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Notre Dame honors pioneering women faculty

| Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Notre Dame community recognized pioneering women faculty at Notre Dame with a panel discussion and celebratory reception in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center hosted by the Office of the Provost on Wednesday.

The panel featured five women who have helped “transform this university from a college for men to a university for all,” according to Provost Tom Burish, as well as moderator Mary Celeste Kearney, director of the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program and associate professor of film, television and theatre.

Associate professor Sr. Kathleen Cannon, who served as associate provost from 1990 to 1997, began her remarks by recognizing the pioneering women in faculty who came before her and the four other panelists.

“I know that it’s the women who were here a decade, or even more, before I came, who really were the foot soldiers, the trailblazers,” she said. “ … There were so few women faculty here at that time, and the first two who were appointed in 1965 — Josephine Ford and Suzanne Kelly — did not come in to a very hospitable environment. … And so they had their struggles.”

Nancy Haegel, a member of the board of trustees and the class of 1981, said she hopes the University will continue to hire women into the faculty in leadership positions.

“Certainly one thing I see is leadership that is traditionally, historically, predominantly male at Notre Dame, and there’s an important symbolism, I think, associated with that,” she said. “ … And in 10 years, I hope that the leadership symbols here continue to evolve and that Notre Dame — we’ve become increasingly confident — is making full use of all the talent that is available to it in this country, on this globe and everywhere.”

Notre Dame’s role as a premier Catholic university, Haegel said, offers the opportunity for it to set an example.

“I interact primarily with people who don’t know the place. They know of it,” she said. “ … They see this living experiment of faith and reason, and I think that’s just exciting and critical. There are a number of really excellent, religiously-grounded institutions, but few — if any — have the visibility, the resources and, therefore, the responsibility of Notre Dame.”

Professor emerita Angie Chamblee, a self-proclaimed “happy retiree” after leaving the University in 2014, said this responsibility extends to mentoring students, something she missed out on as a minority member of one of the first undergraduate classes of women at Notre Dame.

“I think that it’s so important that young people have mentors,” she said. “And I can say that at Notre Dame, I never had any. … I, luckily, found people who worked with me who valued my work, and so I was able to advance through the ranks in the First Year of Studies. I have seen change at the University — very positive change.”

One way to continue with this positivity, Chamblee said, is by allowing professors to focus more on helping students grow.

“I would say our students deserve more from us,” she said. “And I think that what can happen, and what can help with that is for those entities and those people who make decisions about tenure to give value and credit to mentoring our students when it comes to tenure time.”

English professor and author Valerie Sayers said she acts as a mentor to students by providing an opportunity to talk through any problems.

“I think that the process of mentoring, for me, continues in the sense that I do enjoy talking to people,” she said. “ … What I’ve learned about that process is that telling the narrative does move the person, very frequently, to the next step, and helps them gather themselves.”

Sayers also credited her colleagues in the English department with providing inspirations for her six novels.

“I feel always, all the time, that my language is being elevated,” she said. “I may be the only person in this University who can publicly proclaim that I love going to department meetings, because in the English department, people are so clever and witty, and they know how to quote and they know how to deliver a punch line.”

Ann Tenbrunsel, professor of business ethics in the Mendoza College of Business, said she uses her research on the psychology of ethical decision-making in her mentoring process.

“What I think is the first step is to identify the fact that we all have illusions about our ethicality,” she said. “So we all need to be aware that … in some sense, we all are biased, and we’re certainly biased — I think, probably more so — in our ethicality than in other biases we have about decision making or negotiation skills.”

This same methodology can be applied to the University, Tenbrunsel said.

“We have to recognize that we probably have ethical illusions,” she said. “We’re a great university [but] we have to realize where it is that we maybe aren’t so great, and recognize it.”

It only takes one person recognizing areas in which the University can improve to create change, Cannon said, citing her work to close the gender gap between students at Notre Dame.

“I tried to determine who might’ve been opposed to removing the gap and what their reasons were for it, and tried to talk to them to find out, and understand and appreciate why somebody would oppose this,” she said. “I did formulate … a recommendation that was sent to the board in May of 1991. They approved the removal of the cap, and now women are admitted almost at parity with men.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a senior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, who recently wrapped up her year as Editor-in-Chief. She is a former resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Contact Courtney