said? Or high school?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It was like fifth or sixth grade or something like that.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. Well, you’re doing women’s history, African American History, US history so there it was. That’s cool. I knew you were in at least a couple of classes with me but I couldn’t remember which ones. So thank you for that memory. And also you did … Didn’t you work closely with Tom Emmert on the European side or Byron Nordstrom? I’m trying to remember that.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It’s funny because when I got to Gustavus I had work study money and I was assigned to the work studying department. So that was also a fun and funny part of my experience because I actually didn’t have class with Tom probably until I was late in my sophomore year even. So I knew Tom really well because I did a lot of work for him in the department as a work study student but it was a while before I actually had him as an instructor. So I did Russian with Tom which was great. I really enjoyed. And also Rod.

Greg Kaster:

Oh my gosh.

Sarah Fatherly:

I had Rod for multiple courses.

Greg Kaster:

Rodney Davis.

Sarah Fatherly:

Rodney Davis. I had him for western civ and then I also had him for an English history course.

Greg Kaster:

That is amazing. Rodney Davis or Rod the god that students once called him. I always say, I believe Rodney started at Gustavus the year I was born. 1953. I think I’ve got that right. Oh and by the way, I’ve been doing some work on Gustavus on the ’60s kind of for fun. He was really doing interesting stuff around race and black students at Gustavus, black history.

Sarah Fatherly:

Really?

Greg Kaster:

None of which I knew. Yeah. That’s all cool. I couldn’t remember if you … When I think of you I know you had a obviously strong interest in history. That’s all I think of when I think of you in the women’s studies minor but I couldn’t remember if you brought that interest with you and you clearly did and were glad you did. Aside from music and history what else were you doing at Gustavus? And other memories? Good, bad, ugly from those years?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It’s interesting. I would definitely say definitely my academic studies were important in all sorts of ways including who some of my social circle was. And music was very significantly important in that as well. It’s interesting because I definitely did participate in some other … Did out of class stuff or things like that. But I actually just wasn’t someone who gravitated to student leadership. I never did campus activities, board or that sort of stuff. And I definitely was not interested in the Greek system. And at the time I was there rush was a fairly big deal socially for young students. And so a tone of my friends were all rushing and I didn’t want to. Partly for some political reasons and partly for other reasons. It just was not my thing. And so I do remember that being just one of those early decisions you make as student where you’re trying to find yourself and find your peeps.

Greg Kaster:

Right. Yeah. I was never involved in the Greek system either at Northern Illinois University. What you just said is interest though because here you are a leader and yet, yeah you didn’t have what some students have. All these leadership positions as undergraduates which don’t necessarily turn into leadership positions in their careers. But that’s interesting. I actually find that reassuring. Thank you. Because I too was like that. I did virtually … I don’t know. I guess I was just a nerd. I didn’t do any co-curricular. I just did my academic stuff. It never even occurred to me to do or to try out for all that. I don’t even know if I was aware of it. But anyway, it’s interesting. It certainly didn’t hurt you. The absence of all that, if that’s the right word. Now, the other thing you did though that I want to talk about is … I don’t know if it was your senior year when you did the internship at Seneca Falls. Women’s history park. Talk a little bit about that. Because I know that was important to you.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It was an amazing opportunity. I was actually in the American Women’s History course with Kate. And you all were in the department were always really good about just when notices came along for summer opportunities or other things you’d sort of put them up on what was the actual bulletin board at the time. And then also many of you were really good about just kind of bringing them to class. “Hey, I was just going to pass this around in case anyone’s interested in the opportunity.” I don’t know that Kate remembers this but I distinctly remember it. I remember just she had sort of brought it in. Was sort of, “Hey, if anyone’s interested just thought I’d sort of pass this around for anybody who might want to take a look at it.” And so the park service was advertising for summer interpretive rangers. And so they were specifically advertising an opportunity at Seneca Falls National Historical Park which as the name suggests is in upstate New York and commemorates the 1848 first women’s rights convention. And I was like, “Okay wait a minute, how cool is this? I can get a job that pays me to know things about women’s history.”

So I applied and got callbacks from the park service for more than one park actually. Because they sort of put you in this little service system in the application system then. And you do the 40 page application of your skills and your knowledge and then they kind of farm those out to the places that are looking for seasonal rangers. So I got hired as a GS3 back in the day with my little Smokey the Bear outfit that you got to wear if you’re part of the park service. And so it was … And you and I have joked about this but it’s true. All due respect to the job I have now and to the faculty jobs I’ve had, it was the best job I’ve ever had in my life. Because I did it the summer between my junior and senior year. And I was trying to figure out the hard thing of what do I want to do right after Gustavus. And I have this sort of kind of sort of serious actually notion that I’d go to law school.

And so that summer I applied for the Seneca Falls job and I also applied actually for an internship at the state capital in Albany to be a legislative aid. And I kind of had this interesting choice because they wanted me to go farther in their search process and Seneca Falls was willing to hire me. And I kind of in my, whatever, 20 year old brain, I was like, “Well, you know what? I’m going to do the women’s history thing because I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to do that again. And if I’m going to do law school hopefully I’ll have another opportunity like this to do that.” And so I just loved it. Love it, loved it, loved it. So I went back for a second summer. That was my summer job the summer after I graduated from Gustavus. And then I actually went back a third summer after that because I worked as a historical consultant for them actually and had the really cool fun job of driving around the northeast for a summer and collecting copies of all the historical documentary records that related to any of the original five women who helped planned the convention. The original sort of authors of the Declaration of Sentiments.

Greg Kaster:

That is cool. I didn’t remember that part of it. Very cool. Also I’m only just now recalling … Make sure I got this right. Yeah. That before we knew you, before we’d come to Gustavus, it was on our way from Boston to St. Peter the summer before the fall we started at Gustavus. 1986 it would have been. Coming from Boston we stopped at Seneca Falls. And maybe it was … I remember we could see Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yep. That was probably it then.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah exactly. My sense is you got in on it kind of when it was still new right? Or still just starting.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It was young so they had the Stanton home and they had that open and you could do tours and they had basically a storefront visitor center they’d rented. Because the Seneca Falls chapel building they had acquired … For anybody who wants some bedside reading google Seneca Falls Convention and Wesleayan Chapel. When the park service finally acquired it it has most recently at that time been a laundromat.

Greg Kaster:

That’s what I remember. Exactly.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. So there was a lot of choices to be made about what to do and how to do historical interpretation for that. And then they also at the time had just acquired the McClintock house. So they were young. And part of what was so cool is it really was the first time I was actually paid for things I was learning in college which I found extraordinary. Especially since it was American social history stuff. But the other thing it did that had a powerful impact on me was really introducing me to public history.

Greg Kaster:

Yes. Yeah. I mean I was just thinking as you’re speaking how lucky you are to have had that experience. Even before going on for the MA and PhD. Public history is so darn important we know. How many Americans get their … How many people, not just people in this country, get their history from, for better or worse, museums, movies, historical sites, et cetera? So yeah, that’s great. And speaking of graduate school at Madison, I remember conversations with you and I’m sure Kate too, but with us and other profs in the department about graduate school because it’s a big decision. But you went. You went to Madison. And talk a little bit about that decision. Why you decided to go on for the PhD or the MA but also really the PhD. And then I want to get into your book. But first just the decision about graduate school and history.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. I think that’s interesting. I will say Madison turned out for me at the time I was there to really be a fantastic place to be a grad student. I had really excellent folks I worked with. My dissertation advisor, my second reader, they were amazing, smart, caring people. It was a great place to be actually. And a very collegial student community at the time also. So turned out to be a great decision but holy camoly. Yeah. Trying to make some choices about that and it’s because I had no money. The sort of fellowships that were being offered for graduate programs at the time. I mean this was ’90, ’91 so a lot of places were really trying to figure out are we only going to admit PhD students we can fund? Should we be taking anybody we can’t fund? So there was a lot in my decision making that was so hard because I was wait listed some other places. There were a lot of things I really liked about Madison. You all had a colleague there at the time if you recall.

Greg Kaster:

Oh yes.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. David Zonnerman. And so I think there were just things that I found attractive about it and so I’m so glad I went but it was really important because it was sort of like … It wasn’t which graduate school am I going to, it was more for me because of the decisions I had to make at the time, am I going to take the opportunity to go to Madison or am I not? And am I going to do something else? And so I don’t know that you remember this Greg or not but when I graduated and I walked through the ceremony and everything, both of my parents actually came for the ceremony which was a big deal in our family. My dad had never come out and … Certainly again supported broadly me being in college but he was very … And it came out of concern on his part for me being able to frankly make a living.

Greg Kaster:

Sure.

Sarah Fatherly:

And so hell, I’d gone off to college and I majored in history and minored in women’s studies, like holy crap. So the poor guy was definitely struggling with some of that. And you and Kate offered to talk to my parents actually because there was a reception for history majors who were graduating and their families. Someone hosted it who lived close by. It might have been Tom actually.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, it was Tom.

Sarah Fatherly:

And I remember you and Kate both actually sort of saying, “Do you want us to try to talk to him?” Which was super meaningful to me at the time because I’m like, “I don’t know how many more ways to have the conversation. I think this is a thing I should do.” So yeah, there was a lot of emotional labor that went into that one.

Greg Kaster:

Wow.

Sarah Fatherly:

It turned out to be a great choice.

Greg Kaster:

What were we telling … Were we telling you … Which is what I tell students now. And it’s even more dismal now. Some schools like the University of Minnesota they’re not even accepting applicants to graduate programs. Did we say go if you love it or you want to do it?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. I think part of what you both said to me and I also think said to my parents was partly helping me have faith that I could actually cut it to be honest with you. Because I think that was part of my thing. Like okay, I have some funding but not everything. What kind of debt am I going to go into? Is it going to be worth it on that level because am I going to be able to be successful in this environment? Am I someone who’s going to be able to complete that degree and then get a job? And I think you both were actually each in your own sort of particular ways, very helpful and supportive around yeah, if you want to do this, we really think you can do this.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Sarah Fatherly:

And I think that’s why nobody in my family … We had no academicians. So they didn’t have a frame of reference. Like, “Okay, we love Sarah and we think she’s kind of smart but this could be a really bad idea because she’s not that smart. We had no clue.”

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I can relate because … Well, my mom went to a two year teacher’s college, my dad did not go. Both incredibly supportive literally financially as well all through graduate school. I’m laughing. I remember my father saying a five year plan to get a job. But yeah, the same sort of thing. It was professors. My undergraduate professors telling me yeah, you can do it, you can make it. And I was lucky enough to get a fellowship. That’s really the main reason I went to Boston University. They gave me such a generous package. But yeah, Madison, a great place. Its history department is storied. I’m saying this for all kinds of good reasons. What was it, Jeanne Boydston you worked with? I’m trying to remember who.

Sarah Fatherly:

It sure was. So Madison was particularly attractive to me because of the women’s history program and the emphasis there. And so that and labor history and other things. I mean, just all of that, again, kind of what I had come to understand as really fun, interesting, complicated American social history stuff.

Greg Kaster:

Right. And so by the way, was that Gerda Lerner sort of one of the founding mothers of … She had been there right? Was she there when you were there?

Sarah Fatherly:

Oh yeah she was. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, a force.

Sarah Fatherly:

That was an experience.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I bet. I met her just once in person when she came. My undergraduate mentor brought her … Maybe I was in graduate school at that point. In Northern Illinois University. I remember her at one point telling all of the men in the room, male graduates students and their professor to leave so she could converse with the women graduate students. And I wasn’t really offended but I didn’t really understand how important that probably was. Well, I’m sure it was at the time. Did you take courses with here?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yes. It’s funny. I didn’t actually take a seminar with Gerda. I interacted with her because there was a pretty vibrant women’s history community kind of in the outside of class sense. And so definitely interacted with her quite a bit. But yeah, she’s a force of nature. Wow.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Yeah. Now gone but her legacy sure lives on. Let’s talk a little bit about your scholarship in the book. Because I think this is such a terrific book. Prize winning book as I said in the intro. Does that basically grow out of your dissertation? Is that how that happened?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah, it did. It’s funny when I went to Madison I started … Funny. It’s almost like there’s a theme with me. I started by being really fired up about kind of sort of late 19th century, early 20th century American history. And I can’t imagine how that happened between you and Kate but it’s funny how that’s what I was fired up about. And then I got to Madison and took my seminars and then had to, because it was a curriculum requirement, had to take an early American course. Not unlike my European history’s all I want to do story. So I was like, “Okay fine, I’ll take an early American course.” And so I took a proseminar with Chuck Cohen who was a colonialist at the time at Madison. And I was like, “Oh man, this is super interesting.” And so kind of ended up turning into a colonialist really sort of in the years where I was doing the masters, kind of seminars and then thesis really because of some course work I had and just getting really very intrigued especially about the 18th century.

Because at the time I was there, there was a real paucity of scholarship on the 18th century. It was all either monographs … And I don’t mean to denigrate anyone’s fabulous scholarship in these categories. But the 18th century was characterized at the time and the historiography as sort of like either it’s the last stages of colonial settlement or it’s the beginning of the revolution.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Sarah Fatherly:

Did the 1720s to ’50s not actually have any character of their own? So there was this interesting hole in the literature at the same time that you could see that there was also incredibly important dynamics including urbanization happening at exactly that moment. So I kind of got fired up by some of those things and so ended up doing a dissertation that focused on colonial Philadelphia and so that’s where the book manuscript came from.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. And it’s funny, as a graduate student at northern I was essentially an early Americanist working with Alfred Young who did so much work on the revolutionary … Yeah. First of all, I’ve always loved that title. Gentlewomen and Learned Ladies, Women in Elite Formation in the Eighteenth Century Philadelphia. Talk to us a little bit about sort of key findings of that book. What was the role of women and learned ladies and elite formation into that city?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. Part of what I got very interested in, and I think for any of us who have written dissertations and then also managed to sort of still like them enough to turn them into monographs, there is that interesting thing of like what you thought you were going to study and then what it turned out that you found.

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Sarah Fatherly:

So I would definitely say that that characterized sort of the project I ended up doing and the book I ended up writing. So when I first started that project actually what I was quite intrigued by was the whole business about the language of separate spheres as gendered in an early American context. And so I was quite interested in actually trying to trace some of the origins. Like at what point did this notion of women’s sphere and separate spheres kind of become coded as gender ideology? Because that’s not actually what the language had really been used as in the early modern period. Certainly in European context. So I was sort of interesting in that. And that’s not the project I ended up doing. That question kind of got me into more thinking about the intersection between gender and class. And particularly in this context of course I should say, for white women, for colonial women. So it became interesting because I think what I learned in the process of doing the dissertation and then the final part of the book project was that I was really interested in how to help complicate the historiographical understanding of white women’s identities in the 18th century.

Because again at the time when I was doing that work and doing that publishing, pretty much the idea that you were classified as woman was kind of really all you needed to know. Because on some level there was understanding, obviously class, experience, impacted daily life and women had different experiences. But by and large the assumption was if we kind of classified you as woman in the 18th century then we kind of know what we need to know about a number of important aspects of your life. And that seemed way too reductive to me based on some of the early research I had done. And so the project really ended up arguing that this set of women who were certainly among the most privileged but that they basically were active participants in constructing class structure. So really as they’re helping construct an elite class often the literature talked about elite women as, if you will, you marry in order to pass through property. You don’t actually marry a woman because the attributes she has that are actually about her own class standing. Her class standing is all actually about her father’s standing. So she was sort of a vehicle, a pass through for status, for property, for other kinds of wealth.

And so I think the project was really trying to complicate that notion and argue that actually women were claiming a class privilege and they were helping construct the social structures that actually marked that status like elite culture. Country house culture. Like engaging in a kind of education that was far more like men of their standing than it was like other women. So really trying to unpack some of that and then really arguing that this is part of what helps position a particular group of women. Again, definitely the very privileged but in urban context. That they’re politicized before kind of the moment of democratization that follows the revolution. That they’re politically aware and active. As early and some cases as the late ’50s but certainly into the 1760s. So my argument was that this awareness of their own class standing and the kinds of attributes and tools they had as part of that class construction really helped them actually in some ways find their voice.

Greg Kaster:

All great stuff. Love it. And again, historians revise. Revisionism is a dirty word on the right. But that’s what we do. Your work is an example of that. And showing that these women had complexity and agency and a politics, I think is all so important. And when I think about … When did your book come out? Was it …

Sarah Fatherly:

2008.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I’m just thinking as you were speaking about the historiography how for listeners historiography, the work by historians about a particular topic, it’s just how much richer the historiography is about the 18th century generally and certainly women in the 18th century. Yeah, it’s really true.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

I think back to my project as an undergraduate in Al Young’s course on women in the American Revolution and I had my slides. Again, it was just more at that point, just let’s include … Women were there and here’s a little bit of what they did. But no, it’s so much more interesting. Not just more complicated but more interesting as well. And also the connections to class I think are really, really important. So yeah, prize winning book. Everyone should read it. It’s an excellent book. I highly recommend it. I know you’ve been doing other scholarship along the way. The article on … Was it on women in British hospitals during the revolution?

Sarah Fatherly:

It’s a project my family used to joke about as mash in the 18th century.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great. Also a great article. So your path there at that point … You’re on the path to become what you became initially which is a professor of history. A faculty member. And you did that at Otterbein. How did you get into administration? I guess it starts at Otterbein if that’s right. But how’d you make that transition if that’s the right word?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. That is such a good question and I have to say that over the years I’ve had … The ACE fellowship program, if you’re familiar with that. The American Council of Education. They do this great kind of … So you think you want to be a university leader. There’s sort of a whole mentor thing you can sign up for. Well, I had no idea. So anyway, I’ve been interviewed by a couple of these fellows in the past few years and they all want to know what my plan was that led me to my administrative past. Lord knows, I don’t know. I said yes to some jobs. So I truly think that actually what happened for me is that very early on in my time at Otterbein I came in as their early American historian and their women’s historian.

It was a small department so I was sort of both of those things which I enjoyed about that job very much. But it was also a moment at that school where the women’s studies program was not in great shape. And as the new professor coming in with some expertise in that area, I suddenly had a lot of students coming to me and saying, “Oh my gosh, can you help reboot this women’s studies program? Can you help this? Can you teach other classes? Can you do independent studies with me?” And so actually the way I ended up in administrative work, the beginning of it, is I agreed to chair the women’s and gender studies program at Otterbein.

Greg Kaster:

Interesting. I love the answer to that. You didn’t have a plan. This is contingency in history. Especially because you know this. I mean so many undergraduates … Maybe it was always true. These days certainly. I’ve got to have it all figured out. No, you don’t have to have it all figured out. And Sarah’s another example. I mean, just one after another, you do not have to have it all figured out. Yeah, that’s interesting. So it started at kind of the programmatic level. And then what happened? You found you’re good at it. I know you’re good at it but you liked it too and you just decided to try to continue along the administrative path?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. It’s such an interesting question. I think by and large I think that’s right. I think that one of the things … Yeah. So for anybody who might be out there who is on the tenure track as a faculty member, don’t do what I did. I agreed to direct an academic program when I didn’t have tenure yet. I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea. I agreed to do it because actually the students and their hunger for those classes and a program that was meaningful to them really hit me in the heart because of how women’s studies at Gustavus had been so important to me. Because I was one of the first people who had that minor. Kate and everybody were really building that when I was there. So it just really kind of pulled big time at the heart strings. So I got into it, learned a lot about how institutions work beyond it turns out the history department. So was learning a ton about the organization. Discovered that I did have a skillset that was well suited to doing that work and in that context I found it really meaningful.

Because oh my gosh, you could see the students. We built it into a major. You could see the faculty coming back to the program. You could see us hiring new people and getting excited about being on a campus with robust women’s … Eventually women’s gender and sexuality studies program. I mean it was so fulfilling. It was so amazing. But unfortunately I demonstrated to other people in the institution I was good at administrative work, so then I got asked to do other things. And then I’m me so I said yes.

Greg Kaster:

That is so true. First of all, yeah, I was thinking of how rewarding that must have been given the personal connection you felt. The pulling at the heart strings. And yes, one of the things I’ve learned over the years, if you are good at something you’ll be asked to do more of it or something along … And unless you’re willing to say no. You said yes but … What is it you enjoy about the administrative work? How is it different from your work as a faculty member? What is it you enjoy? Because you must enjoy it right? You’ve continued with it and done so well.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. Such a good question. And it seems like I should have a really good answer for it at this point in my career. I mean I think my answer is very authentic which is I find it meaningful. I mean there’s parts of it that are just whatever. Who hasn’t sat through a meeting where you’re like lord, I’m not getting that hour back right? I mean so I certainly have those moments. But I think at the core of it, it’s work I find meaningful because I think one of the things I learned … And I have to credit the person who was the provost and the vice president for academic affairs at Otterbein at the time that I was moving into more faculty leadership, chairship, directing roles. He at one point asked me to serve basically as the equivalent to the gen ed chair at Otterbein. And he told me, he’s like, “Here’s why I want to ask you to serve, here’s the work I think we need to do.” But he also said, “If you do this job it is unlike any other academic role actually in the university. And you will understand this university in ways you never would otherwise.” And he was so right about that. So I also think that position was essential to me because that really kind of opened up my view of, well, if you actually want to make a difference … I mean it sounds cliché.

But if you want to make a difference, if you want to make a positive impact, then here are the kinds of conversations you can engage in and the kinds of partnerships you can work on and build across the university to not just have that powerful learning experience in a particular course or a particular major, but to actually change the undergraduate program for a university. Assuming you work at a smaller school. I’ve certainly made that choice intentionally. So that for me is why it matters all day long. Because it’s about student success. And I think you can’t have student success without faculty success. And so if you get to help create an environment in which those groups of colleagues and students get to flourish, that’s pretty amazing. It’s a pretty amazing privilege actually.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s all well said. Now I think I want to be an administrator. I don’t have the patience. One of the things about it that you just said which I have always loved is sort of … It’s kind of like behind the scenes. How something works. I always say maybe that’s why I became a labor historian. I’m always interested in what people do and how they do it. No matter what it is. When we moved to this condominium complex years ago, downtown Minneapolis, I wanted to get onto the first homeowners board and was lucky enough to be elected. Because I really wanted to learn. What is this like? What is this building like? And it’s amazing to sort of see that. Different though in your case. You’re actually making a really huge difference in so many people’s lives, not just the owners of condominiums in the board’s case. So talk to us a little bit about your purview or what’s in your portfolio as provost at Queens?

Sarah Fatherly:

What a good question. So these days I basically have everything that rolls up to academics is our schools and colleges, all of our programs. Majors, minors. Certainly all of our university wide programs like a general education program or honors. But I also have the career center, the student success center, our international ed office. Also some specialty centers. We have a center that focuses on Holocaust education and social justice.

Greg Kaster:

I saw that. Yeah, interesting.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. So I work with the directors of those kind of specialty centers if you will as well. And certainly that includes not only undergraduate education but also graduate education. So really that whole sweep of everything that’s about kind of teaching and learning. Including assessment. One thing that’s kind of interesting about my kind of portfolio right now is that for about two years, I also had the reporting line for the entire student life division. And I think this is something that you see a lot of conversations if you are in administration, a lot of conversations about well, should you combine academic affairs and student affairs to have more synergies? To have fewer of the “silos”. So it was a really important and powerful experience for me to have that reporting line. I also was delighted for our students and our staff when we had an opportunity though at the university to hire someone specifically in as a vice president for student engagement. I think that that co-curriculum and the out of class is so powerful and important that frankly I think it deserved more than part of my time. Which I know part of what it was getting.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I recently podcast … I don’t know if JoNes VanHeche who’s the VP for student affairs at Gustavus, whether she was there. I don’t think she was there. Anyway, on Gustavus. So I podcasted with her recently. And again, yeah the … Wow. I mean that job. That position is so important. I couldn’t agree with you more. Separate line. So you have a lot on your plate. A lot you are responsible for. But you’ve done a lot around gen ed, which I am extremely interested in, partly because we just went through a gen ed revision in the last few years at Gustavus. But I’m especially interested in hearing more from you about the roadmap seminar program. Your work on … I think it’s called … At least the article you wrote with your co-author. Citizens by design, how to incorporate civic engagement into general education which I’m also interested in. And for listeners who may think, oh, general … It’s incredibly important to any institution. Most of us have it. We have some kind of gen ed program and there’s a lot of conversation and running thought and debate about it. But tell us a little bit about the roadmap seminars and then this initiative around civic engagement.

Sarah Fatherly:

Sure. I would be happy to. I think general education is a unique and characteristic part of American higher ed. And so part of why all day long I’m going to be a huge advocate for it when done well is because it is that thing that every single undergraduate experiences. You might have very different majors you select but you are going to go through whatever that core curriculum is. So I think every institution should actually be paying more attention and putting more advocacy and support around having really outstanding curricula. Because it’s the biggest economic program, right? And anybody’s home institution for undergraduates. So I think my comments on roadmap are shaped by that belief that I just expressed that I think gen ed matters when done well. And I think it’s part of our job as curriculum designers, as pedagogues, as teachers, as administrators to try to have an entrance point to gen ed that is purposeful and meaningful and that communicates the value of it to new students. So the roadmap seminar for us is kind of our first year experience course, our first year seminar. So everyone, if they are new, kind of first time in college student, to Queens, they are in a sectional roadmap.

And I should confess that I not only helped design the course originally but I always teach the course actually every fall. So last fall was the first fall I had not taught in it and that’s because of good old pandemic. And a lot of other things going on. So the point of the course is really to foster metacognition, to introduce students to that concept. I love working with young students. Actually I love working with first year students. So there’s a lot of jokes I make and they make about it but basically we talk about what does it mean to think about your thinking while you’re thinking? Like what is it to be actually aware of yourself as a learner and to think about your experiences and good old cold cycle. You shouldn’t have asked me this Greg because I’m really going to nerd out now on this. But you have an experience.

Well, what happens when you reflect on the experience and make meaning out of it? And then what happens when you actually then figure out what you can do with that realization that you have? That’s really kind of the point of the course is to help students very early in their career with us start to surface their own understanding of themselves as learners and then also to help them become familiar with some of those key transferrable skills they’re going to need in a core curriculum like ours. So we put a lot of emphasis on integrative thinking.

Greg Kaster:

That is awesome.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. And really staging projects around what that is and what does it look like when you do it.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I love it. And I sometimes say we need to learn how to learn. It isn’t-

Sarah Fatherly:

Totally.

Greg Kaster:

There’s that Sam Wineburg book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts. Historical thinking doesn’t come naturally. I mean, look, I’m not an expert but certain kinds of learning do not come naturally. Let’s put it that way. You have to learn how to learn and become good at it hopefully. Yeah. So that sounds fantastic. You essentially led the development of that, right? The roadmap seminar?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. At the time I was in my previous role. I was our associate provost and dean of university programs, which is a fancy way of saying that I was the academic leader for everything in the undergraduate curriculum that wasn’t a major. So I worked with a really amazing gen ed director from our faculty and really great implementation group of faculty colleagues and together we designed the seminar. And I helped teach it the first semester and then I also taught in the sort of off semester if you will in the spring to work out some of the kinks. So I kind of behind the scenes had helped early on working through because I was very familiar FYE curricular, first year experience curricula, from my time at Otterbein. And that was a little bit newer, actually, to Queens at the time. And so, again, it’s one of those things that to me was very meaningful and if we could figure out how to do it well I thought would impact a large proportion of our students hopefully and also the faculty as well.

Earlier today actually, I was in a professional development general education session that our faculty development director was running and I was just sort of hanging out on the side just wanting to listen to the conversation and sort of contribute where and when I can, not just as someone who’s an administrator but as someone who still tries to stay in the classroom every year too.

Greg Kaster:

I want to ask you about trends in higher ed but before we get to that, what about the civic engagement? That also interests me a great deal, especially given what’s going on in the country right now around issues like democracy its survival. But what has that been like? That work on civic engagement in general education?

Sarah Fatherly:

What we committed to … We also, like Gustavus and most other places, went through big gen ed revision. And so that roadmap seminar was one of the things that came out of it and what also came out of it was that we agreed that in our curriculum at the junior level every single student in general education would have an academically embedded civic engagement experience. So that could be a service learning course. So it could be in that mode of pedagogy and the particular partner in the community and X number of hours working on a certain project, making sure the project is derived out of the needs of the local partner but also will benefit student learning. So it could happen in that mode. Or it could be not as much in the service learning mode and it might be more about really trying to help students advance their citizenship skills or literacies. So we kind of committed every single undergraduate’s going to have a course that does that or certainly aspires to do that.

So we’ve been doing a lot. And part of the article you referenced was a couple colleagues and I sort of looking back on our first couple years on this whole experiment and trying to sort through how can we help faculty who come from very divergent fields in general education? You have the physicist and you have the poet. So how can you help that amazing disciplinary diversity of colleagues find themselves in civic engagement? I’ve had colleagues I’ve worked with who because of their field will say, “But that’s not what we do in my field.” And it’s like, “Well, last time I checked it’s people who form your field. Do the research and do the teaching of it and do the learning in it.” So it was us really trying to help provide sort of a typology actually for understanding that there isn’t just one “right” kind of project or way to do academically embedded civic engagement but to really think about the different opportunities that different disciplines have and just sort of invite that disciplinary difference into civic engagement.

Greg Kaster:

Right. And make that interdisciplinary difference sort of central to the learning. And the other thing here too, I mean, citizenship too. Just like learning, it’s not something that comes naturally, right?

Sarah Fatherly:

No.

Greg Kaster:

You need to work at it. You need to learn what does it mean to be a citizen. So yeah, I love … Especially now as I said, I’m just so interested in history and policy. The way history can inform policy but also what’s called civic engagement. So all good stuff you’re doing and it sounds like working well so congrats on that. What about … As you look out, and you’re a leader in higher ed, you really are, what are some of the trends that keep you up or concern you and what are some of the trends you’re optimistic about? I mean, higher ed, you can read so many [inaudible 00:56:59] about oh my god, the demographic cliff. And there are schools that are facing that. We all are and some schools are going to make it I suppose. But just in general, what are some of the trends that concern you most but also make you hopeful?

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. I think that … And there’s been much written about this obviously, whether it’s a chronicler inside higher ed or industry reports on higher ed. Obviously there’s a lot of things that we’re all trying to figure out coming out of the pandemic and its seismic impact on instruction for about a year and a half across the nation. What are we going to do differently? What are things we’re going to be happy to stop doing? What are things that actually we’re like, “Wow. Maybe there’s something to that and we need to keep doing it.”? So I’m actually encouraged by … And of course it happened for a really horrible reason with such catastrophic effects for people. But I’m encouraged actually by the ways in which I now see, certainly at my own institution but also when I’m in conversation with other colleagues, people actually thinking a little bit differently about the educational technology piece. Because I think for many of us it was sort of like well, you’re either online or you’re on ground. Right?

Greg Kaster:

Yes.

Sarah Fatherly:

And I just see that paradigm having been just completely blown up. So I see opportunities for us to be flexible in different kinds of ways and to be a little more creative around the ways in which we think about educational modalities as a result of what was, again, just such a hard year and a half. But I think that’s one of the things I see coming out of it. I also see … And it’s not directly about the pandemic but it’s certainly about sort of the strong and powerful calls for anti racist activity and more true equitable justice. I find it really encouraging and heartening that I see a very strong student voice emerging again. I can remember actually a point in my career thinking partly as someone like you who’s studied a lot of social movements, thinking, “Huh. Will there be a moment where that sort of mass of people and multiplicity of voices really emerges strongly not just in a locality but more nationally around critical issues?” And it certainly has and I think it’s important and good that I think more students are finding their voice. And really asking people like me, in my job, “Hey, are we …”

Here’s a question I get regularly which I so appreciate. “What are you doing to try to diversify the faculty at Queens? How are you trying to think about faculty hiring?” I think that is such an important question and is so helpful to have students asking that question and not just faculty or not just a concerned administrator. So those are a couple of things that sort of pop immediately to mind.

Greg Kaster:

And I agree with those. Thinking about myself, I’ve said many times to myself and to some others that I probably will continue some of the tech stuff I’ve been forced to do as a result of teaching online that I never did and probably at one point swore I never would. Certainly agree with you about the emergence the student voices and the voices of young people generally. And again, being these two terrible events, George Floyd’s murder here in Minneapolis and the pandemic. But hopefully some good coming out of those horrible events. Are there trends that worry you especially? I think a lot about the so called demographic cliff and what do we do if there aren’t enough 18 to 24 year olds for all the seats available? But go ahead.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. No, I agree with you Greg. And much has been made of this, again, sort of in the higher ed press but also in more popular press. I think this question of a weeding out of higher ed institutions. That American higher ed is over built. That there are too many, especially small institutions that just don’t have a future. I think that is a real concern. I think the demographics then just sort of play into that. I’m currently in kind of a conversation through The Gardner Institute with some other chief academic officers about innovation and how can we think differently about what innovation means for instance in academics. Because I think we have all in higher ed spent a lot of time trying to demonstrate our distinctiveness. How are we differentiated? Does that sound familiar?

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Sarah Fatherly:

When in fact, actually, a lot of us are good places that are quite similar to one another. So I feel, and I would certainly say this is true of Charlotte, and I think it’s probably true in other areas as well. I think one of the things higher ed has got to sort out is, for instance, multi institution collaborations. Especially for small and mid sized places. We keep trying to go it alone on everything and I think there are some encouraging signs of places that are starting to do consortium and sharing of backend functions and other things. But there’s also worrying ones about the closure of institutions that were doing good work, that were strong. And I think there’s always sitting out in the wings, I think, also that question of for profit.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Sarah Fatherly:

[inaudible 01:02:22]. And the ways in which they are able to, and they’re often very good at it, appeal to students who don’t want or aren’t in a position to be able to access a full-time undergraduate experience. And I think there’s a lot of institutions like a Queens, like a Gustavus, like others who, we certainly welcome adult students to our campuses if they want to come, but I don’t know that we’ve fully figured out how to reconcile ourselves with the fact that I think the further along we get here the fewer of the full-time, first time in college folks are going to be the college student.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I strongly agree with that. There’s a trustee I speak … A Gustavus trustee and an alum who’s really interested in that. That question about what can we do to bring more adult or nontraditional learners to Gustavus? And there’s somebody who does, I guess, a program at Notre Dame for maybe retired business folks. But there’s some real possibilities there that excite me as a teacher thinking about working with such people. So that really resonates with me.

Let’s end on … I want to make it a happy note. I know the humanities are under attack, history is under attack. We can’t teach about racism. I mean, oh my goodness gracious. But make the case for the liberal arts. I mean, you are the case really in may ways but make a case for the liberal arts and the study of history.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yeah. No, I think I am a good example of what happens when you have a student who, my life would have been profoundly different except for the opportunity I had to go to college and especially go to a liberal arts college I think. I think that was so transformative and I think this entire conversation is in fact the product of a liberal arts education. But I also think that to me … And others have said this better than I’m going to but to me, the case for liberal education, at its best it’s not about what to think, it’s about how to think. I really think folks would be hard pressed today to … I mean, when I was at Gustavus we would have said pick up a newspaper. That’s not the thing anymore. But still, to look at and pay any attention to local news, regional news, nation news, international news and say that we aren’t a society who always has but is having a moment intensely of needing folks who know how to think. And I think there’s so much very strong research for instance longitudinally that suggests that there are so many outcomes that are beneficial to students who have the opportunity to engage in a liberal arts grounded education.

Lifetime earning returns are higher as a result of completing that degree but also they do well in terms of careers and professional success. I think there’s really interesting indices about personal flourishing actually. There’s some institutes that have started to look at that as well as a measure of success. So I think there’s such powerful, professional, and personal benefits that come with having an education that invites you and requires, again I’m a good example, requires that you actually engage in a conversation intellectually with a broad array of texts and individuals and research and dialog. But part of why it’s important is it’s also helping you form this essential set of transferrable skills that again are about life success and professional success. Because it is about integration and it is about communication and it is about approaching complex problems and questions and it is about being able to reconcile diverse points of view. All those things that are those core transferrable skills.

I think part of the irony of some of the conversations around liberal arts education is that what all the evidence suggests is that what academics know and what higher ed research tells us and what workplace surveys and CEO surveys tell us is that actually everybody wants the same thing and they’re the things that come as a result of a liberal arts education. And because I have a very healthy sense of humor, which is how it is I manage to keep doing my job, I joke regularly about some days where I’m like, “Why do I have a PhD in history?” But the reality is actually, I know exactly how being a historian makes me successful at my job. Because part of what it does is I can sit in a room, either physically or virtually these days, I can hear wildly different points of view and perspectives and understandings and theories of one particular event or proposal or whatever and I can try to synthesize them and analyze them and I can also try to respectively guide people towards a more group understanding of that issue or that event or that proposal. That’s profoundly a set of skills that comes out of being a historian.

Greg Kaster:

Amen, amen, amen, hallelujah. Absolutely all true. Oh my goodness. The irony of yes, employers want what we know the liberal arts provide.

Sarah Fatherly:

Absolutely.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. It’s so true. All we can do, I think sometimes, is just continue to hammer home that message and articulate it as well as you just did I hope.

Sarah Fatherly:

Yes. Well-

Greg Kaster:

This … Go ahead.

Sarah Fatherly:

We can’t assume that the value is known. I think there is no amount of over communication that can be done on this topic.

Greg Kaster:

Agree. Boy, this has been an absolute pleasure. It’s funny you mention your sense of humor because one of the things I was going to say as we conclude here is just that I’ve always loved your sense of humor. You’ve always had that. I’m glad you still have it. And also you’re really keen, keen intelligence. It’s just a pleasure to hear you talk about your work in higher ed.

So Sarah, thank you so much. We have to get together in person at some point. I don’t know when that will be. I was excited for a time. I’m going to Charlottesville and I kept thinking, “Oh, maybe I’ll get … No. That’s at Charlotte, North Carolina.” I’m going to Virginia. Geographically challenged.

Sarah Fatherly:

Not that far away.

Greg Kaster:

No. Yeah, there you go. But honestly, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Best of luck with your work this summer and the reboot or whatever you want to call it in the fall.

Sarah Fatherly:

Well, thank you so much Greg. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Greg Kaster:

My pleasure. Take good care. We’ll see you. Bye bye.

Learning for Life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing, Gustavus graduate Will Clark, class of ’20, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast, and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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