Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daydreaming about lesbian and gay college leadership

I just finished reading the Chronicle story about the out lesbian President of Hartwick College, Margaret L. Drugovich, who lives openly with her partner and child in the President's mansion. All in all, it was a nice profile story, describing how the College and the search firm considered her sexual orientation and how Drugovich manages her identity in public and on campus. They didn't note that she has a website describing her family and a photo album of family pictures on the college's website, which I thought was typical of smaller colleges and represented a pretty bold step in being out and open.

I was struck by the discussion about public displays of affection by Dr. Drugovich's partner, Beth Steele, in the article. Steele notes that they do not hold hands or kiss in public, because someone might be offended. That led me to conduct a search on Ms. Drugovich's age, which, it turns out is only 50. (Incidentally, it took quite a while to find her age, which surfaced only in one random local story.) I thought she might be a bit older, based on the decision about lack of PDAs and the fact that she calls Ms. Steele "doll," which I found incredibly endearing if kind of old fashioned. I have witnessed wide differences in opinions about PDAs--queer or otherwise--based on age, though other factors such as religious affiliation, geographical location (current and where one was raised), and political ideology are also influential.

As I discussed the article with my partner, we daydreamed about how we might handle life if I was a college president. We noted that not holding hands or touching publicly would be too much for anyone to expect or require of us, as we are pretty affectionate as a couple. I can also guess that, once I settled in to a Presidency and folks on campus got used to us, they might catch us sneaking a kiss or two or cuddling at some point or another.

A similar line of argument--not being too strident in one's queerness--crept in related to positive comments on Drugovich's lack of "political activism."
Dick Clapp, head of the search committee and a 1962 graduate of Hartwick, reacted by performing some due diligence. He asked people on the Ohio Wesleyan board whether Ms. Drugovich's sexual orientation had ever been an issue there. ...Board members at Ohio Wesleyan assured [the head of the search committee at Hartwick] that Ms. Drugovich was the ultimate professional. "She's not going to go out and be the spokesperson for a lesbian group," he says they told him.
Now, while I agree with Drugovich that she is the President for everyone at the college, I find the definition of professionalism as a lack of activism and outspokenness to be troublesome. And, if there had been a queer-related hate crime on her previous campus and, in her role as a faculty member or administrator, she had spoken out on these issues, she is being unprofessional? What is that about?

My reaction is also likely based on the reality that I *am* an activist who has (a) worked with LGBT groups, (b) taught LGBT studies-related courses, (c) advocated for LGBT-supportive policies on campuses where I worked, and (d) been an active supporter and advocate for LGBT faculty, staff, and students. I am a frequent spokesperson on the LGBT group. However, I need to be clear that LGBT issues aren't the only ones where I am active. I also advocate for faculty and students of color, low-income communities, and first generation students. I work on gender, race, and class issues in academic policy and practice. But I would still argue that I am very professional in my roles as faculty member and administrator, and I think the question of professionalism should be divorced from this anti-identity, anti-advocacy bias.

Now I am clear that my own style and my level of outness would be a deterrent some some schools. Honestly, that has been true for as long as I have been in academe. The higher you go up the administrative ladder, the more the question of institutional fit comes into play. All I can do is prepare myself to be the best candidate I can be and look for positions and institutions that will play to my strengths, and where my identity and personal style will not be too much of a detriment.

I am proud of Drugovich, Biddy Martin, and the other openly lesbian and gay college leaders who are paving the way for the rest of us. I hope that their meeting in August goes well, and that they consider how they will best mentor the next generation of lesbian and gay leaders.