by Victor Hawthorne -
SGN Contributing Writer
Ana Mari Cauce became the University of Washington's 33rd president last October in what was a historic decision made by the University of Washington Board of Regents. Historic - Yes, historic, because Ana Mari Cauce became the first woman, the first Latina, and the first openly Gay person to hold the position.
Next Tuesday, after serving four months as president of the University of Washington, Ana Mari will be receiving the Greater Seattle Business Association's 2015 Special Recognition: Voice for Social Justice Award.
'Being the first Latina woman and the first lesbian woman in her position - we know those journeys aren't easy,' said Louise Chernin, the GSBA's President and CEO. 'But as she's been on that journey she has stayed true to herself, and we hear from students, staff, and faculty how respected she is and how supportive she is to everyone. All of us in the GSBA are incredibly excited to honor someone we so admire and respect.'
Cauce will be recognized at the GSBA's 35th Annual Business and Humanitarian Awards Dinner on February 23 at Seattle's Waterfront Marriott Hotel.
The Greater Seattle area's LGBT Chamber of Commerce has given out annual awards for the past 34 years in categories including New Business, Corporate Leader, and Nonprofit of the Year. This year however, Ana Mari is in a special category of her own. 'There are years when someone defies all categories and simply needs to be recognized as an important voice for social justice, and this year President Cauce is that special person,' says Chernin.
I had the honor of briefly speaking to Ana Mari about all of the recent and exciting events taking place in her life, including her journey getting to this point, and the future she envisions as president of the University of Washington.
Before her long career at the university, Cauce spent most of her life on the East Coast.
Born in Cuba, where her father was the minister of education, Cauce fled with her family during the revolution at the age of three. She grew up in Miami, where both of her parents took jobs in shoe factories, hoping to one-day return to Cuba.
Fortunately for Cauce, both of her parents placed a very high value on the power of education, setting her life on a track few would have expected given her humble beginnings. Ana Mari attended the University of Miami, earning degrees in English and psychology in 1977, and later attended Yale University where she earned her Ph.D. in psychology, with a concentration in child clinical and community psychology.
Cauce first arrived at the University of Washington in 1986 as an associate professor teaching psychology and American ethnic studies. She recalls that she really didn't think that she would stay at the UW for long but says that she 'fell in love with the university, the Seattle area, the state, the natural beauty. I fell in love with everything.'
Cauce has since held numerous leadership positions at the UW, including Director of the UW Honors Program, Chair of American Ethnic Studies, Chair of Psychology, Executive Vice Provost, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
When asked about her teaching experience, Cauce recalled that she doesn't remember a time when she wasn't teaching. 'I remember teaching my stuffed animals as a little girl, I just loved it.'
Cauce has now been teaching for 30 years at the university and now that she's president, she doesn't seem to be changing that any time soon. She remains active in the classroom and currently maintains an active research program, focusing on adolescent development, with a special emphasis on at-risk youth.
Cauce has also received numerous awards for her scholarship, teaching, and activism, including the University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award.
With increasing tuition rates and rising student populations, there are many challenges facing Cauce at the UW. I asked her to point out some of these challenges and how the UW plans to address them.
'The UW has worked hard to address rising tuition costs and has been one of the few schools that has been successful at lowering them.'
Last year, when the state legislature cut four-year college tuition by 15 to 20 percent in its 2015-17 budget, Cauce praised the legislature for reversing 'the long-term trend of shifting the burden of paying for college from the state to students and their families.'
At the time of our interview, in fact, Cauce was returning from a trip to Olympia, where she was busy building relationships, building trust, and listening to lawmakers' concerns in order to make tuition more affordable for students.
Ana Mari explained to me that her biggest challenge and focus will be to expand the 'Husky experience' for every student. An experience that is robust and includes opportunities for students to become more involved in leadership, studies abroad, service work, and working with the university and faculty more closely.
Cauce also explained that a major challenge will be to enhance an environment that facilitates interdisciplinary studies in some of the most pressing issues facing our world. 'These are exciting times where we are very close to breakthroughs in cancer research and clean energy and the challenge will be how do we further that mission and make the research translate into a meaningful change in the world.'
Another of her focuses will be addressing the issues affecting Washington state and the Seattle area community. Cauce has already publicly stated that the university will be 'completely in line with the new minimum wage ordinance to affect the city, including student workers.'
'This was a decision that was made because it is the right thing to do,' explained Cauce.
Another controversial issue facing Cauce is the faculty unification drive, which Cauce is not in support of. She explained very thoroughly that the current system in place, in which elected faculty make decisions concerning all faculty at the university, has worked for many years.
'It is a transparent system that has worked for many years and there is no need to change it,' she explained. 'It would be dangerous to replace a functioning system for one that is not transparent and has never been tried before.'
As someone who has risen through the ranks at the university, in fact being the first president to come through the ranks, Ana Mari Cauce knows a thing or two about the UW, and she is confident that any issues related to faculty hours and working conditions can be addressed by the system already in place.
There will no doubt be many challenges and opportunities awaiting Cauce in her future as University of Washington president, but given her unparalleled dedication to the university, her many years of experience in teaching and leadership, and her passion as an advocate and spokesperson, she is not only a historic trailblazer but the most qualified person to lead the UW into the future.
The Board of Regents chair Bill Ayer couldn't agree more, saying 'Our rigorous presidential search process has validated that Ana Mari is exactly the right person to take us to the next level in our long-term quest to become the best public research university in the world. She has the full confidence and enthusiastic support of the Board.'
As I listened to Ana Mari Cauce speaking about her life and the future of the UW under her leadership, I couldn't help but be in awe of what an amazing woman she is. Every word she spoke was carefully chosen and every sentence demonstrated her knowledge and dedication to her work. She is truly an amazing person that will lead the University of Washington to new and exciting heights.
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