Reflections on a Career

Dr. Nancy McGlen, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, retired in May after a 33-year tenure at the university. She began her Niagara career as an assistant professor of political science in September of 1980 after teaching at the State University of New York at Buffalo. At Niagara, she served as director of the social science program and as chair of the political science and criminal justice department before being named dean in 1998. Upon her retirement, she was named Professor and Dean Emeritus. We sat down with Dr. McGlen to discuss her reflections on her time at Niagara and her plans for the future.

What first brought you to Niagara University?

I was working full time at UB when a reallocation of resources in my department reduced the number of faculty from more than 30 to about 15. As a non-tenured faculty member, I was one of those resources that was reallocated. So I began to apply for all kinds of jobs — I was accepted into a program to retool Ph.D.s for Wall Street, I did some informational interviews with the federal government, I had a job offer as an associate professor at C.W. Post College in Long Island. One day, a graduate student in my Women in Politics seminar, a Niagara alum, told me about an opening at Niagara. I applied and interviewed here with Father Levesque, who was dean of Arts and Sciences; John Stranges, vice president for academic affairs; and Dick O’Dea, chair of the political science department. When they made me an offer to come, I jumped at the opportunity. It was absolutely the best decision I ever made in my life.

What kept you here?

I tell junior faculty, and I really believe it, that there’s four good parts about being a professor. Number one, you can have great class discussions. Number two, you can publish. Number three, you can serve on committees and make a difference in the life of the university (but if you do too much of that, you become dean!). But the absolute best part of the job is making a difference in the life of a student. That may mean helping a student struggling in your course succeed, it may mean just listening when they need someone to talk to, it may mean advising and supporting people in their graduate school search. Niagara was the place where I was able to do all of this. I especially loved getting to know my students. It was incredibly rewarding.

Niagara was also very supportive of my research. I was able to produce books with wonderful co-authors, and I met a lot of great colleagues from different departments. There’s an intellectual richness here.

What has been your proudest career moment?

I think it’s been having this phenomenal opportunity to work with new, young faculty. We’ve hired some of the most exceptional faculty you can imagine. They are the complete package: scholars, dedicated teachers, and they do more service than I ever dreamt of doing when I started out as a professor. I’ve been able to mentor, support, encourage and, in some cases, just stand aside and watch them be spectacular. I’ve loved that.

What’s the most significant change you’ve seen at Niagara during your tenure?

The change in the quality of the faculty and academic programs has been huge. And that’s no negative reflection on the faculty who were here when I came; we simply built from some pretty great faculty and added a whole new contingent of superstars.

The other change would be, of course, the physical plant. When I came, all the polisci and the criminal justice faculty were in one big room, divided with those portable dividers. We had one telephone for all of us and each of us had an itsy bitsy desk and a three-shelf bookcase. Now the campus is so beautiful, but all of that would be meaningless if you didn’t have great faculty.

What’s your favorite memory of your time at NU?

I remember my first public presentation here. Father Harrington (then president of Niagara) had asked me to give the Justice and Peace convocation. He kept reminding me to keep it to 15 minutes, so my husband, Joe (Gadawski, ’58), who had taken public speaking at Niagara with Father McGlinn, started timing me. I really expected to be pulled off the stage if I went 16 minutes! That experience taught me to be a better public speaker, and I really enjoy doing it now.

How would you like to be remembered?

Good leaders should be invisible once they’ve left because they’ve empowered the people around them. I’d like to be remembered as a person who helped, empowered and supported people so that they could move the university forward.

Also, I’d like to be remembered as being part of the group that brought nursing back to Niagara University. That has been incredibly rewarding and challenging, and I think it’s going to make a huge contribution to the university’s future.

The other thing is that I think I’ve built on the former deans’ efforts to create a sense of the College of Arts and Sciences, a sense of us. It started with Father Levesque establishing the Day of Recognition, then Sue Mason starting the Undergraduate Research Conference and expanding the Day of Recognition, and me, along with the faculty, creating a mission statement. I think there’s a certain sense of pride and commonality that we have now that is hard to accomplish when you have so many different and disparate departments.

What are your future plans?

I am going to first probably mourn the loss of this career, mourn working with the students and faculty, and then I’ve got to find something that addresses my interests and my passions. I’ve got a few things planned: Joe and I are going to do some traveling, do the things you can’t do when you’re doing this job. I’ve committed to helping the YWCA of Niagara plan their 100th anniversary and a big campaign around that. I’m going to stay on the nursing advisory board for a while, and I’m joining the board of the Friends of the Theatre. So I’ll still be around. And, as Professor and Dean Emeritus, I’m sure they’re going to make me do something, and that’s okay. I want to stay connected to NU and help in any way I can to support this wonderful institution.