“My door is always open.”
This is one of the first things that Anne Bartlett, new dean of UW Tacoma’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, said in response to a question about her early priorities in her new position.
“At this point, I’m really listening. I’ve invited all faculty and staff to come visit me, and a lot of people have been taking me up on that. People have been extremely helpful and very patient. I’m taking lots of notes.”
She holds up the six notebooks she’s filled so far, bristling with post-it notes and cross-references.
Coming to Tacoma
“Of course it’s a big change, moving from Chicago to downtown Tacoma. And it’s a big change, moving from DePaul University, a private institution that I served for more than 20 years, to UW Tacoma, which itself is only a little older than that.
“But those differences are a key part of what attracted me to UW Tacoma.
“Tacoma is a pretty special place. There is a real commitment to community organization and getting together in groups in this city. Those kinds of things happen in Chicago, but it’s such a larger scale, and they happen in really old established networks. It all seems just so much more accessible in Tacoma.
“I love the interdisciplinary aspect of this campus. That’s pretty unusual, but familiar to me from my field of medieval studies, which is also very interdisciplinary. I’ll be very interested in facilitating university-wide collaborations.”
"It’s really obvious to me, as a newcomer, that the plan builds on the quarter-century urban-serving vision for the campus so carefully nurtured by the community and the founding faculty."
“I have the good fortune of arriving just as the outlines of the new strategic plan are emerging. It’s very exciting to see how the plan crystalizes UW Tacoma’s mission and values. It’s really obvious to me, as a newcomer, that the plan builds on the quarter-century urban-serving vision for the campus so carefully nurtured by the community and the founding faculty.
“I can’t wait to jump into the academic year. I’m looking forward to meeting lots of students. I want to work with the entire university community on one of the fundamental pieces of the strategic plan, improving the retention of students, so that more students graduate.
“There are all kinds of interesting curriculum additions and changes coming. In SIAS, we have the new math major, and the new biomedical sciences major, which students are flocking to. We have a master’s in human rights studies that’s coming through the planning stages. There are all sorts of possibilities with that, from conflict resolution to migration studies.
“We really must shore up the arts. There’s so much art going on in Tacoma—it’s so spontaneous and politically engaged. That’s really exciting. We really need to grow in that area.”
Reading, Reading, Reading
Dr. Bartlett was born in Rochester, N.Y. Her dad worked for General Motors; the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, a metro area of 750,000 halfway between Cincinnati and Columbus, where GM had a plant. She attended high school in a Dayton suburb, called Centerville.
"We had a set of World Book, and an atlas, and a huge dictionary, so I really supplemented what I was learning in school just by reading. Plus, we had a great public library."
“My K-12 experiences weren’t very positive, but my mother sold encyclopedias, so we had a set of World Book, and an atlas, and a huge dictionary, so I really supplemented what I was learning in school just by reading. Plus, we had a great public library.
“I just kept reading, and reading, and reading, and reading.
“But I didn’t really like school, and when I graduated with a pretty poor high school record, I didn’t really have any desire to go to college. I did some traveling and worked in factories and restaurants.
“Pretty soon, though, I felt like I was at a dead end. But a series of things happened to make me look at college differently. From the first, my dad was a huge influence, taking me around to visit local universities, just to look around and talk to admissions people.
“One of them was an academic advisor at SUNY Geneseo who had also begun college later than traditional students. She really listened to me and made the case for looking beyond my abysmal high school grades. With that inspiration, I applied, got accepted and enrolled at Geneseo.”
Back to School
“When I did start working on my undergraduate degree, I was 23. It was kind of rough coming back to school. I always loved reading and writing, but I remember very vividly my first term paper—getting a C-minus, because I just really didn’t know the discourse, the rules. But then I started working really, really hard, and catching up.
“I took Chaucer from Professor Ron Herzman (an important early mentor and still an inspiration). I fell in love with the language, literature and history of the Middle Ages. I found some great friends who were also English nerds and we all geeked out on Latin and critical theory and late night beer and poetry.
“Medieval studies was interesting to me because it really had everything. It was remote enough in time that it was a big investment of intellectual energy and attention to even start to think about mastering it. It’s very interdisciplinary: it’s history, it’s literature, it’s geography, it’s languages, it’s all kinds of stuff. I was really attracted to that.
“And, then, there was the whole question of medieval women, which was not even a thing early on, but thanks to the women’s movement, particularly by the 1980s, feminist pathbreaking scholars had gone into the archives and found manuscripts that documented women’s activities culturally, socially and politically, and it was really exciting to see what life at that time looked like now that women were added to the mix.
“So, as I progressed from undergraduate to master’s and then PhD-level studies, I was involved in the ground floor of that wave of scholarship. That was really, really exciting.”
“I’ve been a medievalist now for 25 years or so. When I started my PhD [she earned the degree from the University of Iowa] I worked a lot on what used to be called ‘mystics,’ women who had visions or were prominent in the church as a leader, like an abbess. That’s a major way that women had an opportunity to write at that time.
“And then I switched to secular literature, what I like to call estate-craft, or care of the estate. This is something that people only started to realize in the last couple of decades. Because men were away at court or at war, women were really minding the store in those times, managing the estate. Even though the law said women couldn’t represent themselves in court, couldn’t sign legal documents, couldn’t own properties, they were doing all that and more, through a common-law device that was almost like having the husband’s power of attorney. So, these women were convening juries, and collecting taxes and defending their manor homes and castles from sieges.
“Compared to when I started, there’s more documentation available now: commercial documents and the real documents of practice. The face of medieval scholarship was really changed by this new understanding of the role of women.”
The Career Path
“When I got out of grad school, I got a tenure track position at DePaul in Chicago. I was very drawn to the mission, which is for first-generation and urban students, and a historically-underserved population.
“DePaul was the ‘little school under the El, the little engine that could.’ Now it’s the largest Catholic university in the U.S. with about 23,500 students, so it’s really grown a lot. I watched all that happen, and contributed to it.”
Dr. Bartlett’s career progressed. She got tenure, and held first administrative position as director of the English graduate program. She was elected to the faculty council, then to its presidency. She served as DePaul’s English department chair.
“My administrative experiences were inspiring. As each duty ended, my thought was, ‘Wow, let me try this again!’ I tried to have an open mind and to listen to people.”
“I shadowed the provost and the president and the U of Oregon system operations. It was really eye-opening. It was my first experience working in a public environment. I sat in on collective bargaining, and we went into mediation that year. I did 38 site visits to other universities: places like Dillard, Stanford, U-Mass Lowell, Emerson… I got a sense of how institutional cultures can be really, really distinct.
“I learned that all culture is local—that’s really important. You can’t short-shrift or automate the culture things. It takes care and nurturing, and it’s greatly dependent on the unique aspects of the institution.
"It's the idea of making a difference, to the people who come after, to the students ... if I can do that, I feel I will have contributed something to this wonderful university."
With all her faculty and administrative experience, Dr. Bartlett comes to UW Tacoma with a solid set of precepts.
“There has to be clear communication, clear messages sent and received. One can’t be dogmatic. And there is something about fearlessness, a willingness to take risks and say the things that need to be said.”
The conversation with Anne ends on the same note it started, with her noting that “my door is always open.” By the time this is published, she will likely have filled another notebook and met with just about all the SIAS faculty and staff.
Through all that, her guiding principle remains: “It’s the idea of making a difference, to the people who come after, to the students. That was really always part of my scholarship and my teaching. Making a difference and trying to make things work better for students, for faculty and for the community—if I can do that, I feel I will have contributed something to this wonderful university.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com