Gatepost Interview: Linda Vaden-Goad, Outgoing provost and vice president for academic affairs

Corey McFeeley/THE GATEPOST

What is your educational and professional background?

I have a Ph.D. in experimental psychology – social psychology. I got that at the University of Houston. I worked for 12 years at the University of Houston-Downtown. … It was one of the most diverse universities in the United States when I was there. It was an incredible experience – my life changed. It was out of this world. I was chair of the department of social sciences. We had about seven different disciplines in that department. I was the faculty senate president while I was there. I was the president in Texas of the American Association of University Professors. It was a terrific experience. … I had the opportunity, then, to take the job of the dean of arts and sciences at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. My son was going to school in the Northeast at that point, and he was in grad school. I thought, “Well, it would be nice to go to that part of the country for a while.” So, I applied for the job and got it. It was a great job. I was there for eight years. … I’ve been here for nine years. I came on August the second, 2010. I applied for the position, and I was really excited about the location, being close to Boston. … Plus, I was really impressed by all the people I met when I came for the interview. I even remembered where people were sitting during the interview, and the questions they asked. I loved their depth and their sincerity. … I felt like it was such a great fit. I’ve just loved being here. 

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

I would say taking grassroots approaches to solve problems. When I first got here, we had to take the mission statement, and, through some process, generate a set of core values for the institution. … We used a group-thinking process with the faculty, students, the administrators – all kinds of people. And we ended up with our set of core values. … They really have been useful to us. We used those to also use a grassroots plan to come up with a strategic plan for Academic Affairs. Apparently, we hadn’t really had one. The president then had said, “Well, we need one. You should do that.” … We invited everyone to be involved and to create initiatives, all couched within the core values – academic excellence, global stewardship, public purpose and commitment, among other things. And so, what was great about the strategic plan that arose from that grassroots process was, even though it didn’t include the core values per se, every initiative that was proposed was within it. The kinds of things that we were doing for five years, from 2012 to 2017, really enhanced the way in which the core values showed the University. … I’ve had a lot of people ask how we did it. I have to say, the deans we have – really excellent people. Without them – they weren’t deans at the time, but department chairs – we couldn’t have done it.

How have you contributed to diversity on campus?

We really have taken seriously the idea of hiring faculty of color. We created some new strategies for doing that, and during the five-year strategic plan, we changed the diversity of faculty from about 8% to about 20%. That’s a lot in a short period of time, because faculty come and they stay. … With enrollment growing, we did have new positions, so we hired 20 new people. We really were conscious of making sure that we did the right kinds of things to be able to encourage people to apply. We hired some great people. During that time, we also came up with some new strategies, like the Mary Miles Bibb fellowship. You hire somebody full-time, and over time, they can move into a tenure-track position. … We now ask for a diversity statement, so when someone is applying to be a professor here, they have to write about their experience in diverse settings or with diverse scholarship. That’s something we just started this year in September. One of the problems is that in certain academic disciplines, there’s not a large enough pool. There’s a lot of universities, and they’re all looking to hire diverse faculty. … I think the key is building that pipeline. I think that’s something the University does really well. … You have to mentor people into that, starting with undergrad.

What initiatives or projects do you hope to see your successor continue?

We have a Smithsonian Affiliation that I’m really happy with. It’s something I had been part of in Connecticut, and now, here, we had gotten it off the ground because we had two archives we knew the Smithsonian would be interested in – the Christa McAuliffe archive and being the first normal school archive. We found out what it took to send the application, wrote it, and sent it off, and then we got it. There are very few universities that have that affiliation, and once you are an affiliate of the Smithsonian, you can borrow things from their collections. … The Smithsonian Affiliation also got us thinking about other archives that are important in our region. What could we highlight that would make people say, “Oh, that was Framingham?” … We’re about to receive one on May 20. We’re receiving an archive on something called Harmony Grove. There’s a natural pond there, Farm Pond, where they used to have lots of talks. One of the most important talks was an abolition talk that was given on July 4, 1854. They had William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, and Sojourner Truth – all these names that we studied. They were all here in Framingham to speak against the Fugitive Slave Act. … People came from all over to hear these people speak. There was a family that had been keeping an archive on Harmony Grove for years and years. … We want to use that project and integrate it into our first-year experience. … My successor – she’ll be the one to bring that forward. 

What advice do you have for your successor?

My best advice to people, always, in a new position, is to be yourself. Bring your strengths, whatever they are. I know she’s in touch with who she is, so let people see that. Be that. This job – it’s really not a nine-to-five job. I get here at six in the morning, and I stay here as late as I need to, in terms of events and things like that. I would also say it’s important, when someone asks a question, that it’s OK to take a little time to study before you answer. … Really build community. In a university, it’s really one of the most important things. I live close to the University, so we had a lot of gatherings at my house, and that was important – getting to know people, getting to know their families. … I will tell you, without sounding too sappy, I love the school. I love all the people here – whether they liked me, I didn’t really care. It’s been a deeply wonderful experience for me. I’ve been saddened by some of the things here, but I’ve lived long enough to know that we will get through them and come out the other side stronger.

What advice do you have for FSU students?

I think students need to get deeply engaged and give themselves over to the University and their education. I give myself over to the job – my life has been this, and I’m not at all sorry about that. Get involved in everything you can. That doesn’t mean doing a million different things, but devoting yourself wholly to something you care about, that you can contribute to. Students – you are adults. You are contributing right now. 

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