|Gloria DeSole Retires; Her Work
By Greta Petry
When Gloria DeSole first started
working at the University at Albany in 1976, she had a recurring dream.
“I would pull up to the parking lot, get out
of my car, and then try to move the academic podium (the classroom buildings
that surround the Fountain) with my shoulder,” she said.
Metaphorically, DeSole was
trying to learn how to make change happen. The concrete podium is still
here, but the past 24 years have wrought significant changes in how the
campus has expanded opportunities for women, people of color, and those
Say “Gloria DeSole” on the
UAlbany campus and most everyone knows whom you are talking about. Her
name is synonymous with the affirmative action office - it brings to mind
the immediate recognition that, whether you are a student, a faculty member
or a staff person, there is a procedure to follow if you think you have
been discriminated against or sexually harassed.
“It's a sign of institutional
health that people know where to go for help,” DeSole said, giving full
credit to Beverly Ellis, associate director, and Diane Cardone, secretary.
DeSole is quick to maintain she is no “Lone Ranger,” and that it is teamwork
that makes the office work.
Technically, DeSole retired
in August. However, she is in the office almost every day through April,
while a major national search continues for her successor, who is expected
to be in place sometime this summer.
“I have the greatest respect
for and have been delighted to work for President Karen Hitchcock. I've
worked for three presidents, each of whom listened to what I had to say,”
President Hitchcock said,
“Gloria DeSole’s commitment to the principles of equity and justice have
set the tone for an intellectual atmosphere and a University community
in which differences are celebrated. She has successfully promoted an educational
environment at the University at Albany in which people of all backgrounds
are treated with dignity and respect, and given a fair chance at achieving
their dreams. Her dedication to the University has been truly exceptional.
We are most appreciative of Dr. DeSole’s long and distinguished career
at the University, and she will be greatly missed.”
The work of DeSole's office
will continue to be just as important after she leaves. “This University
is deeply committed to the legal and moral dimensions of affirmative action,”
“My job has been to ensure
the University complies with federal, state and SUNY regulations, and to
bring about an orderly transition to a workforce that is more representative
of the state's diverse population,” she said. She is also charged with
implementing an affirmative action plan for the state, as well as the University
at Albany Research Foundation.
“A faculty and staff of one
gender and one race will just not do the job for a research institution
in the decades ahead,” DeSole said.
DeSole's long list of accomplishments
would fill an issue of the Update. Suffice it to say that she has been
senior adviser to the President for Affirmative Action and Employment Planning
and Director of Affirmative Action since 1982; has chaired the Initiatives
For Women Steering Committee; the President's Task Force on Women's Safety;
and was an executive board member of The Coalition for a Just Community.
Her latest award is the Distinguished Alumni Award 2000, which will be
given later this year.
Part of DeSole's job includes
making sure that once students, faculty and staff of protected classes
arrive on campus, the atmosphere supports their retention and success.
“These new faculty and staff
have made us stronger, richer, and better prepared to do the work of the
institution,” she said. Obviously, part of welcoming and educating a diverse
student body means having a diverse faculty and staff.
There has been documented
progress in creating a more level playing field at the University. In 1976,
6.9 percent of full-time tenure-track faculty members were people of color.
In fall 1999, that number had risen to 13.7 percent. In 1976, 14.8 percent
were female; in 1999 women made up 30.8 percent of the faculty. The progress
was even greater for women and people of color entering as assistant professor:
18.1 percent were people of color; 43.4 percent were women.
“There is always a bulge in
the recent hires because that's where you can make the difference,” DeSole
said. This progress was achieved in spite of the fact that the number of
full-time tenure-track faculty dropped from more than 700 in 1976 to 562
due to budget cuts. In the last two years, this trend has turned about
with the addition of 90 new faculty.
Walk into DeSole's office
in AD 301 and one sees a framed print of Sojourner Truth's famous speech
to the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, that was chronicled in
the Anti-Slavery Bugle in 1851. Known more familiarly as “Ain't I a Woman?”
the speech is one in which the charismatic Truth powerfully dismantled
arguments against women's rights.
Sojourner Truth and Eleanor
Roosevelt are among DeSole’s heros. But it was at home as the child of
a Jewish father and Christian mother where DeSole learned her sense of
justice. “A Jewish-Christian marriage was relatively unusual at the time.
I learned first-hand about the difficulty, foolishness, and waste of some
of the barriers we put up that divide us,” she said.
Did DeSole decide as a little
girl that she wanted to be an affirmative action officer? No. She started
out studying to be an English professor. DeSole earned bachelor's (graduating
magna cum laude in 1959) and Ph.D. degrees from UAlbany, and earned a master's
degree from Columbia University. Her Ph.D. was in English, and she taught
at Skidmore College from 1969 to 1976. She joined the University in June
1976 as associate director of the Affirmative Action Office, moving up
to her present post in 1982.
Challenges remain. “There
continue to be unconscious attitudes regarding people of color and people
with disabilities that undercut their opportunities to join the work force
and may disadvantage them when they do get hired. It's a waste not to seize
talented candidates of all protected groups,” she said.
After such an active career,
what will DeSole do now?
“Stop all activity and from a point of stillness
see who I am and what I want to do,” she muses, even as she ties up the
morning's loose ends so that she can dash off to catch a plane to Boston
to speak at a conference. “I have two successful daughters, and want to
spend more time with my five grandchildren (four boys and one girl).”