Leading by Example

With retirement on the horizon, three of the University’s key administrators share their thoughts on female leadership and their own experiences at Drake.

Mary Carpenter, the namesake of Carpenter Hall and the daughter of Drake founder George Carpenter, was one of the first female leaders at Drake University. She served as the University librarian, a residence hall administrator and as the first dean of women in the early days of the 20th century.

When students formed a female basketball team in 1905, rules stipulated that players wear full blouses with puffy sleeves and pleated bloomers that snapped below the knee.

Even with this restrictive dress code, however, Carpenter declared the sport inappropriate for women and banned the team. She was also so dismayed by the “unladylike behavior” of women at football games that she decreed female students were no longer permitted to yell for their team — though they were free to express their excitement for the game by singing aloud.

Fast-forward more than 100 years: The role of women at Drake would be unimaginable to Carpenter.

Drake now has in Sandy Hatfield Clubb a female athletic director who oversees all aspects of University sports, and women at Drake serve in leadership roles across campus.

Among these leaders is the trifecta of Interim Provost Susan Wright, Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Academic Excellence Wanda Everage, and Vice President for Business and Finance Vicky Payseur. Combined, these women have provided more than 75 years of service to Drake.

Though their leadership will be missed, as Everage and Payseur will retire in May and Wright plans to retire by the end of the 2013 academic year, their insight and experiences should serve to inspire and educate future leaders for many decades to come.

“All three of them are so much a part of what Drake is, has been and will be,” says Drake President David Maxwell. “Each of them is blazingly smart, but with very different cognitive styles and affect. We can’t replace any of them — we’re appointing their successors.”

Wanda Everage

As a student at Drake from 1968–72, Wanda Everage never served in a school-sponsored leadership role.

“I wasn’t in an official, university-sanctioned role as a leader,” she says. “But I was involved and part of a grassroots movement dealing with equality.”

This experience greatly influenced Everage and encouraged her to help others become leaders — regardless of their job, status or position.

“This whole notion of Drake creating leaders through official programs is great, but we have to ask how we can empower people to be great leaders from where they are,” she says. “As people in endorsed senior leadership positions, it is our responsibility to empower people to lead and gain the confidence to understand their own potential.”

After graduating, Everage served as a teacher and administrator in the Des Moines Public School District and was one of only five governor-appointed members of the Iowa Board of Parole.

When she returned to Drake in 1988 as the University’s first assistant to the provost, Everage learned that retention of students was a serious problem. The provost at the time simply told her “fix it.” There was little guidance as to how to go about solving the problem, just a faith in her ability to get it done and a willingness to let her lead the project.

This trust, she says, truly inspired her to succeed and is a prime example of how to encourage leadership.

“It’s not always easy to help others realize their potential, but empowering people to trust themselves that they are giving their best is the most  challenging and rewarding aspect of my job,” says Everage.

“Wanda is an icon of the very best of Drake University,” says Maxwell. “As an alumna and as a senior administrator, she has managed to combine in important ways the perspectives and values of the institution with a personal understanding of the student experience. Wanda’s ultimate impact on Drake is the effect she’s had on thousands of students and her colleagues through personal interactions — challenging them with high standards and helping them achieve their goals.”

Sue Wright

Before coming to Drake in 1975 as an assistant professor of sociology, Sue Wright served as an instructor at a small liberal arts college in Virginia. Though she held the same position as a male who was hired at the same time, she earned only two-thirds of his salary and was required to adhere to a dress code in place for all women.

“At a time when students across the country were protesting the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights, students at this college were protesting dress codes,” she recalls. “I was fired because they were convinced I instigated students to protest, though I did not.”

With her more than 37 years of service at Drake, one might assume that Wright has mastered the arts of keeping quiet and shying away from controversy — but nothing could be further from the truth.

“I hold the philosophy that as part of a community you should be involved to make it as good as it can be,” says Wright. “I’ve always been outspoken. My approach has consistently been to challenge from within.”

In the mid-80s the College of Arts and Sciences invited Drake trustees to a meeting. Faculty talked about college accomplishments and Wright discussed faculty salaries. One board member left the meeting as she spoke and the incoming president of the board told her afterward that if she were his employee he would fire her on the spot. He admitted however, that he was still trying to understand the role of faculty and shared governance.

Since then, Wright has served as department chair, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, associate provost and director of institutional research, deputy provost and interim provost, and will return to the role of deputy provost in June 2012.

“I think that’s one of the very good things about Drake,” says Wright. “I’ve always felt free to speak my mind even before I was tenured. There are many different ways in which an individual can help an organization move forward and achieve goals.”

“I am very grateful to Sue for stepping up to fulfill a number of vital leadership roles at Drake,” says Maxwell. “With her decades of experience, her wealth of knowledge about the institution in particular and higher education in general, and her wise and thoughtful understanding of academic culture and practice, she is an invaluable asset to the University.”

Vicky Payseur

Since arriving at Drake in 1997, Vice President for Business and Finance Vicky Payseur has played a key role in guiding the University through a difficult economic climate and ensuring that financial stability has become both a reality and an ongoing goal.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve had a balanced budget for eight years and that I’ve had the opportunity to lead so many campus improvement projects that have enhanced the student experience” says Payseur. “Getting the University to this point, however, has not been easy.

“It takes a lot of courage to be in this role,” she says. “It is not a position for the weak willed. It’s hard to be the one who says no. To be businesslike in an academic setting can be considered negative. There tends to be a feeling that those of us dealing with finances are not as mission driven, but I’ve always tried to do  everything I can to keep the mission up front and to support students.”

“Vicky has the breadth of vision and understanding of institutional mission to know that the balance sheet is not the ultimate metric of success,” says Maxwell. “It’s maximizing our resources to ensure that we fulfill our promise of an exceptional learning environment.”

Payseur has served as a leader in the professional world since 1982, including stints as vice president at Des Moines University and as the first female vice president at Simpson College before coming to Drake in 1997.

She believes that opportunities for women to lead now exist on a level equal to those available to men. Additionally, Payseur says, the presence of so
many female leaders at Drake — vice presidents, provosts, deans and others — demonstrates to young women on campus that gender discrimination is no longer the major issue it used to be.

“Leaders need to have clarity of purpose and creativity, and I don’t think either gender has a lock on that,” she says.

New Shoes

While, as Payseur suggests, neither men nor women may have a unique leadership advantage based solely on gender, Drake has certainly come to rely upon the leadership skills of these women — and many others. If Mary Carpenter were with us today, she would probably lie  awake at night worrying about the influence that today’s women have on students. But the role of women and their sphere of influence continues to grow at Drake — and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Maxwell points to the many women in leadership roles on the Drake campus — vice president for business and finance (current and future); interim provost and future provost; vice provost and deputy provost; chief information technology officer; two of the five academic deans; a number of directors (including athletics and human resources); and department chairs — as evidence that the University has and will continue to rely on women to lead the way.

“We don’t expect anyone to fill Vicky’s, Wanda’s or Sue’s shoes — we expect their successors to bring their own shoes,” says Maxwell.

Tim Schmitt, GR’08, ’10

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