Episode 12 | Campus Leaders on Higher Education Reform

In this episode, Dr. Assata Zerai, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion at the University of New Mexico, and Dr. Doug Woods, Dean of the Graduate School at Marquette University, discuss career diversity, interdisciplinary scholarship, and how humanities doctoral training plays a role in the work of higher education administration.


Dr. Assata Zerai

Assata Zerai, Ph.D. serves as the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico, USA. She is Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Visiting Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the mom of two adult children, Coltrane and Irie.

Zerai’s research deploys decolonial and Black feminist research methodologies to analyze access to safe water, sanitation, and mobile technology in Southern and East Africa; maternal & child health in the U.S., and various African countries; making the work of marginalized scholars more accessible; and BIPOC and LGBTQ inclusivity on college campuses and in U.S. Protestant churches. She has published five books and numerous articles spanning these topics. Her latest book is African Women, ICT and Neoliberal Politics: The Challenge of Gendered Digital Divides to People-Centered Governance (Routledge 2019).

Dr. Douglas Woods

Dr. Douglas Woods is currently Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies and Dean of the Graduate School at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Prior to that he was Head of Psychology at Texas A&M University from 2013-2015 and held various faculty and administrative appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 1999-2013. Dr. Woods received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Western Michigan University and is a licensed clinical psychologist in Wisconsin. Dr. Woods has authored or co-authored over 300 papers and 9 books and received nearly $10 million in extramural funding for his work on tic disorders, trichotillomania, and other OCD-related problems.


Jason Mierek (Podcast Intro)  00:04

This is PhD Futures Now, a podcast on collaboration, career diversity and graduate education in the Humanities. This podcast is a project of Humanities Without Walls, a 16 University consortium, headquartered at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann (Episode Intro)  00:36

Greetings and welcome to PhD Futures Now, I’m Maggie Nettesheim Hoffman, host for today’s podcast, which marks the final episode of season one of PhD Futures Now. We are very excited to be joined by to close HWW collaborators and friends for a conversation about higher education from the perspective of campus leadership. We hope their positions as leaders working at a public R1 University in New Mexico and did a private R2 Jesuit university in Wisconsin will highlight some of the distinct challenges they see in their roles through regional observations and in the unique considerations their contexts provide. Dr. Assata Zerai serves as the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico. She is Pprofessor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Visiting Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the mom of two adult children Coltrane and Irene. Dr. Douglas Woods is currently Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies, and Dean of the Graduate School at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Prior to that, he was head of Psychology at Texas A&M University from 2013 to 2015, and held various faculty and administrative appointments at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee from 1999 to 2013. Dr. Woods received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Western Michigan University, and is a licensed clinical psychologist in Wisconsin. He has authored or co authored over 300 papers and nine books and received nearly $10 million in extramural funding for his work on tic disorders, trichotillomania and other OCD related problems. I’m thrilled that they have both so graciously dedicated time to join us today to participate in this conversation with us. Assata and Doug, welcome to PhD Futures Now.

Doug Woods  02:40

Thanks, Maggie. Thanks for having us.

Assata Zerai  02:42

It’s great to be here.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  02:44

To begin briefly, just please share with us and our audience how you came into your current roles.

Doug Woods  02:53

Assata, please.

Assata Zerai  02:55

Okay, sure. Thanks so much for that question. Um, I have come up through the faculty ranks. I started my career after my PhD from the University of Chicago, as a postdoc at UNC Chapel Hill, and then taught for about seven years at Syracuse University. I was tenured there, but then got married and my husband at the time, and I decided to move to Illinois, where he took his first faculty job. And so I came there as associate professor. And I was there for almost 20 years. And so, like I said, just came up through the faculty ranks. I’ve published five books, and numerous articles. I was the director of grad studies that associate dean of the of our School of Graduate Studies there and was really successful in that role. I was able to secure a million dollar grant to support our graduate students of color. And that really set me on the trend trajectory toward Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, which is what I’m serving as now at UNM.

Doug Woods  04:13

So I started in at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee as an assistant professor and went through the ranks there. I served in a number of different roles, the Director of Graduate Program in clinical psychology, and then I was an Associate Dean of the graduate school for a number of different areas, social sciences, business, social welfare, education, communication, those colleges, I was kind of the graduate school oversight on that. And then I was asked to be department chair at the same time in our psych department. So I did that for a year. So I was kind of doing double duty and administration. And at that point, I decided I wanted to try something different. So I went to Texas, Texas A&M and became the head of the psychology department which was one of the larger programs on campus. I did that for a few years. And when the opportunity came to get back to Milwaukee, in this role, the Dean of the Graduate School role, I jumped at it. And I’ve been back here since. And while I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to keep my foot in the academy trying to keep my research somewhat active as much as I can in administration. And I still operate a small private practice, small clinic, I should say, where we treat patients on on, you know, one night a week in get some students to have some experience and and stay active clinically.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  05:31

Okay, I think that’s a great segue into asking our first question, which is, when you hear the phrase career diversity, what does that mean to you?

Doug Woods  05:41

So for me, I think career diversity really has two two meanings, I think, would be the way to think about it from my perspective. One is, let’s start with the individual and and start respecting what they really want to do, where do they really want to go? Maybe they want to be in an academic career, maybe they don’t. But we need to set up the academy. So that we respect either of those choices, and that each one of those is valued. One is not looked down on one is not preferred. The we’re valuing that person and their their discernment to lead them to the path that makes them happy, and allows them to make the best contribution to society, as is appropriate for them. So I think that’s one thing that I that wraps career diversity for me. The second thing I think, is getting students to see what they’re actually learning. And I’m afraid doctoral education is set up. So that because we focus on a particularly narrow subject matter, and we train people to become experts in that very narrow subject matter, students often forget that they’re learning so much more than that narrow subject matter. And the so much more that they’re learning is so transferable to everything else they will do in their life, in any job, any position, they go into those transferable skills can be exceptionally powerful, and can make them succeed in in any any place they go. I was listening to the podcast that you did earlier with Len and Bob [episode 3], and they talked about we train students to think they’re going to be racecars. But what they really are all terrain vehicles, their ATVs. And that’s I love that analogy. That was incredible, because that’s exactly right, we in our job needs to encourage diversity, I think is get students to see that and respect the fact that they might want to go off road a little bit. So that’s where I come from.

Assata Zerai  07:52

Well, you know, I really appreciate this question. And I appreciated the opportunity to think about this a little bit. And as I approached three decades in academia, I really have to answer it from the perspective of higher ed. As the US becomes more diverse, it’s critically important to prepare doctoral students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in higher ed to become future faculty. Our BIPOC undergraduate students tell us that they really desire more bipoc academic mentors, but unfortunately, even at a minority serving institution, such as the one where I now serve, um, they are in short supply. Research research also shows that bipoc faculty benefit all students, because it brings up the level of conversation, discourse, understanding for everyone. Further academic disciplines suffer critical decay due to the lack of intellectual diversity. And so if we have everyone with the same experience in English, you know, they’re all going to understand that discipline in the same way. And so we really need that diversity. And I really like the way that Raylan Rebaka talks about this. He says that the lack of diversity emanates from institutional racism, and conceptual quarantining of knowledge, anti-imperial thought, and radical political praxis produced especially by Black, and I would add Latino, Native American and other minoritized intellectual activists who are actually the global majority. And so we’re just leaving so much talent outside the door. And it’s really important to bring that talent in. So justice, equity, accessibility, diversity and inclusion, or we call it JEDI here at UNM, initiatives and perspectives are really needed to benefit our educational and scholarly missions in higher ed. So career diversity in academia, as far as I’m concerned, is rethinking our campus representation, both big and in ways both big and small, and setting on an intentional path that’s guided by JEDI, to ensure that our classrooms, departments, universities, disciplines, all reflect the diversity of the world, the US in the communities in which we live in.

Deepthi Murali  10:19

I’m going to jump in here, Maggie and I, here’s my question. Both of you are talking about career diversity within academia, and sort of like, academic students outside of academia as well, right? So there are like these two angles that you really talked about. One of the things that hits me as, as I’ve been listening to both of you is that, as Dr. Zerai said, like, you know, there is a paucity of bipoc scholars in academia. And at the same time, we, especially at this podcast, we are always thinking about, how do we diversify the kind of education that PhD students, especially in the humanities, get while they are in the program, so that they can go outside academia, because there are no jobs in academia anymore? And so we’ve got, especially for folks of students of color, women, students who are women, students, who are non traditional students who are older students. We want those people in academia, because you know, academia needs to diversify, but at the same time, when there are so few tenure track jobs, it’s just a hard equation there. So how do we kind of grapple with this sort of dichotomy? That that that all all of you senior administrators are facing these days?

Doug Woods  11:45

I’ll jump in and just, I’m not sure there’s as much of a dichotomy, going in what I was saying in terms of Academy versus not, right. My perspective is, let’s let the student tell us their values and make their choice and respect that choice, whichever path they want to go down, and help them get the education they’re going to need, when they chose choose that path. So I guess, I wouldn’t be any more comfortable saying, you, well, this group needs to go get the PhD. That group doesn’t I mean, that’s not what I’m saying at all, you know, because I’m saying let’s, let’s understand their choice, and, and respect whatever that individual wants to choose going forward and make sure we support that. Right. So that’s, that’s where I’m coming from.

Assata Zerai  12:34

Yeah, that’s a really hard question for me to answer given my singular focus, not only just as an academic, myself and a scholar myself, but in trying to increase access to higher ed, and access to really the professoriate for people of color that’s just been such a singular focus of mine. So it’s really hard for me to talk about, you know, creating pathways to other fields. But, you know, I agree with what Doug had to say, in terms of the students will tell us what they need, you know, I think we really have to follow their lead. I was very lucky at the University of Chicago, which was not a diverse place when I went, obviously, over 30 years ago. And, but I was really lucky that the cohort that came in with me, there were four black women. In that cohort that started all at the same time, I don’t know of any other program in the country, at that time in the 80s, where four black women started a Ph. D program, at the same time, and this was a very elite program. And I was the only one to go all the way through, get my assistant professor job and just do that complete traditional route. You know, I know another one of my colleagues is now in higher ed, and she’s in a position similar to mine, at a university in California, but you know, those skills that we were all gaining, you know, she put them to work in the ways that worked best for her family, etc. You know, the my other two colleagues, very successful as well, but they decided not to go the academic route. So I think that you know, what Doug said, you know, just, you know, pulling from what he said about following the students lead, I think that’s what’s most important. And I think an area of growth for not only myself, but for academia more broadly, is, how do we figure out alternative tracks for our students, because all of us have been trained the same way to do the same thing. And so you know, those other alternative routes generally aren’t as visible to us.

Doug Woods  14:52

But I’ll bet Assata you correct me if I’m wrong. I’ll bet there are things that we could have done in doctoral education things we wish we would have learned that if we could go back and say, gosh, if we’d only had this, the pathway we took to where we are right now would have been a lot smoother or a lot easier. And I bet those same things that we could go back and say we wish we had had would have also been beneficial to people who chose not to go into the academic route. You know, like, Man, I wish I knew how to read a budget. You know, when and I wish I knew how to, like negotiate with with higher ups. And I wish I knew how to, you know, pick pick it right? Well, you know, we those are all things we wish we would have had. And I think in every PhD student ends up having to do that when they go out into their careers. But we don’t talk about it. And that’s the frustrating part is, you know, we even though we may go down different paths, we need to respect that. I think there’s a lot more we can do in our doctoral education around those those other skills, if you will.

Assata Zerai  15:54

Yeah, absolutely. I think that part of it, depending on the field you go into, is that sometimes the training itself is just it takes all of your time, all of your energy, you’re just trying to get through that program, just think about our colleagues in STEM, for example, you know, or a colleague that’s doing writing a dissertation and going out and collecting their own field work. So yeah, I think it’s, it’s hard to figure out how to make space for that professional development, in addition to the academic development.

Doug Woods  16:27

It really is.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  16:29

So we’re curious, how would you define the purpose of graduate training and the PhD? And how has that definition evolved at your institution? And has it evolved? Or are we still thinking of the PhD as, you know, a 19th century scholarly, we’re going to go into our little academic hermit archives and kind of come out with new knowledge. So I’m curious to hear your thoughts about that.

Doug Woods  16:55

Sorry, did you want to start or do you want me to go?

Assata Zerai  16:57

Sure, I can start. I love the question about evolving because definitely summer of 2020 was a watershed moment for us all. And for academia, you know, we had our movements such as white coats for black and indigenous lives, hashtag scholar strike for racial justice, you know, these movements that coalesced like minded students and faculty around this idea of transforming graduate education. And so, but it’s, it’s interesting that we do have these like minded groups, whereas at the same time, we have people that want to keep things the way that they’ve always been, they don’t have to want want to have to redo their lectures, you know, figure out new readings, and, you know, they’re too busy with the research that don’t want to have to rethink all of this. And it’s just like, oh, this is a distraction. So, it’s, it’s, it’s an interesting moment of contestation around that, you know, and I think that all of the critical moments of innovation and growth of our disciplines have been the same thing, you know, different circumstances. But, you know, you have the, the, the, I don’t want to say younger people, because I’m not young anymore, but you know, some people who want to do things a different way, and then the old guard who want to, you know, have who’ve always wanted to keep things, you know, comfortable and hold on to their power, and all of that. And so, so, yeah, so that’s, that’s my first thought on that.

Doug Woods  18:38

So I would say, I mean, I think you asked me about the purpose of graduate education, be specific to doctoral education. I mean, I think it’s got really two separable parts. One is, you’re creating someone you’re teaching someone to be a master of a domain of knowledge, teach someone to be, you know, very deep in a small amount, a small area. And and, you know, we do our dissertation on that we become the world expert in that little domain, right, which is wonderful. But then there’s another thing I think that we’re teaching in doctoral education, and that’s a skill set. And I think we can’t forget that. And I think that’s actually where career diversity comes in. The small domain of knowledge we have probably won’t be that useful and career diversity, but the skill set we teach will be and so what are the skills that come out of a doctoral education we give students or students learn the tools to synthesize information, they learn how to make meaning out of vast and various sources of information, you know, that they ultimately use those tools to create new knowledge that the world has never seen, or new conceptualizations of the world that it’s never understood before. And if you think about that, any employer on Earth would want an employee who can do that. They can Walk into sort of a chaotic, not clear, not not consistent environment, use tools at their disposal to bring order to the world and to make knowledge that put that creates something new. I mean, that sounds like an employer’s dream, actually, it no matter what field they’re in, I mean, obviously, it fits well for academia. But it fits well, for a lot beyond that, which I think is why, you know, we all end up in these positions, some in higher ed, some outside of higher ed, that have nothing to do with what we first got into. I mean, my research was on Tourette Syndrome, you know, I can tell you, it has nothing to do with what I my day to day life is here, right. But the skills that I use are the same every day. And so I think, I think that’s what doctoral education is, and why it’s important. Now, in terms of our, at our institution, is it changed? Has it changed? Or is it changing how we approach it, we’re trying to change it, you know, we’re trying to look at it again, in a fresh way, I will see how it takes, you know, if we’re able to make progress on changing it or not, I think we are, I think we’ve got a number of people on campus who are willing to take a look at what the purpose of our PhDs are, and how we should think about mentoring our students through them. So I’m hopeful. But I think we also, we also have to be careful when we do this. We’re coming out as a culture, a society of a very chaotic time. I don’t know if we’re coming out of it, but it feels like we might be things might be getting a little bit better. We’ve got the pandemic, we’ve got the social justice movements, which are, you know, wonderful, but it’s created at a very chaotic time in our culture. And that’s when a lot of change can happen. But we also know that that’s when a lot of bad change can get implemented to. Naomi Klein wrote a book called The Shock Doctrine, about how you know, when, like bad governments get set up in times of social chaos. And we always have to be careful that when we were at a, chaotic time, that it’s a great time to make change, but we have to make sure we’re making the right change. And so I think when I think of changing doctoral education, people are open to the idea now, but we have to make sure we’re making the right changes and making smart changes that don’t throw everything out and completely start over, we do have something going on. That’s right for us, we just have to make sure we’re smart about it going forward.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  22:20

So I’m going to pull a Deepthi, and kind of ask a follow up question to that to what you just said, Doug, what do you say to faculty who might be skeptical of this conversation, because often we will get pushed back even at HWW or conversations that I have with colleagues, whether they’re faculty or grad students, that they’re concerned about what all of this does to the nature of our academic disciplines? Does it somehow with that focus on thinking about skill sets, does that water down the disciplinary nature of our, of whether it’s history or psychology or art history, or sociology?

Doug Woods  22:58

Personally, I don’t think so. I mean, the skill sets are the skill sets, I mean, we’re, we’re, they’re learning it, whether we’re intentional about calling them out as what they are or not. And I think, you know, what I would suggest is, let’s, let’s be clear about what we’re teaching these students, and so they know how to communicate what they’ve learned themselves. You know, we wouldn’t water down our education around, you know, research skills or becoming a master of a domain of a domain of knowledge. But we’d be more intentional about showing the students what it is that they’re learning, I don’t I don’t see that as watering down I just seeing as being more intentional. Now, I do get the threat, the feeling of threat that people who are opposed to these kinds of changes might have. I could see the you know, the the concern about watering down a discipline, I could also see the threat of not admitting that you have to not know something. And that’s a hard thing, right? I mean, if you think about academia, all of us end up having some kind of inferiority complex when we go through academia, everybody, I’m convinced, we always feel like we’re not good enough. Because the whole system is built to tell you you’re not good enough. And it’s built to tell you that you didn’t do this, right? You didn’t do that right. And you know, once we get through the hoops of the dissertation, then we start submitting publications. And then we have journal reviewers telling us we’re not right, and editors telling us we’re not right, the whole thing is to tell us we’re not right, right. So we get a little sensitive over time. We don’t like hearing that. We don’t know something we don’t like hearing that we’re not right. When we go and talk about career diversity, for example, or say that the way we did a dissertation may not be right anymore, or that that the academic pathway not may not be the only pathway. Maybe your students need opportunities to expand their their horizons, if you will. A lot of times academics will get a little defensive. They’ll say well, but I don’t I’ve never did that I never worked out in the quote unquote, real world. I don’t know. I don’t know how to do that. We don’t like admitting that we don’t know how to do things. And so I think that that leaves people defensive sometimes. And I think we have to pay attention to that. Because it will, it will be a barrier as people go through

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  25:10

And Assata, we’re curious to know what you think, too, especially in thinking about where you might see pushback to all these these movements and conversations?

Assata Zerai  25:22

Well, I think we have to, I guess, take a step back. And think about why, you know, essentially, why are we, why are we engaged in this enterprise in the first place? And so for for myself, and I know, for many, you know, those essential and existential questions of humanity, are often what drives us to be in higher ed and in academia. And you know, what, drive our scholarship. And so if we want to, you know, finally answer those questions, if we want new ideas about those questions, then we need to create a type of graduate education that’s welcoming and inclusive of all people. And so if we need to rethink our pedagogy, rethink even the canon in order to make room for the global majority to be a part of our classrooms a part of our programs, then that’s what we have to do. Otherwise, why are we even here?

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  26:27

Thank you so much for that. Deepthi is encouraging me to kind of get to what I see as the most important question, but they’re all important questions, Deepthi. So, but I really want to emphasize the question that we’ve derived or that we’ve constructed about the reform efforts, and what you’re seeing on your campuses. So as a part of your reform efforts, what is one thing you would change in graduate training and curriculum?

Assata Zerai  26:54

Yeah, so for me, I really wanted to think about mentoring models. I feel like as a faculty as university, and even within our academic disciplines, we need to seriously rethink mentoring models, and to intentionally change them so that we can better support our students. You know, there are a number of issues with our graduate education and our mentoring right now. That really, we need to pay attention to incorporating work life balance considerations, for example, that’s something that often is not done. I know, when I had a student taking her special field exam, early in my career, and she said she was going to the gym, she’s like, Okay, I took a break from writing to go to the gym. And I was just like, what, you went to the gym, which, of course, was the right thing to do. But, you know, like, the way I had been trained, and you know, all the singular focus on, hey, you’ll have a week, you got to really get this knockout this exam, you know, so she taught me something about work life balance, and I think we really need to think about that. Addressing when our students become victims of racism, sexism, homophobia, harassment, you know, we really need to restructure our mentoring models in our programs themselves, so that we can address that. Often a student’s funding is tied to a particular professor that they’re working with. So what if that professor is harassing them? What happens then? And so I think these are some of the things we have to think about, I think, for us to become more critically reflexive in terms of our own social location, and the way that that will give us a partial view of the world. And, you know, being really critical about that, I think is also really important.  Often faculty will have fixed mindsets, especially when they are mentoring graduate students of color, graduate students, who are folks with disabilities, that, Oh, they have it or they don’t, you know, as opposed to understanding, we all learn and grow. As Doug said, you know, this inferiority complex is something that’s promoted, because we’re always taught what we told what we don’t know, well, what if we built to graduate education on the basis of our the assets of our graduate students? So again, we’re creating that welcoming environment. And so I just feel that as mentors really need to rethink this idea of being a guru and making someone in our own image, and, you know, have that opportunity to learn from our students so that we can become better mentors.

Doug Woods  29:43

I love that. And I would agree, I think if we could do anything to end there’s a lot of things that would fall from this, but we could take a student-first approach to graduate education. I mean, if you think about this, I’ve talked about a lot of this stuff, but how we set up great graduate education is usually not student-first. We think about the funding model, it’s what does the department need? What does the mentor need? You know, a lot of mentors will look at their graduate students as a labor force, not not a student to take be taken care of and helped through to their career and I am not saying people don’t care about the students. Not at all what I’m saying. But if you think about how it’s set up, a lot of times it leads towards that. It you know, how often do mentors have good ones do I think, have discussions with their students right when they get there? What kind of career do you want? What are you passionate about, you know, what really gives you juice to want to come in in the morning, and let’s build your curriculum around that. You know, if we had that approach, I think we’d be in much better shape. And so I think if I had to change, one thing would be that let’s make sure we put the student first in all of our decision making.  But then beyond that, I think really just giving them some tools for discerning a career upfront, discerning where they want their career to go and and letting them know that it’s okay to change, and that they’re going to change over time, even if they go into academia, their careers will will morph into something they probably never thought they would be. And then also, what other kinds of be more intentional about the kinds of education we can give them the kind of experiences we can give them while they are doctoral students that will help them with those transitions that will happen over the career, I think those are the things I’d focus on.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  31:29

If you could predict the future of graduate training, what do you think it’ll look like in 50 years? Or maybe even? Maybe that’s too far out? What do you think it’ll look like in 10, 15, 20 years?

Doug Woods  31:41

I’ll take a stab at it. Just a few things that I think will happen, I think, almost undoubtedly, we’re going to have fewer graduate programs, I’m talking doctoral level that probably at the masters level too. There’s going to be a shrinkage of programs. And I think there’s a lot of reasons, there are a lot of reasons for that. I think one is just demographics. We all have read about this, if you’re in higher ed, that starting in 2026, you’re gonna start seeing this large decline in college-aged students across the country. And that will eventually hit graduate education as well, you know that that will alter, but there’s an opportunity there. Because relatively speaking, the number of students from diverse backgrounds relative to the white students will actually go up as they go through the college populations, which means that the doctoral education will become more diverse, just demographically as we as we go forward. And then we need to pay attention to that and be more receptive to how we change our curriculum and speak to issues of diversity in graduate programming. So I think that will happen.  I think not only will the demographics bring the number of programs down, but I think just demand for doctoral programs will likely diminish unless the programs adapt. Because there will be fewer and fewer and fewer jobs in higher education, I think with with PhDs, so the PhD programs, I think that are going to survive will become more flexible. I think they will take this career diversity thing seriously, because it will allow their students to go different paths. And I think that will be something they can talk about, you know, as look at what our students do, they go on to succeed in all kinds of domains and still can chase the passion of the of the knowledge that they want to know. So I think what you know, what will come out on the other side of is that we’ll have programs that are more flexible in how they train students, and in the in more intentional in the kinds of career possibilities that they have.

Assata Zerai  33:47

So serving at a minority serving institution, I can tell you, without a doubt that demographic diversity does not equal, inclusive scholarship and inclusive pedagogy. So in you know, I love this question, because I love the idea of the opportunity really to imagine what the future could be like. And so I really answered it more from I don’t know, kind of a more lofty perspective to keep, you know, what would be the ideal for graduate education 15 years from now. So currently access to higher ed research foci within academic disciplines in the composition of our faculty, staff and administrators, not to mention trustees do not reflect the communities where we live and serve, nor do they reflect the global majority. Thus, knowledge produced by scholars as provincial, and pedagogies are often not well suited to the students of today. And again, not to mention the students of tomorrow, as Doug has described them. In 50 years my desire for graduate education is arrival at a state of equity and justice. With my 2022 experiences and exposure, I can only begin to imagine what this will look like. But if we think about all of the different ways that people could be represented intersectionally in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, in terms of criminal conviction history, you know, coming from rural areas of the state that are often not represented well, in higher ed, you know, just all the different ways that we can describe people. What I hope for 50 years from now, is that, that full cornucopia of identities would be well represented in all of our core areas of education. So it doesn’t matter that you’re a first generation person from a indigenous Pueblo, you might still be the President of University, you know, it doesn’t matter that, you know, your your father is in prison, you know, you might still be the top student in your Ph. D program. So that, you know, those identities don’t determine the kind of access that you have.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  36:08

Well you’re both giving me so much hope. I didn’t think I was going to come out of this conversation with hope, because so often, the topics that we struggle with on the podcast are really deep. And one of the things I worry about with this with at least with the shrinking that might occur is, you know, Doug, I think maybe I was thinking about this when you were talking to, who’s going to contract, right, if doctoral programs close down, what I worry about is, is it going to, you know, is doctoral education really going to become a purview of elite institutions. That’s, I think, one of the […], especially because I’m working on a PhD at an R2 Jesuit university. And so I think a lot about about that. So thank you for sharing that optimistic future, at least in thinking about what could be happening in the future. To that point, I wanted to ask you both. What is working well, in higher education?

Doug Woods  37:01

I think we’re in a lot of, you know, we we talk about all the bad stuff all the time. I mean, you open the Chronicle any day and tell me you don’t want to just cry. I mean, I do. Every time I look at the headlines, it’s one bad thing after another. But every day, I can tell you at Marquette, we send a couple 1000 students out the door whose lives have been transformed. Their futures are endless. At that point, the grads, undergrads, they got the whole world in front of them, and who knows where it will take them, but they’ll be successful. And they’ll come out with at Marquett at least they’ll come out with a commitment to social justice, and they will make the world better. And we you know, we as academics like to do a lot of navel gazing and bemoan the fact about how bad off we are, and how, you know how rough higher ed is right now. And it is. But the truth is, we’re still having powerful, powerful transformational experiences for our students. And from all walks of life. And I think we can never lose sight that that’s what our job is, and that that’s why we’re here. And anytime we get depressed and sad about how our own lot with with higher ed, which can be depressing and sad, sometimes it’s serious. Just go out and talk to some students go to a graduation. It’s my favorite thing to do go to a graduation and you see the family’s lives transformed, the kids lives transformed. If you ever need to remember why we’re doing this, go do that. So that’s what I would say.

Assata Zerai  38:36

I really love that Doug. And one, a term that we use here at UNM is that kind of characterizes what you had to say is equity lifts, you know that one of the purposes of education and you know, a positive output is that it provides equity lifts. So thanks so much for that. I feel that free speech and academic freedom as ideals in higher ed have really given rise to innovation, and have created space for individuals who, you know, before certain times were left out of the conversation. And also I think that ethnic studies and gender, women’s and sexuality studies and Social Justice oriented academic programs and research have helped us to create a more inclusive and equitable culture, both within these academic disciplines and in more traditional disciplines. Because often hiring of minority faculty comes through these programs, and then they migrate out to the other disciplines and you know, are able to have an impact and you know, that creates a more inclusive space for our students.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  39:52

I just wanted to kind of wrap up our conversation today. What are some of the final thoughts you want that you’d like to share with us or audience? The final faculty who might be listening or other senior administrators?

Doug Woods  40:03

This was not one of our fixed questions, Maggie.

Maggie Nettesheim Hoffmann  40:07

I like I’m throwing you a curveball.

Doug Woods  40:12

So I would say I know we’ve, you know, as Len and Bob’s book about graduate education talked about, there have been numerous, numerous, numerous attempts to renovate, revise, update, graduate education. In large part, they haven’t done very well. I think we’re at a point where, again, for a lot of reasons, maybe the best point in a long time to try to start innovating a little bit more, and to think, again, about how we could do it graduate, particularly doctoral education differently. And I think, I think that we’re at a point where if though those who don’t innovate, will have pressures against them to exist in terms of doctoral programs, and innovate in a lot of different ways, not just curricula, not just in terms of career diversity, not just in terms of diversity, broadly speaking. But I think if they don’t innovate, they won’t exist in not too long. So I would say, I think this is a great and exciting time to be in this space, to try to really think about how we can do this differently. So our students outcomes and our students, you know, lives are better as they go out. So that’s right. That’s right, kind of summarize things.

Assata Zerai  41:33

I don’t know if I really have a summary statement. But what I do want to talk about is some of the most significant issues that I think we really need to pay attention to if we are going to survive. Next up to that statement, and so equitable pay for graduate instructors is at the top of the list, for me in terms of some issues that need to be addressed in the near future. I already mentioned financial support for grad students that’s not connected to their major advisor. We really need sustainable structural prevention and remedy mechanisms for graduate students that are experiencing bullying, harassment, and assault from both faculty and peers. Right now, our students are feeling that they’re left to fend for themselves, in this regard, and most of our mechanisms for addressing these issues are very individualistic. So the student has to go around to multiple offices trying to get someone to help them, you know, then they experience retaliation, because they’ve spoken up and it’s just the whole thing is a mess. And so especially for women, graduate students, but all graduate students really need to figure out how to address that. I think we need to understand how to deliver graduate education and assessments to all students, and especially students with disabilities, and with chronic medical conditions in ways that nurture our students and encourage them to thrive. We have these strong tests if you don’t pass the test, sorry. You know, and that’s just that’s not okay. It’s just not okay, look at all that talent, we’re leaving, you know, outside our doors. Um, so yeah, these are the things that just like keep me up at night. The other thing is creating structural remedies to address dehumanizing departmental climates. Again, this is not an individual issue, but students individually are trying to fight this. Um, and it’s, again, it’s not working, um, often our students are then re victimized in the process. Um, and it’s obviously going to be very distracting to someone trying to finish a doctoral program. So, yeah, I think if we can just develop our faculty, develop our institutions, so that we do put the students first we can create a much better experience for us all, and who knows what kind of scholarship is going to come out of all.

Deepthi Murali (Producer Outro) 44:18

Thanks to our guests, Dr. Assata Zerai and Dr. Doug Woods for joining us in the last episode of PhD futures now, we are incredibly grateful for all our other guests who have shared their time with us and engaged in crucially important conversations about humanities PhDs, and career diversity. In producing this podcast, it has become more clear that career diversity for Humanities PhDs is integrally tied to the need for structural changes in higher education in the US. And these changes require buy-ins from the senior-most leaders within the university system as much as it needs to include graduate students and their current needs. I’m Deepthi Murali produced of PhD Futures Now, that’s to Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Dr. Antoinette Burton, Director of the Humanities Research Institute at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and the PI of Humanities Without Walls Consortium. Our episodes are hosted by staff at HWW, including Maggie Nettesheim Hoffman, Peggy Brennan, and Benjamin Linzy. Our social media expert is Bridget Scully. A big round of thanks once again, to all our many guests for sharing their time and wisdom over the past year. It’s been a rewarding experience producing this podcast and we hope we can continue these conversations on the future of higher education through social media and other channels. Our Twitter handle is @phdfuturesnow. Thank you for listening.