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Faces of UW: Tenured faculty

Photo by Joshua Bessex

These professors came to the UW during a very different time. The civil rights movement was underway, and cell phones and email didn’t exist.

The following professors have all taught at the UW for 30 years or more. They all wish they had more balance and that they’d spent less time working but are proud of their accomplishments. Many have risen through the ranks and delved into administrative work as department chairs and other positions. Many of them were “firsts” for the UW: the first minority, the first woman to be hired in her area. They’ve been offered jobs at other universities but choose to stay at the UW, and none of them are ready to retire just yet.

James Banks: The trailblazer

Many beginning college professors are thrilled to receive job offers, but education professor James Banks said it was one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

Banks had a job he loved teaching fifth-grade, but wanted to expand his influence to a broader audience.

“The kids were in tears, I was in tears, when I left, and it was a very difficult decision,” Banks said.

Banks decided to bring his passion for education and diversity to a larger audience at the UW in 1969. He was the first black professor hired in the College of Education.

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Banks was also the first black professor at the UW to receive tenure through the tenure track.

He was recruited — during the Civil Rights era — to teach urban education, which he said was a euphemism for black education.

Banks chose the UW because he was interested in the work of a professor here, John Jarolimek, who ended up being the person to recruit him.

“I think he thought it was time that the College of Education should racially integrate its faculty,” Banks said.

Banks was interested in teaching ethnic studies but was particularly interested in teaching it on the West Coast, where it was more broadly defined than the typical “black and white” definition that was popular on the East Coast.

Banks, who was raised in Arkansas, had grown up in segregated schools. One undergraduate school he attended, Chicago City College, was his first integrated experience. Banks said he had become accustomed to being one of the few black people at many of the institutions where he went to school and taught.

“I had been the only one at many places,” he said.

For the most part, Banks’ experience at the UW has been positive.

There was one instance, however, in the beginning, related to Banks’ race. A group of white students had gone to his dean and complained they were learning “too much about blacks and not enough about social studies.”

“I was very hurt by that,” Banks said. “And frankly, I was more angry than hurt.”

Banks said he was likely the first minority professor these students had ever had. His dean supported him and told him to keep teaching as he had been.

Banks is now at a stage in his life where it is important for him to find balance. A self-proclaimed workaholic who has published more than 20 books, he said this has been difficult for him.

“That’s a struggle when you’ve spent 43 years on the fast track,” he said.

Despite that need for balance, Banks said he does not have any retirement plans yet.

“I’ve had a ball,” he said. “I want to focus on training the next generation, so they can take the helm.”

Quick Facts:

Ph.D. school: Michigan State University

Hired: 1969

Years at the UW: 43

Pamela Mitchell: The lifetime Husky

Professor Pamela Mitchell has spent much of her life at the UW, after doing both her undergraduate and doctorate work here as well as teaching for the past 42 years.

She never thought she would go into teaching, but it has been the ability to teach, research, and do clinical work at the School of Nursing that has kept her happy all these years. Mitchell has seen a lot of changes at the UW over the years, but in many ways, Mitchell said, the best parts of the campus have remained the same.

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“We have everything on the campus,” she said, referring to the diverse fields of study.

Mitchell said this diversity is critical for interdisciplinary work, something she finds extremely valuable for addressing large problems in multiple disciplines.

“[Other people] think outside the narrow box of your own field,” she said. “So I love that kind of work, and you can do that on a full-service campus. It’s harder when you’re isolated.”

Even though nursing is a female-dominated field, in the larger faculty, Mitchell was one of the few women on campus during her early days here.

“As soon as I would cross the street and go to meetings on upper campus, I would be the only woman,” she said. “That’s changing. There are many more women involved in the leadership across the schools and professions and much more vitally involved on campus.”

Like many long-term professors, Mitchell was approached with job offers from other schools. In many cases, the UW will make a counter-offer to entice a professor to stay.

“I really do love what I’m doing here, so it would take a pretty astounding offer to make me pick up and move my family and go someplace else,” she said. “And, thus far, I’ve found those things to remain here.”

Mitchell is now the interim dean for the School of Nursing and will have to reduce or halt her professorship while she is holding that position. When that position has been filled, Mitchell will return to her professorship.

Mitchell said she has been saying she’ll retire in three to five years for more than 10 years.

“We keep writing another grant, or taking a research program a little further,” she said.

Mitchell wants to make sure all of her projects are firmly in someone else’s hands before she retires.

“I really love [working with students],” she said. “I love the enthusiasm and idealism of early beginning students because it just reminds you that you don’t have to get jaded and cynical because they’re not.”

For now, the UW is Mitchell’s homeground.

“It sounds corny but I do love this university,” she said. “Overall, it’s terribly rewarding, and I’m glad I didn’t leave when I had those opportunities.”

Quick Facts:

Ph.D. school: UW

Hired: 1969

Years at the UW: 42

Roland Dukes: The visitor

Business and accounting professor Roland Dukes was supposed to be an electrical engineer, but after five years in the Navy, he decided to go to business school.

He taught at Cornell University for nine years before coming to the UW as a visiting professor in 1979.

“I came to visit, and I’m still here,” Dukes said.

Many things made Dukes stay at the UW, including his love for the area, but it was mainly what he could do here that he couldn’t do at Cornell that finalized the decision.

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“I could take a leadership role in the department, especially in the research area, and, candidly, I enjoyed being in a state or public institution,” he said. “I loved Cornell, too, but the mission of this institution fit better with my own sense of what I want to accomplish.”

When Dukes was first a professor, he mainly taught MBA students and said that along the way he “discovered” undergraduates. He said he likes working with undergraduates because they have a passion and energy that is different from other students.

“I have a lot of students who, I call it, ‘want to change the world,’” he said. “They want to make a big change, and we at the Foster School can help them do that, and I love being a part of helping what will work for them.

Dukes has noticed that the UW has become more like a private institution over his time here, with students paying larger and larger portions of the tuition. He said he doesn’t know what the consequences are yet but believes they are things the UW has to pay attention to.

“I don’t own those problems,” he said, “but I’m concerned about them, and I think everyone is and is wanting to make sure the university is responsive to students of color or students of need — that they have opportunities.”

Retirement is on Dukes’ mind, but he hasn’t really made a plan. This is due in part to having his family in town with him, thus getting many of the benefits of retirement, without retiring. He said he will likely retire within the next five years.

“I’m happy here — I’m happy coming to work on Monday morning,” he said. “The big thing is enjoying coming to work, feeling like you’re making a difference. Then why stop? Why stop if it gives you satisfaction?”

Quick Facts:

Ph.D. school: Stanford University

Hired: 1979

Years at the UW: 33

Rona Levy: The mother

When Rona Levy first became a professor at the School of Social Work in 1975, attitudes were different, especially toward female professors with children.

She experienced a lot of painful comments at the beginning of her career when she had her three daughters. She said she was the first full-time female professor in her department, and people didn’t understand her being a mom as well.

“A colleague said to me when I first got pregnant, ‘Well now no one will ever see you as a competent professional anymore — you are now just a baby-making machine,’” she said.

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Another colleague told her she shouldn’t bring her children to school with her, and another had asked after the birth of her third child if she had heard of birth control. She said two of these comments came from female colleagues.

“No one at the [School of Social Work] ever threw baby showers for me or anything like that,” she said. “I think they just did not know what to do with a pregnant colleague.”

While Levy said she felt unsupported and angry about these comments, she chose to ignore them.

“There were also some very wonderful people,” she said. “You can spend your life being angry or vengeful, or you can choose to look at the good, and that is what I chose to do.”

Levy was offered positions at other universities, and the UW counter-offered. Despite having those negative experiences, she chose to stay because she loves her job and her colleagues. Her family was also very rooted in Seattle.

Research, however, has become more difficult for Levy because of budget constraints. Levy said she has been fortunate that most of her research projects have been funded, but many others haven’t. The struggle for grants is much more competitive now than when she began.

Students have also changed due to budget issues, Levy said. They are much more strained and often have to work other jobs. This makes students less energetic and gives them less time for school work.

Students are more empowered, especially with their interactions with professors, Levy said. They are also more diverse, which is a positive to her.

“From my perspective as a social work professor, that is all for the good,” she said. “It’s a good thing when we can have diverse social workers serving [the diverse population],”

For Levy, one of the best parts of being a professor is receiving a letter after the year is over from a student thanking her for opening their eyes to something.

“It’s wonderful to see when you’ve broadened someone’s experience and helped them pass it on in a way that will help others,” she said.

Levy just received a five-year grant fund, so she doesn’t have plans to retire anytime soon.

“I want to keep working as long as I feel I can contribute and be productive.”

Quick Facts:

Ph.D. school: University of Michigan

Hired: 1975

Years at the UW: 37

Reach reporter Sarah Radmer at features@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @sarahradmer

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