Craig Vasey

Quote

Like many things that have confronted women over the last several thousand years, when they try to get themselves taken seriously, they are laughed at.

Biography

Craig R. Vasey, Chair of the Department of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion and Professor of Philosophy, earned a Ph.D. (1984) from Brown University, a doctorate (1982) from the Université de Paris-Nanterre, and a B.A. (1975) in philosophy from Towson State College (Maryland). Dr. Vasey was co-director of Mary Washington’s Race and Gender Curriculum Development Project for eight years. He is a member of the Virginia Humanities Conference, the Virginia Women’s Studies Association, the Society for Phenomenological and Existential Philosophy and the American Philosophical Association. He was elected to a three-year term on the National Council of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Interview Video

Transcript

University of Mary Washington

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Dr. Craig Vasey

Women and Gender Studies Oral History Project

Interview Conducted by

Gene Kimball and Alice Wagner

In 2010

Discursive Table of Contents – Dr. Craig Vasey

1-00:00:01

Position at University of Mary Washington – educational background, including time in Paris – Work at other institutions – beginning of work at Mary Washington – administrative resistance to establishment of Women’s Studies – how he approaches feminism

1-00:12:15

His definition of feminism – support for the program from provost, Nina Mikhalevsky – his role in the foundation of the Race and Gender Curriculum Project – details about the project

1-00:23:13

Discussion of the naming of Women and Gender Studies – lack of resources – desire for departmental status – impact of other institutions’ women’s studies programs on the development of Mary Washington’s

1-00:31:12

Lack of student pressure for the program – homogeneity of campus – attempts to attract men to the college – future integration of other departments not yet involved – curriculum and feminist pedagogy

1-00:41:52

Community reactions – discussion on how the major is not yet being reported to the SHEV – effect of SHEV on smaller majors

1-00:50:42

Why program did not develop until 2010, faculty involvement – role of President Judy Hample – Dr. Vasey’s reflections on the effects of being a male involved with feminism and women’s studies – discussion of additional information that Dr. Crawley’s book History of Mary Washington gives

Interview with Dr. Craig Vasey

Interviewed by: Alice Wagner and Gene Kimball

Transcribers: Alice Wagner and Gene Kimball

[Interview #1: November 11, 2010]

[Resume Vasey 01 11c-11-10.wav]

1-00:00:01

Wagner:

We’re here with Dr. Vasey at the University of Mary Washington on November 11, 2010.  So first I would like to start off with asking you what is your position here at the university?

1-00:00:19

Vasey:

Oh I’m a professor of philosophy and I’m the chair of the department of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion.  I’ve been here since 1986 and I’ve been chair since 1998.

Wagner:

What schools… school or schools did you attend for your degree, masters, and PhD?

1-00:00:37

Vasey:

I have uh I actually went through two graduate programs.  From undergraduate I went to Paris to the University of Paris Sorbonne I did License and Maitrise which is a master’s degree there and I finished a doctorate there at doctorat de troisième cycle at the University of Paris Nanterre and from there I went to Brown University where I enrolled in the PhD program in analytic philosophy. So I completed a PhD at Brown as well.

Wagner:

Do you think your education played a role in how you approach Women and Gender Studies, particularly Paris, I mean that’s an unusual…?

1-00:01:23

Vasey:

Well, yeah, but what really happened to me in Paris was I was kind of surprised to see the retarded status of the Women’s Movement in Paris when I was there.  When I went there in 76, I was there from ‘76-‘79, I wasn’t really all that interested in women’s studies at that point yet, but I had read a little bit of stuff off and on.  Actually, I remember being an undergraduate working at the reserve desk in the library and picking up books to read like Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex. I remember reading that when I was on duty, you know, so I had gotten a little bit into some questions on feminist theory and feminist philosophy.  And when I went to Paris I was actually kind of surprised that there was nothing like that in the curriculum, at the university. There were some important theorists whose names I became aware of within a year or two but they weren’t being taught.  Women’s studies wasn’t being taught in the university. So I would say the biggest impact being in France had on me was realizing how much less sensitive French culture seemed to be in 1977 and 1978 to issues of women’s equality or inequality than back in the United States.  And I was a little surprised by that.  And I guess that’s kind of what, that’s a core part of what got me interested in someone like Simone de Beauvoir because she published The Second Sex in 1947 in France, I would have guessed that France was the place where this sort of thing was happening and it wasn’t really yet at the everyday level I mean there were people like Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray were these top theorists and even then they were becoming known a little bit.  But they’re very esoteric and again as I said no one at the university level was teaching it or taking it seriously for that matter.  I mean, I remember writing a paper as a graduate student in which I made reference to feminism as philosophy and again this was about 1979 and my professor writing back and saying, “feminism couldn’t be philosophy any more than trade unionism could be philosophy.”  Because, I mean, he was suggesting that I was confusing a social political movement with philosophy because one could talk about Marxism as a philosophy but one couldn’t talk about unions or union activity as philosophy.  And he was thinking well feminism is just political agitation, it’s just political movement.  There’s no philosophical side to it.  So there ….It was really quite [pause] I’m inclined to say backward [laugh] theoretically.  And um I wrote a dissertation… I wrote a master’s thesis on Emmanuel Levinas he was one of the people I went to Paris to study and I was surprised on reading Levinas that he made use of the image of the feminine in his philosophy.  It’s a field of philosophy called phenomenology.  And as I thought more and more about how he was using that image I wound up writing a chapter of my master’s thesis devoted to the image of woman in Levinas’ work.  And um [pause] basically the faculty at the time didn’t take it seriously at all.  They thought it was ridiculous, they thought it was a joke.  “Why would you include that?” Whereas thirty years later that’s what everyone is writing about; is things just like that.  But it was really just not – the climate was not yet tuned in.  It was really interesting to discover that [pause] and to feel the uncertainty of that too.  Since I was writing about that I thought it mattered!  But I was being told by my professors “Why are you spending your time on that?  That’s not philosophy.  That’s not important.”  So I was surprised by your question and that triggered those recollections of… but I didn’t do any women’s studies work at all in Paris, I would say, except my own work on reading Levinas and thinking about Levinas and then when I went to Brown after that I discovered in the curriculum at Brown, in a department called semiotics, there were courses in [pause] I don’t remember what it was called I guess it was psychoanalysis so it’d be a course on like [Kant?] um… psychoanalytic work on contemporary feminist theory.  And that was the first time I took a course that had anything to do with it.  That would have been about 1980.  In the semiotics department, not the philosophy department, they wouldn’t touch it there either.

Wagner:

Did Brown have a larger women’s studies?  Like did it expand into psychology, history, that sort of thing or do you remember?

1-00:06:14

Vasey:

They had a women’s center, the Pembrook center …. I’m not sure it was an academically oriented women’s center where you know it was more of a socially oriented center.  But it seems to me that it was the semiotics department primarily that was doing this cutting edge theoretical work that was dealing with women’s studies.  There was somebody in the French department, there were some people in the English department as well but at least the theory was being done by the semiotics people.  [Miriam Dunne?] is the name I recall of the woman I studied with there.

Wagner:

Did you work at any other institutions before coming to Mary Washington?

1-00:06:57

Vasey:

Yeah I taught at the University of Maryland.  In fact that’s the first place I taught a course in feminist philosophy um would have been about 1983.  And I was able to do that just because I was teaching there as a part-time faculty member and the person who usually taught the course called – I think it was called “feminism in philosophy” – sort of at the last minute got a leave of absence.  And the department chair just said, “Does anybody want to teach this course? Or should we cancel it?”  And I said “I’ll give it a shot” so I prepared for it over the summer and taught it.  So I [pause] immersed myself intensively over three or four months in the syllabus that she had used but in readings I had become aware of and was intrigued by in order to put that course together.  That was a great experience to do.  Then I taught at Perdue for a year before I came here.  I don’t believe I did anything feminist at Perdue.  When I came here in ’86 I remember my interview with the dean, Phil Hall, who was the dean at the time … I remember asking him about whether there was opportunity here to do work in women’s studies and feminist studies and he said, “Yes but we’re never going to have a women’s studies major.” [laughs]  He was adamant about it.  And he prevented it for the next, you know, seventeen years.  Kept it from making any progress too.  We had women’s studies activity but he had always said we will not have a major in women’s studies.  It was only after he was gone that we finally did begin to put one together.

Wagner:

Do you know why he felt that way?

1-00:08:35

Vasey:

Um…I would speculate that he thought it was not academically serious, because I think that’s the attitude of most of the people of generation before my time, before my generation with respect to women’s studies.  I was telling my class last week because people your age don’t perhaps realize this but the field of women’s studies, the first course in women’s studies was taught in 1970. So, people who are in their seventies now, who were in graduate school and undergraduate a long time before anyone was asking them to take women’s studies seriously as a topic in academic disciplines.  And so they… like many things that have confronted women over the last several thousand years when they try to get themselves taken seriously, they are laughed at.  And that continues to be the case to a great degree.

Wagner:

What is your personal definition of women’s studies and its relation to feminism?

1-00:09:42

Vasey:

[pause] Well.  [pause]  I basically come to it from existential phenomenology, from existentialism as a philosophical point of view.  Because Simone de Beauvoir is the first person who I think wrote, took an interesting philosophical stance with respect to gender, kind of brought the notion of gender, even though she didn’t have the word “gender,” kind of brought the notion of gender into a place where we could focus on it academically or intellectually.  So I look at a book like The Second Sex as a compilation, as sort of the beginning of women’s studies, because if you look at the introduction, the table of contents of The Second Sex, it’s got a chapter on biology, on psychology, on historical materialism, then it has a long history of women in western civilization, and it has a long chapter on literature, images of women in literature and myth, art, religion, then it has half the book is on the psychology of women from infancy to old age and women’s sexuality.  No one had ever tried to put all that kind of stuff together in one place, try to synthesize and say something from a deliberate and coherent point of view about women’s existence that way.  So that’s probably how I primarily tune into women’s studies, is from the point of view of why is it that it’s an existentialist writer who first does this; formed the notion of what is woman arises as a problematic question that needs to be addressed and makes her bring together all this research and write a book in which she tries to answer the question of “What is being of woman?” So I’m interested it from that philosophical, especially philosophical, point of view.  I’m not a sociologist, I’m not a historian or a psychologist and so I don’t come to it primarily from those directions.  I did teach Intro to Women’s Studies once but I felt unprepared for the desire on the students’ part to be able to speak as a sociologist or as a historian because that’s far into my area of study and my way of thinking in a way.  I don’t know if I answered your question much, what else did you want to ask in there?

Wagner:

Well I was just asking how it relates to feminism because usually people think of the two going hand in hand?

1-00:12:15

Vasey:

Well I think of feminism as simply the recognition of patriarchy and opposition to that.  I mean I see feminism as just democracy with a small “d” extended across the sex line.  But then that opens a door and one discovers there’s an enormous hall on the other side of that door.  It’s not a simple thing by any means.  It grows and grows and grows.  What one becomes aware of as needing to be addressed if one is a feminist expands continuously.  And the proof of that is what has happened to scholarship in the last thirty years.

Wagner:

So I … already forgot the man’s name you mentioned earlier… so you said that once he-

Vasey:

Oh, Levinas?

Wagner:

Yes.  No!  The man you said at Mary Washington who was blocking the-?

Vasey:

Oh the dean?

Wagner:

Yeah, yeah.

Vasey:

The dean, Phil Hall.

Wagner:

So um… after he left, you said you guys started to work towards making it a major-

1-00:13:24

Vasey:

Well I don’t mean to set it up too much as a confrontation with him… I just mean, he said that to me back in ’86, and it would come up from time to time in conversations with people that “Phil has always said we’re not going to have women’s studies here.”  When he retired in something like maybe 2004, something like that, and uh well uh, Barra, Rosemary Barra, was appointed by the president to replace him, and she was dean for five years, so this is her first year out, so that would have been 2005.  [pause]  It was only going to be after Phil had gone that we realized that if we were ever gonna… if anyone was going to return to this question of creating a women’s studies major, it’d have to be after that.  And it was only really when Nina Mikhalevsky was in as a provost, I think people felt, people interested in women’s studies felt that there was a sympathetic attitude in the administration to that change, that growth in the curriculum, to allow something like a special major in women’s studies.  Cause the answer right away from the dean was “Well, we have no resources for that” but even the new dean wasn’t as opposed to it as the previous dean had been, just not going to help facilitate it particularly.  But we did feel the provost, in the acting provost Mikhalevsky, we had a sympathetic and supportive attitude.

Wagner:

So what was the process of founding – I know that’s a huge question – but the process to founding Women and Gender Studies?

1-00:15:05

Vasey:

Well are you aware of the race and gender project?

Wagner:

Yes, I did see, I was looking at your little faculty page [both laugh] and it said you were a part of the Race and Gender Curriculum Development Project.

Vasey:

Right

Wagner:

So…

Vasey:

Right that’s where it started.

Wagner:

But I don’t know that much about the actual project itself.

1-00:15:27

Vasey:

Well what that was – and I think that’s what you will want to have something about if you’re trying to record the history of it here because within two years of being here, again I came here in ’86, during the ‘87-‘88 year a woman who was in psychology at the time, named Carole Corcoran, and I had met and we were both interested in women’s studies and feminism and we decided to apply for a grant opportunity from the state council of higher education, known as  CHEV, still runs an oversight agency for the state government for higher education.  They were offering these grants of $100,000 or so to universities for what they called “Funds for Excellence” and we decided to create a project, to write a grant proposal to address our faculty colleagues here who did not have, like we did, any background like we did in feminist studies or race studies and who we felt we had here a very much neutral curriculum.  A curriculum that didn’t reflect the diversity of the nation or the diversity of the world, that was frankly backward and ignorant when it came to race and gender issues, and we decided that we would try to move that along.  So that’s why we called it the Curriculum Transformation Project, the idea that, the idea was to offer seminars in the summer time for up to, I think a dozen or maybe fifteen faculty members, offer them the equivalent of amount of money they would get if they taught a summer school course, but instead of teaching a course, they would take the seminar and they would read people like Bell Hooks or we had a whole list, we had three summers of this curriculum.  They would read these theorists and do their own research and talk about how they could revise their courses to bring some of this stuff into their courses.  And we did that for… we had a two year grant period, 88 to 90, and after that we continued to do it with some support from probably the Teaching Innovation Project on campus, which is a faculty committee that had a little bit of money to support that kind of thing.  So um, so we were able to gather together there mostly progressive faculty, younger faculty as well, one or two older faculty came to some of those at first, which is kind of weird, but mostly younger faculty.  I mean, I was thirty at the time, you know, so it was people who were just arriving or who were looking for some space on the campus or in the curriculum where they could experiment beyond what their traditional conservative departmental curricula would like.  And after a couple of years, the idea was that they would not only take the seminar and participate, but that they would revise a course, every time you took the seminar, you would revise some course.  So we, after a couple of years, and I don’t recall exactly what year it was, but my guess would be it would have been something like ’92, we proposed following the… there had been this writing intensive model already, writing across the curriculum, writing intensive courses, we proposed, we decided to come up with a proposal that would create a race and gender intensive requirement in the general education.  And we would have a series of courses that were called Race and Gender Intensive courses, and so we decided to bring that, I don’t recall the details of how we did it, but to bring that to uh… to the faculty to factor into the general education requirements, and I think the dean didn’t [pause] he wasn’t enthusiastic about that, but and I kind of think that was where at the time – this is history that doesn’t really matter to you guys because you weren’t here – but within a couple of years of us starting to do that, we wound up with a general education revision that had race and gender intensive courses, and environmental intensive courses, and … some other domain I don’t know what it was… but there was a period, the ‘90s basically, if you went back and looked at the general education requirements in the catalogues at the time, you’d see there were three or four areas called such-and-such intensive, this is probably before speaking intensive came along, that came along a little bit later, and these were the across the curriculum requirements.  So you had regular gen. ed. and then these across the curriculum requirements that could be satisfied in different fields.  So the race and gender could come from philosophy or history or poli. sci. or English but you had to have at least one or two of those kinds of courses.  So this came out of the Race and Gender Curriculum Transformation Project that we did, this creation of a race and gender gen ed requirement.  And that was in place until 2003 or so… or 2004.  I think that when we revised the general education, when Frawley became the president, I think that was when we agreed that we felt the curriculum had in fact transformed and we didn’t really need the curriculum…we didn’t really need the general education requirement in order to get faculty to teach this kind of stuff because they were now doing it, because they were a new generation, for one thing, and they had all come out of graduate schools where they were teaching this kind of stuff and they saw the legitimacy of it.  So it was in the curriculum anyway and we didn’t need a requirement to get it into the curriculum in order to make sure students got exposure to it.  So those of us who were involved in that agreed to the proposal when we revised gen. ed. in 2004 or 2005 that we wouldn’t insist on continuing the race and gender requirement in the gen. ed. and we would let that fall out of being defined officially because we thought it was already there.  But it was subsequent to that, again that was when Frawley was president and Mikhalevsky was acting provost, that the group of people who were interested in those things said “Let’s move onto a women’s studies major now.  Let’s begin talking about how we can put together a way to give women’s studies visibility in the curriculum, since it doesn’t have that visibility anymore, being a requirement in the curriculum.”  But it doesn’t have any visibility, some people felt, because there’s not a women’s studies department, there’s no women’s studies major. So, I think that the demise or fading out of the requirement of the gen. ed. did have something to do with then the urge to bring women’s studies forward as an element of the curriculum in a different way.

Wagner:

Why did you guys decide to call it Women and Gender Studies and not just Women’s Studies?

1-00:23:13

Vasey:

Uh…I didn’t feel too strongly about that.  I personally didn’t- [pause] I was surprised that some people cared as strongly as they did about it.  But the reason is, the reason is, it’s sort of like thinking of race as a set of studies to black studies, is that blacks aren’t the only people who have race, women aren’t the only people who have gender. [laughs]  But the reason for women’s studies is that gender was something that was overlooked and un-theorized so ultimately that’s what one comes to realized.  At first, one thinks that there’s no information about women per se, but when you begin to theorize about it, you begin to realize the foundation here is; “What is it that makes women different from men?” It isn’t simply bodies, it’s this other whole domain of meaning too, which is what the word gender can attempt to capture.  So um, certainly calling it “Women and Men’s Studies” doesn’t sound right, because everything already was men’s studies you could say.  So I think part of it, part of why I would think it’s appropriate or interesting to use the word gender is that it points towards the theoretical.  It points to something that has to do with theory, not just facts, so to speak, just information about women per se, but to raise the question that Beauvoir was raising, “What is being of woman?” which points you towards “What is the being of man?” as well and “What is the being of gender?”

Wagner:

And what led to the decision to make it an interdisciplinary program rather than a separate department?

1-00:24:57

Vasey:

That comes from the fact that there was absolutely no financial support from the administration.  If you want to do it, you can do it as long as you do it with no resources, except do it, so to speak, on your own backs.  If you guys want to organize yourselves to share the responsibilities and cobble together enough courses to create a critical mass of courses, then that’s fine, but there’s not going to be, there isn’t any money for hiring anybody.  So there’s not going to be anyone who’s a full-time women’s studies faculty member.  That was still uh… that was certainly the administration’s position on that.  I mean, competition for faculty lines is always strong.  And to create a whole department, to make the argument that we should create a new department and to hire one or two people full time in a field we don’t currently have a department for is a hard argument to win.  So it was inevitable that it had to start out this way.  There wasn’t enough dedication and buy in from the faculty that were here, that would be another way to look at it.  If there’s not enough dedication and buy in from below, this sort of thing is not going to get support from above that would be required to hire a full time person for this.

Wagner:

Would you like it to be its own department, you know, if in the future resources become available?

1-00:26: 24

Vasey:

Well I think that would be appropriate.  It would be appropriate, it would be especially appropriate in terms of sort of solidifying and assuring that it would be an ongoing part of the curriculum, because otherwise it does sort of depend on the energy and the dedication and the will of the folks who happen to be here, and you could have an ebb and flow in that.  So if we want to see women’s studies, women and gender studies solidified and preserved as a constant part of the curriculum, then yeah, that’s important to do.  And I would think, I think that is legitimate and should happen.

Wagner:

Would you still want to keep part of the interdisciplinary nature by pulling in-

Vasey:

Yeah, sure.

Wagner:

-from history, psychology, all that?

1:00:27:25

Vasey:

Yeah I don’t really – even someone who gets a PhD in women’s studies has got an interdisciplinary background in order to get that degree.  It’s an interdisciplinary field by its nature and that’s an obviously [pause] centrally defining feature of women’s studies is that it’s interdisciplinary.  The only reason to have a department again would be not to change the interdisciplinary character of it but to solidify the resources to make sure there was somebody in charge of it and a certain number of people who were dedicated to offering the introductory level courses and providing advising and providing supervision of theses and that sort of thing.  Because otherwise we’re doing it on top of our regular teaching load.  We’re trying to work it into our teaching load.  But yeah, it would certainly continue to be that interdisciplinary focus.

Wagner:

To go back a little bit to, as you mentioned earlier, that the first women’s studies course was offered in 1970.  What did you guys learn from looking at other colleges and other programs and you know this is now the 40th year anniversary of the first woman’s studies program, so how did previous institutions effect how you guys looked at it?

1-00:28:54

Vasey:

I feel like I was a little more peripheral to the labor that went into the creation of the women’s studies major that we’ve got, than several other people who could speak to that better, like Allyson Poska or Marjorie Och in art.  I think Allyson and Marjorie probably really took the lead on that.  They were the ones who called the meetings…and Judith Parker in linguistics.  And who did some of the research into other programs and that sort of thing.  I did not myself at the time go back and do research into programs again.  Back in 88, 89, 90 when I was working with Carol Corcoran on the curriculum transformation project and we were going out to other universities and schools doing workshops on this kind of stuff.  Carol would often go to the National Women’s Studies Association meetings and we were on the mailing list for the National Women’s Studies Association, bringing people down from say, the University of Maryland’s women’s studies department, as speakers and that sort of thing.  I was more, I feel like it was back then, in the late 80s early 90s, that I was more tuned into other programs or what was happening at other programs.  And apart from looking at – [pause] the reason to look at other programs when building ours up is in order to see how they solved the problem of scarce resources by putting things together, as models.  And you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting with some encouragement that you can do it.  Um, I think I lost the thread of your question…

Wagner:

Oh you basically answered it!  I was just asking about the effect of previous institutions on –
1-00:30:45

Vasey:

Yeah, right.  Yeah you’ll get more information on that from other people like Allyson.  Or Marjorie or Judith.

Kimball:

Now going to that. Actually, we did a lot of research about previous women’s studies programs that were developed and a lot of that was actually born out of student movements and  we have been talking a lot about the faculty here and your part in it. Was anything derived from student needs or wants?

1-00:31:12

Vasey:

I would not say that there was any strong pressure coming from the student level to push faculty to define or create these kinds of programs. There was interest from students once the courses were available but I don’t recall that here, that there was a good demand for that kind of thing from the students. No, maybe I am ignorant of it but I do not recall it myself. Are you aware of that here?

Kimball:

No. No, we were, that’s why we were very curious as to how (Dr. Vasey continues)

1-00:31

Vasey:

And I think, I mean my speculation would be that that has to do with the size of the history of the kind of institution that it is as opposed to an urban university like the University of Maryland where they have tens of thousands of students and they really come from enormously different backgrounds and they’re interacting with each other in their differences. We had an extremely homogeneous population here. I mean, we still do [laughs]. But if you think it is homogeneous now, you should have seen it twenty years ago [laughs]. And that homogeneity goes not just in terms, not just in terms of race and gender. But I mean homogeneity in terms of what kind of critical awareness, what kind of  academic…critical academic orientation are they coming in with. That was extremely homogeneous too. So, I think we would have to say that we had a fairly conservative mindset in the student population in general. So we were actually, the faculty was taking over this. It was more the faculty like myself, Carole and Judith were more radical [emphasis of the word radical while gesticulating quotation marks with his hands] than our students were.

Kimball:

Now we’ve also read a little bit about the development at other schools. Primary, those dominated homogenous genders such as all women schools and they have been trying to revitalize their schools with women’s studies. Do you feel that the women’s studies development here was an effort to kind of revitalize our historic gender homogeneous, homogeneous gender roles and to try to bring in more women?

1-00:33:37

Vasey:

No. No, in fact it may even be, now that you bring that up, that may even be why Dean Hall was so quick to say that we are not going to have a women’s studies program here. What was on the agenda of the administration when I arrived was, “how do we get more men here? We have too many women. We need to get more men.” They were talking about starting a football team in ’89 or ’88 in order to bring men. That’s why they created the business department was in order to bring men. There was no business program before 1987 or so and it was deliberately [Vasey pauses and reframes]. The President, Anderson, deliberately created that department because he knew it would attract men to the campus. So it has never been on the agenda of the administration to be trying to increase, revitalize the women legacy sort of side of Mary Washington. If anything, it has been either neutral or trying to change the balance. That’s why the name changes were proposed, that’s why the name changes we got were put through because “university” sounded more masculine then “college” does. They thought that it would bring more men here if it was a university rather than a college. But that’s why they wanted to call it the Washington and Monroe College back in ’86 when I came, they wanted to change the name to Washington and Monroe. He [referring to former President Anderson] said, “Sure it will be Mary Washington and whatever James Monroe’s wife’s name was but if people just use the last names, so it sounds masculine and that would attract more men.”

Kimball:

And we had learned also about they had changed most of the dorms over as well to… [Vasey interjects]

1-00:35:14

Vasey:

Oh, yeah.

Kimball:

[finishes previous sentence] just represent the last names.

1-00:35:21

Vasey:

Okay, right. [laughs] It is true because I have a colleague who always said that it was “Mary Carter Lee Hall” and he was here, well he came here in the late seventies, instead of saying Lee Hall. I always said Lee Hall but he always used to say “Mary Carter Lee Hall.”

Wagner: We were all surprised because we all thought that it was supposed to be like “Robert E. Lee” [laughter from interviewers and Dr. Vasey].

1-00:35:32

Vasey:

Sure. [laughs]

Wagner:

Which makes sense in this area but we learned and we were like “Oh, wait. That’s a woman!”

1-00:35:36

Vasey:

Right, Right.

Kimball:

Now, I’ve noticed that some departments throughout the interdisciplinary leaning of the women’s studies program itself are absent such as the business department. I didn’t see much focus [Vasey interjects]

1-00:35:56

Vasey:

Yeah, I guess you’re pretty right.

Kimball:

Did you ever see any incorporation of departments that are absent today? Do you ever see them becoming a role in the women’s studies department itself?

1-00:36:06

Vasey:

Well, you know, the program only got approved a year ago.

Kimball:

Exactly.

1-00:36:11

Vasey:

So, we don’t have much history yet for evolution. [laughs] In fact, we were just having a meeting this morning with the board, the board of directors, the four of us plus Allyson [Poska], who look at issues like the structure of the curriculum, what courses are approved and that sort of thing. I think there were some new courses that had been, that were already on the books, that people have composed including in the women’s studies curriculum but there… I don’t believe that any are from the business departments. And I would think right now that with the amount of energy that has to be, that has to go into, the focus on the new College of Business, that the people in the business department are probably not looking too diversify their offerings into a program like women’s studies but rather, how are they going to get their new college off the ground with new business courses. I don’t know if there is anybody in the business department who has an interest or not. There may well be. There are several…there certainly are several relatively recently hired women but I don’t know their interests enough to know if they have an interest in connecting the business to the field of women’s studies.

Kimball:

Now dropping a little bit into the curriculum. Now just back tracking a little bit. How did you see the student’s role within that classroom or the classroom atmosphere you were in? Was it more lecture based ? What were the goals to help you [Vasey interjects]

1-00:38:00

Vasey:

What kind of courses do you mean? In courses I teach?

Kimball:

In general in the women’s studies program itself? Were there any focus on how to get the students to learn more about women’s studies? Was it specifically professor based and catered to their teaching styles or was there an overall goal that was set up for the curriculm in general?”

1-00:38.20

Kimball:

Well, there are a couple of structural features to the major that are defined. There are two required introductory level courses, the Intro to Feminism and the Intro to Women’s Studies. Those are surveyish kind of courses but they’re certainly taught by people here who believe in [pause]  getting out of the model of feeding stuff into student heads, you know, that students are passive consumers of information that professors just give them, you know. Now, the thing is when you teach a class of thirty, it is harder to have it be a class with a lot of discussion then it is when you have a small class. Those classes can be as big as thirty or so. So they’re going to be a mixture of lecture and discussion but I would be very surprised if anyone that is teaching those courses is doing so in a way that isn’t encouraging a lot of student participation with student projects and writing. We have in the… we do have a capstone research course requirement and we have a requirement, the intention of which may be fuzzier in the description of which then what we intended it to be. But the intention of which is that students would have to have some upper level seminar experience courses, which means that they’re not in a passive mode vis a vis the curriculum. But I don’t think we have the [pauses] resources, I don’t know that we have the…we could define it as a matter of resources, we don’t really have the resources and I think that’s one thing I think the women’s studies department would be able to try to do. To insist on something like a principled feminist pedagogy in the women’s studies program. So, I think that the people who are teaching the courses in women’s studies are teaching from their own sense of integrity of what constitutes constructive open-mindedness of their students and involvement of their students. But, since back to let’s say…the race and gender project that I did in the mid-nineties with some of the other faculty, we talked about feminist pedagogy’s writings. I don’t think that really is an issue a lot of people are talking about these days per se. I think maybe it’s taken for granted. It’s hard to transform the pedagogy beyond with good intentions. I’m not sure that was very clear. [laughter]

Kimball:

That’s alright. Now, you talked about some of the obstacles to developing the program. First, was the administrative. Second, was the resources. Did you branch out to the larger community? Were there any obstacles in the larger community to developing this program? Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome when pitching it to the administration that fueled some public outrage about it or anything to that degree?

1-00:41:52

Vasey:

Oh, no! Not at the time that we did…this began about two years ago, that we began this work and it concluded about a year ago. I don’t think there was significant opposition. There was…I do think the acting provost at the time told the acting dean at the time that we had the green light to pursue this, whether the acting dean per se liked it or not. But the provost out ranked her and the provost was supportive of it. So I think that was about the only extent of that kind of resistance around the position at the time. I don‘t recall that it created any, attracted any attention off campus, or caused any controversy off campus. And I don’t recall we had any other [pause] relations with any particular other institutions in doing it, in putting it together or that we either built or cooperated with, or competed with. I don’t recall there being much in the way of those kind of issues.

Kimball:

Now. From an administrative standpoint, you mentioned that there are no resources or that you were not given resources for your first year, is there any condition between the administration and the faculty that if the program gets off it feet in the future, there may be resources available?

1-00:43:29

Vasey:

Well, now there is a little bit as a matter of fact. I think that…I think that the director of the program has at her disposal a budget of two thousand dollars (Interviewer whistles) and that covers things like printing costs and bringing in a couple of speakers here and there, co-sponsoring events, to help publicize the program. So, that’s progress already because originally there was nothing. We were told that there wasn’t going to be anything. There was no space for it, no office would be dedicated to it and there was no budget for it. So that’s a little bit…I think you have to expect the difficulty. If it grows, yes, it will get more support. One of the issues though, that I think we kind of sidestepped as an institution was, and I’m not completely clear on this but my understanding is that this to not actually go all the way to SHEV as a new program to the state counsel for higher education and it’s being treated as a major within Mary Washington. But I don’t believe that the number of people who graduate with the major is being reported as a…is being reported to SHEV the same way as the number of history majors or philosophy majors and psychology majors is. I wasn’t, again, at the center of the defining of the program and all the negotiations with the administration. But, my impression was that they were, people like Allyson and Judith and Marjorie, were trying to make the argument to the dean that we would, that we could expect to see this many majors one year and then it growing as the years went by. And SHEV, you see, has a requirement with the certain number of majors graduating per year over a three year period to call a major program viable and if they consider a major program not viable, they may tell you to shut it down. So, whether it’s physics, or whether it’s dance, or whatever smaller majors are very often looking over their shoulder wondering if the state government is going to tell the institution to shut down the major program. So, women’s studies has got that issue to consider because it’s starting out with, I think now we have eight majors declared in the first year, but I think we sidestepped that and I don’t know why. I don’t know whose decision that was. I don’t think that we created this major program. I think this happened at the administrative level. I think at the dean’s level, a decision or a move was made that made it possible to create this major as an inter-disciplinary major at Mary Washington, without it having the status as a “new program” [Dr. Vasey gesticulates with his hands forming parenthetical quotation marks that emphasize the words “new program”] in the eyes of SHEV. So I don’t think that SHEV is yet counting the number of majors that we graduate per year. Course we’re not going to graduate any yet. I mean, it will be two or three years before anyone graduates with it. But ordinarily, they way that normally happens, once you’re graduating people with a major, then the state counts the number per year and over a three year period, if it isn’t averaging eight, they may flag the program and tell the institution that it needs to do something about it, explain why this isn’t more productive or shut it down. Now, in cases like this, for one thing, maybe this is why this had happened this way, there are no faculty who are dedicated to women’s studies per se. So it’s not a change in faculty assignments. So, it’s not like if the philosophy program were only graduating three people per year then the state might say, “Well, why do you have that many philosophy professors if you’re only graduating three people per year?” We don’t have any women’s studies professors. So, there’s maybe no reason to count the number of women’s studies majors that are being graduated per year because that kind of…that question of resources to demand isn’t going to be relevant to anybody’s budgetary concerns. Maybe that’s why. But, I do think that that’s, in a certain sense, I think it’s one step shy of having the same status of other majors have because it’s not a SHEV recognized major yet. But you know, maybe you’ve looked? It may be something of interest to know. I do not know for sure but that is the impression that I got and I was surprised by that. But again, I think it was partly because they were…I think the dean wasn’t convinced that we would get enough majors to satisfy the SHEV Productivity Standard and then secondly, that  it wasn’t going to require any dedicated faculty resources to a Department of Women’s Studies meant that it really didn’t matter. It could be an internal matter.

Kimball:

Do you think that is beneficial to the major?

1-00:48:57

Vasey:

I supposed that it could be in the beginning stage. There is no…I mean, since there is not a department, I don’t see any downside to it at the beginning. But ultimately…and I think ultimately, it does make sense to say wait until we see that we do have eight to ten people graduating per year with a women’s studies major and then  that will be evidence that there should be more dedicated resources and that the status of the major should be taken to the full level. The SHEV recognized level.

Kimball:

Okay.

1-00:49:44

Vasey:

I don’t mean to make too much of that. I’m not sure that this is the case but I have that impression. And I don’t mean to think…I don’t mean to make a big deal out of it. I know I’m talking more about it but… [Vasey laughs followed by laughter from interviewers]

Kimball:

Well, throughout the entire interview, and we haven’t really hit on this, which is a big thing, I think. We kind of alluded to it but, why now? Why did the women’s studies program here get off the floor now? I mean, it’s the fortieth anniversary of the development of the program, I mean, the discipline in general and we were just curious as to why this has developed at the university and we know there was a lot of factors by the development by faculty and the administration was pushing it off for a little while, but why this last year?

1-00:50:42

Vasey:

Well, there are a couple of different things. One is, there was acknowledgement that there was a willingness on the part of senior administrators to support it if the faculty still wanted to do it after the dean, the change of deans and the change of president. You know, Anderson was here for the term of twenty three years and that kind of stability at the top level of an academic institution can mean that the institution fails to keep up with developments in higher education and I think that was certainly true. He was very, you know, had a very conservative outlook and involved at this level, curriculum level, and that’s why I think there’s always been a good number of faculty who have felt that we’re not, we haven’t kept up with other institutions that have African-American studies programs or women’s studies programs. We didn’t develop these things when other schools were doing so. And that they should have some status and have some legitimacy in the curriculum. So, it’s just that I think that the same desire for it on the part of the…the good number of the women faculty especially, the same amount of interest and support for it had always been there and now the…a signal came from the faculty that we had; that we had a more enlightened attitude in the administration. Certainly, Frawley and Mikhalevsky, when they were President and Provost, they were sending those kind of signals; that the institution needs to catch up to where it will, it could, be. It’s not at the cutting edge of scholarship in a lot of areas. This is one area I think people did feel encouragement in.

Kimball:

Now, it’s very interesting that the women’s studies major…women’s studies and gender major came out of, at this time especially, because we also had our first women president come out and lead the school as well. Did she have a significant role at all?

1-00:53:05

Vasey:

No, I don’t think that she did. I don’t recall her ever…I don’t ever recall discussing it with her or hearing her talking about women’s studies majors as an important value. I think it really had more to do with, as I said, with Mikhalevsky in the Provost role. She had taught women’s studies before when she had been at Mount Vernon. She’s a philosophy professor. She had been involved in women’s leadership programs at Mount Vernon. So, I think she was more in tune with the sympathetic end. She had more of an agenda right below the surface for this sort of thing. I don’t think that (Former President) Judy Hample is very attuned to a curriculum at all. She is a manager. She came in as a manager and she managed from that position. She is not… [pauses] She did not have an objection to it and she was stronger. [pauses] Where she was actually stronger, I think, was in sympathetic…it was in her sympathies for African American studies, something along those lines. She did not feel all that comfortable living in the Old Dominion, I don’t think. [Vasey laughs] She was from Pennsylvania and I don’t think that, I know that, she didn’t like the fact that there were slave quarters on the grounds at Brompton. That made her feel uncomfortable. So, I think she felt more like the stuff about Farmer and race and that sort of thing was more important to advocate for in this geographical area, in Fredericksburg. That’s what she was concerned about; with the racial climate here, more than she was concerned about the gender climate. But, she didn’t get involved with the curriculum anyway. She just didn’t. She was only here for a year and a half.

Kimball:

And this is probably the biggest question. Historically, most professors, founding members of women’s studies programs across the country are generally women. Being a male professor in this entire movement at the University of Mary Washington, how do you feel you fit in and have there been any challenges to becoming a part of this major in your own life?

1-00:55:38

Vasey:

Challenges, well, I don’t think challenges really. I mean, it’s kind of funny sometimes when I walk in to teach a classroom in Intro to Feminism or even to Women’s Studies and everyone…[rephrases] people are surprised to see that it is a man who’s going to be teaching the class. That’s certainly true. And that…I enjoy that and I think that’s funny too, their expectations of that. I think, one of the nice things about it, being a white man, I can take advantage of the fact that I’m a white man to promote the legitimacy of the field because nobody will say, “He’s just saying that because he’s a woman.” [Vasey and Wagner laugh] Which, is what they’ll say often enough about a women teacher. Or just saying that because he is black is what they would say about a black professor. So, I think it is my responsibility really as a person, that these things are important, that I lend my, that I participate in representing the transformation of the culture towards integration of diversity and challenging those imbalances. So, I teach about race and gender stuff in almost all of my courses where it’s appropriate. I think…I don’t think that from the very beginning, since Carole and I put it together, the Race and Gender Curriculum Transformation Grant in 1988, I think that because of that, new faculty have come in after that and just taken it for granted for the fact that there is this guy in the philosophy program who’s also part of the women’s studies stuff and they don’t look askance or suspiciously upon that. So, the fact that I have been here twenty five years now [pauses] that is sort of institutionalized. So I don’t think, I don’t encounter opposition from any or suspicion from any, let’s say women, faculty who are doing women’s studies about why I am involved, if that’s the kind of thing that you were thinking about. But I am also deliberately [pauses] I deliberately avoid getting any more involved in it than is appropriate, that is to say, I don’t think it does make a whole lot of sense for me to, for example as a man, to propose, “Oh, I’ll take on the Directorship of that program.” I think it’s perfectly possible one could be a man and be a director of a women’s studies program but I don’t think it would be the smartest move to make for the viability of the new program. So, I was glad that Allyson was going to do it and that no one, given that I had seniority here on that, there is not much of anybody who’s been here longer then me who’s been involved in women’s studies. I didn’t want to be asked to take that role. I didn’t think that would be a good thing. I was a little bit concerned that I would be. I mean, I was asked to be on the board of directors but I proposed that I would serve a one year term, that I be the first one to go off, so that I…and then be replaced by a new election of another board member. But there are a few men who are teaching the courses too. There’s McClurken and Rigelhaupt?

Wagner:

Yeah. [laughs]

Kimball:

Rigelhaupt [laughs]

1-00:59:18

Vasey: I just met him, I don’t know his name. I apologize. And Kilmartin, I guess too so there’s a few. I do think it’s been the case though, like Connie Smith was just telling me this morning that her Intro to Women’s Studies course right now it’s all women students and when I teach Intro to Feminism, I don’t think I have ever had all women students. I think I’ve usually had at least ten percent, if not thirty to forty percent men and I think that has to do with the fact that I am a male professor. The men are probably a little bit less put off to take a course called Intro to Feminism or Feminist Theory in philosophy if it’s being taught by a man than if it’s being taught by a woman, if they don’t know the field yet. I mean, they probably are probably willing to take a look at it. I mean, I’m not sure I spoke to your question.

Kimball:

Yeah. No, I think you hit it right on the head [Interviewer laughs]

1-01:00:16

Vasey: Oh, I did! [laughter from Vasey and Interviewers]

Kimball:

Well, that’s actually…that’s an hour. So we can be all done if…

1-01:00:22

Vasey:

Okay.

Wagner:

Unless you have things [Kimball interrupts and finishes sentence for Wagner]

Kimball:

…that you would like to present that we didn’t necessarily ask?

1-01:00:34

Vasey:

You might find it useful to look at, have you looked at Crawley’s book?

Kimball: Yeah.

1-01:00:40

Vasey:

The History of Mary Washington book because he documents a couple of the…a couple of things. He documents, for example, I think the fight that happened over the Intro to Ethnic Studies class and that was in the wake of the Intro to Women’s Studies stuff and that was in the wake of the Race and Gender Project. And, he does document that fight that took place between two factions of faculty, you know, the ones who thought that this was politicizing the curriculum and those that said “The curriculum is already politicized. This is bringing that out into the open. Acknowledging the curriculum is always political.” That was…that’s just…we hadn’t talked about that so I was just bringing that fact up; that the institution had to go through a phase of, to some degree, becoming more insightful. I’m not really sure what it means to say that an institution became more insightful or wiser or more mature but most of those faculty aren’t around anymore and they’ve been replaced by people who did come out of training that involved  a sense of legitimacy of these fields, so that’s a good thing.  [pause] No, I guess I don’t have anything else to talk about in particular.

1-01:01:55

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