For this special edition on ‘Higher Education Careers,’ Diverse caught up with some legends whose careers have made an indelible impact on the academy. We found that even in retirement, or semi-retirement, these pioneers never venture far from the passions that made them great educators and diversity advocates.
After occupying almost every position higher education has to offer â€” from a librarian, dean and president to vice chancellor of one of the nation’s largest community college systems â€” Dr. Alfredo de los Santos Jr. Thought he was done with academe.
“I just wanted to rest a little while to get away from the politics and all the things one has to deal with,” says de los Santos, who spent more than 20 years at the Maricopa County Community Colleges. “I was cansado. …I was tired.”
But just as soon as he retired from nearly four decades of academic administration, officials at Arizona State University at Tempe offered him a job in 2000.
Now split between two departments, de los Santos makes his own hours as a research professor at the Hispanic Research Institute Graduate School of Education and the Mary Fulton Institute: Division of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at ASU. De los Santos says the stress-free schedule allows him to care for his wife while advising graduate students.
Working directly with students has rejuvenated his passion for educational research and allowed the 73-year-old to update his previous research. He recently co-authored a couple of articles tracking student transfers from Maricopa to ASU, as well as the mobility and advancement of Hispanic college presidents.
Making inroads for Latinos and other minorities in higher education, de los Santos is known for providing a voice and opening the doors for generations of Latinos wanting access to the higher echelons of society.
De los Santos has spent his entire career setting curriculum standards, proposing models for governance and advancing opportunities for students of all backgrounds but says he’s worried about how deteriorating public discourse will affect the legacy of trailblazers like himself.
Using a popular Spanish refrain, de los Santos says, “Vamos de guate-mala a guate-peor,” or “We are moving from bad to worse.” Progress is hindered by underrepresentation of minority groups like Latinos in college and other issues affecting the nation’s educational system, he says.
“I worry that we may be retrogressing and we’re going to lose another generation,” de los Santos says. “That’s why I continue to work.”
Every morning as Dr. Johnnetta Cole walks to her office at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, she stops to contemplate one of the museum’s newest pieces.
The towering image of Haitian liberator Toussaint L’Overture shows the former slave-turned-commander of a slave revolt lifting an elderly Black woman toward the sky. Cole says the work declares a powerful message.
“What is so stunning is that it is a work done by an African artist of a famous figure of the Diaspora that speaks to the universal desire for freedom,” Cole says.
Since she was appointed the museum’s director in March, the former president of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women doesn’t know the meaning of monotony. Whether it’s meeting artists to plan an exhibition or talking to schoolchildren on a field trip, Cole says her new job combines her passion and experience.
“To be a part of the largest museum and research complex in the world is an exciting daily experience,” Cole says. “I can tell you that there is so much about the Smithsonian that is similar to the academy.”
Art has never been too far removed from Cole’s work in higher education. Her background in anthropology has informed her trajectory as an expert in Caribbean, African and African-American studies.
While she served as president of Bennett, in Greensboro, N.C., Cole opened an art gallery and initiated programs in Africana women’s studies and global studies.
Most known for raising Spelman’s prominence as a nationally ranked liberal arts institution, Cole was also awarded 54 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities for her work as an educator, Activist, administrator and artist.
Teaching and learning are a lifelong enterprise for her, Cole says, which is why the newest chapter of her career was a natural progression.
“The museum is a place filled with scholars where research is a primary activity,” Cole says. “One is expected to not just make an exhibition but to describe, analyze, and inspire through publication.”
Staying in the Loop
The national debate over race has historically been mired in prejudice, violence and baseless rhetoric. Even after President Barack Obama took office, the conversation has oscillated between condescending questions to ridiculous disputes.
But for Dr. Yolanda Moses, vice provost of diversity and conflict resolution at the University of California, Riverside, race should be examined scientifically with an eye on history. “Racism is in everyday life.
Understanding that race is a cultural phenomenon that is created will teach us how it can be uncreated,” says Moses, who heads a research project called “New Racial Formation in the Age of Obama.”
With a grant from the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation, Moses, along with her colleagues from the American Anthropological Association, created a public education project that “explains differences among people and reveals the reality – and unreality – of race.” It’s touring the country and can be viewed at understandingrace.org.
“The race exhibit shows how structural racism still operates,” Moses says. “There are deep-seated inequalities in the system and unless people recognize that nothing will change.”
Operating within the institution, the nationally recognized cultural anthropologist has tried to change each college or university she’s been called to, bringing the message of diversity and inclusion with her.
“I’ve been a dean, department chair, president (and) provost in higher education. Now I’m making a full circle back to where I started,” says Moses, who earned her doctorate from UC Riverside.
Even after leading City College of New York and serving on numerous academic boards, including the American Association of Colleges and Universities and the American Association for Higher Education, Moses is exploring new territory.
“Another big passion of mine is the future of this planet and how the presence of humans has changed its shape. We are on a collision course with ourselves,” says Moses, who is now involved with the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education, an academic umbrella for the green movement. “My goal is to link diversity and sustainability.”
Moses says she is working within the organization to form a crediting agency that will hold institutions responsible to their green commitments to making their campuses sustainable and diverse, a compact that 600 schools in the country have made.
A new grandmother now, Moses admitted retirement was an attractive proposition but the imperative of her work keeps her attached to the academy.
“The work I’m doing here is keeping me abreast of new ways of thinking about inclusion and excellence,” Moses says. “I am thinking about how to prepare the next generation by mentoring faculty members and exploring new avenues to give back and share.”
Remembering the Time
Dr. Charles Moody credits much of his career to serendipity, being in the right place at the right time when the right opportunity came along. A humble explanation for a man whose career speaks volumes to his perseverance, enterprising spirit, vigor and touch of grace.
The educator knows all too well the benefits of diligence and patience having spearheaded an effort to help Midwestern K-12 schools desegregate during the 1970s. He also knows about fairness as the former vice provost for minority affairs at the University of Michigan.
But what he understands pre-eminently is the injustice of inequality, from his youth in segregated Louisiana to his meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Moody is now gathering those memories for a new book about his life beginning with his father’s arrival in 1901 to the United States to his own work in South Africa as the executive director of the South Africa Initiative office at the University of Michigan to the exploits of grandfatherhood.
Some of the telling details are chronicled by his wife, Christella, in a blog called “Meandering Moody Memories” that covers more than 70 years of their lives.
Speaking to their good fortune, Mrs. Moody wrote: “Mystical occurrences are commonplace and an invisible presence seems to follow and help us. For example, we never discovered how we got our first apartment and never discovered who recommended my husband for his job in the ’50s as a lab technician. We were blessed the way some things just kind of happened. We just went with the flow.”
Luck brought Moody to each new step in his life, he says. After becoming the first African- American superintendent of Harvey, Ill., public schools, Moody was interested in studying the work of other Black school administrators when he received a phone call.
“It was a wrong number. The caller was looking for someone in East Chicago Heights, and instead of hanging up, he identified the party for the caller and got the number for her,” Mrs. Moody wrote.
“They continued talking and the woman told him about her job, which was providing funds for people who needed grants. Moody says, ‘That’s ironic. I’m looking for someone to fund my dissertation.'”
Not long afterward Mr. Moody says he became the first member of his family to earn a doctorate and completed the first study on Black superintendents. Subsequent meetings with Black school officials soon took place and formed into today’s National Alliance of Black School Educators.
“A lot of serendipity came into our lives. We don’t know who or how,” Moody says. Between trips to Africa and writing his autobiography, Moody is enjoying retirement in Las Vegas, giving speeches at the local school district and compiling wisdom for his grandchildren.
He also volunteered during the 2008 election for President Obama’s campaign by helping out at the Durango Campaign for Change in Nevada. D