Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 6

Rebecca Walkowitz, Dean of the Humanities at Rutgers University

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Show notes

Rebecca L. Walkowitz is an author and Dean of Humanities in the School of Arts and Sciences and a former Chair of the English Department at Rutgers University.  She is also a Distinguished Professor of English and Affiliate Faculty in Comparative Literature and the editor or co-editor of eight books. You can learn more about Rebecca through the university website.

Key points include:

  • 07:33: Involvement at Harvard
  • 12:16: Research on cosmopolitanism
  • 15:30: Day-to-day life as a Dean
  • 30:37: Lessons learned managing a department

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92-Rebecca Walkowitz


Will Bachman  00:01

Welcome back to the 92 report conversations with the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m delighted to be here today with Rebecca walk wits. Rebecca, welcome to the show. Thank you. It’s great to be here. So, Rebecca, before we jump into a bunch of, you know, more detailed questions, give us the kind of quick sketch of your journey since you left Cambridge.


Rebecca Walkowitz  00:31

Wow. Well, as you know, it’s been almost 30 years well, so that’s a long journey. But I’ll try to do the accelerated version. I’d left Cambridge, I went and I studied in the UK at the University of Sussex for a couple of years. So I lived in Brighton on the beach. And then I came back to Cambridge and did a PhD in English for six years. And I was in Cambridge, most of that time, some of the time I was living in New York, but mostly I was in Cambridge. And then I got a job right out of graduate school, at the University of Wisconsin Madison as an assistant professor. And I had never lived in the Midwest, I had barely mid bends in the Midwest, I knew so little about the Midwest, that it couldn’t really have told you like exactly where the Great Lakes were on the map. But, but it was, it was good, it went, I really liked the community there, I really became comfortable there. It’s a great college town was a great place to be a junior faculty member. I was promoted there, I got tenure. And around that time, I had a couple of other offers and ultimately had the opportunity to move back to New York City, and to take a job as a tenured faculty member at Rutgers. And my parents were in New York, and my family was here, and I was thinking about having a kid. And so I came back. And then I’ve been at Rutgers since then, since 2007. And I live in lower Manhattan, and my daughter goes to high school here in the city. And my parents are still here. And they’ve been very much a part of her life. And I continued at Rutgers. And, you know, it’s been a great hub to be at Rutgers. Because one thing that was true when I was at Madison, I was doing more and more international travel as part of my work. And it was just very hard to be traveling to Europe and Asia from a small regional airport. Often in the winter, they would cancel the sort of flight that took you to the larger metropolitan airport, it was just distant it was far and being in the city. Not only are you in the city, but it’s really easy. And you can almost always get a direct flight to any major city in the world. And it turns out if you’re traveling as I was before, COVID, internationally, maybe as much as 10, or 12 times a year, it actually makes a really big difference to get an A please get from and really get home to so anyway, so here I am.


Will Bachman  03:09

Okay, so there’s a French concept, and I’ll pronounce it wrong, because I speak a little Spanish, but no French really, it’s, I think, different Nacion profesionales, or, you know, professional formation or shaping. Right. And I think the concept is that your professional training shapes your mindset. So I’m certainly very sensitive to that as a management consultant for 20 years, definitely kind of shapes how I walk around and see the world. I’m curious, your training as a graduate school PhD in English and being a professor of English. How do you feel that that just shapes the way you perceive the world as you, you know, walk through the world and, you know, read and, you know, travel? How does that just kind of shape your instincts and what your mental chatter is talking about?


Rebecca Walkowitz  04:01

Yeah, I It’s a funny question. It’s sort of one. It’s hard because I feel like my job as a professor has changed a lot over the years. And it’s partly because if you have a diverse skill set it within academic life, you can have a lot of kind of different jobs while still being part of the same institution. So some of those things have remained constant like I continue to teach in a way I don’t spend much time in a classroom these days because I’m a dean. But I still have graduate students whose doctoral dissertations I supervise and I still sometimes do workshops at other institutions and I think about teaching and I, I supervisor I lead the entire humanities divisions have all these departments and I think about pedagogy and the teaching we offer to our students, undergraduate and graduate but I I think now a lot about it I think a lot about writing, I think a lot about mentoring and teaching as a practice in life, as opposed to only a thing that is done in the classroom, in the formal acts that we call teaching. So I think often about careers and what we owe to people who are coming up behind us, and how much I benefited from the people who were in front of me, and who supported me. So I, I feel like, as someone who works in a multi generational context, that is, there’s always undergrads and grad students, there’s assistant professors, then there’s mid career faculty. And then there’s more established distinguished faculty, and I’m now at the more established level as well as being a dean, I’m constantly thinking about what people need at different moments, what I needed different moments, what mentoring looks like, as a kind of practice, both the job that I do and the mentoring I do for individual people, the mentoring I do for mentors, people who need to be providing that support to other people. And I spend a lot of time having conversations with people outside of my work about the kinds of mentoring relationships, they have both the mentoring that we still want, feeling like we still want to be growing professionally, personally. And the mentoring that we feel we should be giving at this point in our in our lives and in our careers. Given where we’ve where we’ve been and where we now are.


Will Bachman  06:34

That’s such a fascinating answer. That I might have just guessed that, you know, an English professor English, you know, would talk about, you know, how you cue into language differently than you might have otherwise. But it doesn’t surprise me that you kind of got on to more about the mentoring and leadership aspects. Yeah, I’ll share with listeners that you and I were close friends and knew each other. Well, in college, we were both on the crimson and you were the president of the crimson, which is one of the most demanding extracurricular roles on campus. I might have guessed, when we knew each other, then that you would go on to a career in journalism, did you consider that for a time and turn against it? Or was it always just, this was something that was a fun side show to your academic careers? Talk to me about, you know, what, when the world made you, you know, do that self punish by being president the Krimson. And,


Rebecca Walkowitz  07:33

well, it’s very involved in journalism. Before I got to Harvard, I’m both in a kind of minimal way or partial way during high school for the student newspaper, I think I was the editorial page editor. But more substantially, I was part of this extra curricular kind of youth journalism group that used to exist called children’s Express. And I would did it from about the age of 10, all the way through 18. It was a huge part of my life. And so I came to Harvard and partly chose Harvard because of its daily newspaper, and because of its incredible tradition of campus journalism and training leaders in journalism. So I certainly thought that that was what I was going to do. And I think I thought about that as the thing I was going to do pretty much all through college, I did that, that route, that people who want to go into journalism often do, I did the summer internships at different newspapers moving from smaller papers, Atlanta Constitution to larger papers like the Boston Globe. And then I think I had even secured an internship after I can’t even remember it so long ago, will I remember I was looking at the Herald in Miami and also looking at the Washington Post. And, and then, but I was a pretty good student in college. And because I had been a leader of a major campus organization, I was kind of channeled in a way into the big competitive scholarship fellowship application process, which Harvard does, it kind of identifies you and decides you do really competitive? And if you’re a competitive type, which if you went to Harvard, you probably are, you apply for it. And so I applied for the marshal on the roads, and I ended up getting a Marshall scholarship. So at that point, you know, is a great gig and it was an opportunity to live abroad and to kind of take a little bit of a pause before launching into a career. And I think I still thought that I was going to go back into journalism, and it seemed totally plausible to do that. But I was good at school, and I was very engaged by it. And I began to feel like I wanted to have the opportunity to study more and get a PhD and, and I had senior year after I had finished being head of the crimson as you recall these executive positions at the Crimson they kind of They end. You know, before most of your senior year, I remember I took a bunch of graduate seminars because I had finished my undergraduate requirements. And I was just so intellectually stimulated by them, and about the ways I was thinking about writing and about literature. And then when I hadn’t had as much time to really focus on that as an undergrad, because I was busy with the Crimson. So I don’t know, that’s kind of a long answer. But I thought, well, if someone will give me money to go study, and I got a fellowship, then maybe I’ll just keep doing that. And I can always go back to journalism. And I kind of thought, you know, in the worst case scenario, I’ll have a PhD at 28 or 29. And then I can go be a journalist. And I think that’s true, I could have done that. And it was true, I ended up getting offered a full ride to a number of places, but including to go back to Harvard. And I felt I had kind of unfinished business and a kind of excitement about that life, at least for my 20s. Like, I don’t think I had made any commitments yet to what the life was going to be like after that. But I did feel and I’ve always felt very connected to institutional life. And so I always felt that I wanted to be if I was going to be a journalist, I wanted to work at a newspaper, I wanted to have like a daily, regular gig, I didn’t want to be a freelancer, I wanted to be part of a collective making something. And I would say that by the time I got to the end of my 20s, I began to feel like the academy was the right institution for me, and that I wasn’t committing to the kind of writing I would do. And the kind of civic leadership I’ve been part of that I felt I could be doing that kind of writing, let’s say journalistic writing, and be involved in public life and public service, which I felt like writing for a newspaper is a form of public service, from an academic institution, ultimately, instead of from a newspaper institution. But I don’t think that I felt that I was giving up all the aspects of being a journalist that I cared about. I was just shifting them to a different a different institution, you know.


Will Bachman  12:08

Tell me about your research. I think it has something to do with cosmopolitanism. But I’m saying


Rebecca Walkowitz  12:16

cosmopolitanism, a good for a while, which is a kind of, you know, and ethos of, of hospitality towards people who speak different languages, people from different nations, it’s a sense in a way of citizenship that doesn’t stop at the border, would be one way of thinking about it. So it’s a sense of thinking about political and cultural collectivity, and even solidarity that is not about national difference, not about linguistic difference, not about ethnic difference. And it’s a very old idea, right? It comes from the Greeks even so, it’s bubbled up at different moments as a really important philosophical, political, even kind of an aesthetic concept of the arts. So thinking about arts as being international, rather than that nation based. So I started writing about that, as it was an important way of thinking about the kind of multilingualism and internationalism of the early 20th century arts movements that we call modernism, in literature, in visual art. In radio, there are a number of different media, I was focused on literature, and that was in my first book. But in my recent work, I’ve been focused on thinking about the globalization of literature, and about the novel and more specifically about the idea that in a moment when people write books, write literature that they know is going to be read all over the world and many different languages, I began thinking about how that changes the way you write your work, when you think to yourself, you’re not just writing it, for your readers in the language, you might be capable of writing it, and you’re actually writing it for readers who are going to read it in all sorts of languages beyond the ones that you know. And I conceived of that kind of writing, as born translated work that begins in translation, or begins with the idea of translation from the start, rather than only as a kind of secondary or kind of later phenomenon. And I wrote a book called more than translated. And actually, it just got translated into Japanese, which just came out this month that actually just appeared, and a full translation in Japanese. That was done by a group of four translators. And they had the idea that they wanted the book not just to be the translated version of the book as it appeared in English when it came out in 2015. But they wanted it to be a born translated version of itself. So I wrote a new essay that they translated into Japanese and so that added to the book, and so the book is actually both an original and a translation. It’s a translation because it’s the Japanese version of a book I first published in English, but it’s an original, because the book I published in English doesn’t actually have this chapter in it. So anyway, that’s what I work on these days. What’s the life


Will Bachman  15:14

of No, retract that you’ve been a professor, and then I believe you were the chairman of the English department. And now you’re the dean, tell me about this different roles. And what sort of the day to day life is like?


Rebecca Walkowitz  15:30

Well, one thing to tell you is, so yeah, I’ve been a professor. So I was an Assistant Professor and Associate Professor full professor. Now, I’m a Distinguished Professor. That’s the title that I have. And I still think of myself very much as a faculty member I, I lead the faculty, but I think it’s incredibly important for academic leadership, to be faculty first, even if what they do in their lives mostly is run academic programs, and manage large groups of people and think about budgets and all those things. The mission of being a faculty member, teaching, research, public service community is part of the decisions that I make. And that’s what I mean, when I say I’m a faculty member. First, I do still do a little bit of research. And I still do some talks and things like that. But mostly, I moved. I would say, in my early 30s, I initially was asked to help run the Ph. D. program. So I was director of the graduate program, the Ph. D. program in English. And then later I became chair and I actually became chair of the English department in 2018. That means that I was chair of English in March of 2020, when everything went suddenly went remote, and the first pandemic wave came through and with all of the Black Lives Matter, protests, and just to a huge amount churning in our culture, in our society, on campuses, incredible challenge for us in two weeks to move hundreds of classes English department teaches hundreds and hundreds of classes, to move them all in two weeks to remote format. And my team and I worked, you know, constantly. And so that was a pretty big lift in the middle of my position position as chair and I began meeting with all the other chairs in the humanities on a very regular basis by zoom, and with the chairs of the English departments at all the big 10 other big 10 universities just to share what was happening to us what was happening to our people, strategies. And then in November of 2020, the the Mellon Foundation gave a multi million dollar grant to Rutgers to launch a new Institute for the Study of global racial justice. And the Dean of Humanities at the time, was tapped to basically be the founding director of this major new initiative at Rutgers. And she was the right person to do that. But it meant she was leaving her job right in the middle of the pandemic. And so they came to me and they asked me if I would take over and they needed to know immediately, and they needed me to take over the next month. And so on very short notice, I decided to go from being the chair of a department and a faculty member, at least some of the time to becoming a dean. And so that, but I was already working constantly as chair because we were all managing for a pandemic. And I actually felt like I had learned a lot in two years of being chair. And I was a, I was, I was interested, I was excited by the opportunity. It was, I’ve been asked to do while I was chair a number of different leadership positions on campus that I didn’t feel were as exciting to me as being chair of my department because I really liked being engaged with teaching and curriculum and research and the faculty, I really wanted to be part of the faculty and helping to think about the future of the university in this relation to intellectual life and student life. But when the Deans job came up, I felt like Okay, now this is a leadership job that fits with my sense of intellectual leadership, and where I would be helping my fellow chairs who had been working with get through the pandemic. And I felt like I wanted to be that person to help them do that. And so I just made the move. So it was a big, upward trajectory very quickly. But it’s been exciting and good.


Will Bachman  19:48

Several questions coming out of that. One is he talked about how, right when the pandemic started, you began there was a group of big 10 chairs there. Eating? Yeah. How did that come about? And what were the sorts of some of the lessons learned that were being shared by that group. I saw that it was


Rebecca Walkowitz  20:10

the chair of English, I want to say it Maryland, who actually reached out to all of us and said, Hey, there’s a lot going down here, I would love to talk about what’s happening, and also hear about what’s happening on your end. And also, you know, there was suddenly all these emergencies, there were students who suddenly needed to move quickly out of their dorms, there were students who are having major hardship, financial hardship issues, there are students who couldn’t, who had theoretically to move out of the dorms, but who had nowhere to go. So who were in had a kind of housing insecurity or international students who couldn’t get back home, or just tons of emergencies. And so, we met, and we both talked about what was happening to budgets through us, a lot of universities were suddenly in a huge budget hole, because students were disenrolled. So you know, and we’re gonna pay the rest of their tuition for the year, or they were having to give money back in the dorms, which suddenly meant the budget was kind of tanking, and continue to pay salaries for the dorms while that was happening. And so there were just a lot of very sudden shifts happening. And we talked about what was going on, we talked about how different universities were solving problems that and we were bringing those ideas back to our own universities. But honestly, well, we were also just sharing in and providing support for each other because it was I felt as chair that my job for my faculty, staff and, and students, which were several 100 people, was just to send messages of determination, and compassion, to say, we’re going to get through this together, we’re going to help each other, we’re going to back each other up, we’re going to do what needs to be done. But of course, on my side, it was just an enormous undertaking. And every day, something new was coming up as a as a problem that had to be solved or managed in some way. So it was very helpful to have a series of peers where you could in that say, say, Okay, here’s what I’m dealing with, I have no idea what we’re going to do. I know we’re going to figure it out, but it’s pretty stressful. What are you doing? So it was good, it’s helpful to have that.


Will Bachman  22:33

What do you read? For fun? I imagine that if you’re an English professor, you probably have so many books that you probably think that you ought to read to catch up with the latest novel, if you’re studying, you know, global cosmopolitanism or born, born translate, it’s probably a lot of books in translation to read. How do you? I mean, there’s a lot of books. Right? So how do you manage that? And how do you decide what to read?


Rebecca Walkowitz  23:01

Well, the first thing I’ll say Will, is I allow myself to stop reading. So since I, and I don’t keep up with the field as much as many people who have fewer administrative responsibilities than I do do. So I actually, you know, it’s a you think that humanists are very individual, like, we don’t work in laboratories, like scientists, we don’t work in teams. But actually, we do sort of depend on each other. If I’m interested in a topic, I often look around to see what other people are reading, and what they what they’ve said about the book. And so I don’t have to read the whole book in order to know whether I’d be interested in it. But also, if I start reading a new book, because I think I need to know about it. And if I feel like I am not getting something out of it, life is too short, I move on. I’m not a book reviewer. Like if I had to review the book, I would read the whole thing, obviously, but but if I just want to know about it, and I want to know something about what it’s up to, but also, I, you know, want to know whether I want to read more of it. I don’t force myself to read the whole thing. So I do read around and I don’t feel like I have to get through everything. What do I read these days, I’ve been reading a lot of dreadful, Harry’s new work because it fits into my interests. I like her stories, but also, she herself is writing through translation. So that’s something that interests me. She’s writing purposefully and a language she’s only recently learned which is Italian. And then she’s publishing her works in English by translating them out of Italian back into English, even though she actually writes English better. It’s a kind of curious project. So I’ve been reading about reading about the project writing about it and also reading her work. I’ve been reading a lot of Valerie as we Sally, do you know her work? I don’t She’s a Mexican. Born us based author who writes both in Spanish and in English. And she was writing her novels in Spanish and like essays in English for a long time. But she recently, in the past few years, wrote her first work of fiction in English, and she is called Lost Children archive. And it’s about undocumented children coming into the United States and what they have to go through, to get through the courts in order to try to stay and get reunited with their families. So that’s been her interest for a while. And she writes in essay form in novel form, she worked for a period of time as an interpreter in the courts for children. So it’s a very important timely topic. But she’s quite interesting in all the different ways she finds all the different genres she finds, to write about it. So those are some of the things I’ve been reading. But I have to tell you, one of the other things I’ve read, I have to say is I have been interested in biographies about leaders. And I also sometimes read essays about leadership, I find it interesting. It’s like what I’m up to these days. And I find I don’t always have time to talk to other people about it, though I am part of some leadership training groups, you know, look within the academy, I guess, a program, so I guess would be the word. And that has been incredibly interesting for me. I mean, I’ve been doing leadership in a way, for a really long time, in larger and smaller amounts, even the crimson, that’s what I was doing. And it turns out, as you know, from your field, that there are things you can actually learn. And even at our age, you can still learn some things. And at this point, I think we know we do some things really well. And then there are things that we do where we’re not quite sure, if we are doing them quite as strategically as we could be. And I’m at a point where I feel like, I don’t know, I could learn a little bit more, and I’d be glad to learn more. So it’s, it’s fun to have something new to do.


Will Bachman  27:13

Yeah, absolutely. We can always continue to level up in our leadership ability. What are some of the biographies that you’ve that you’ve read of leaders that that you found valuable?


Rebecca Walkowitz  27:25

Well, the saying I found valuable is sort of like, okay. Like, I find them valuable, because I find them scintillating. Alright, so that’s really valuable, because I would do the same thing. But I, I was reading the god, what is that Johnson biography? The


Will Bachman  27:43

mean, the last power? Yeah, the whole Robert Caros series?


Rebecca Walkowitz  27:47

Yeah, totally. And I just find it. It’s sort of startling. But you know, the main thing I find it that I can kind of chime with is the intricacy. So I think of myself as both more ethical and kinder, then, you know, the model of this kind of unscrupulous sort of get to the, you know, get to the ends that you want, at any cost sort of leadership. But


Will Bachman  28:16

that is a low bar, Rebecca to be more.


Rebecca Walkowitz  28:20

Yeah, but, but I was gonna say that getting anything done, that involves buy in of multiple units, and people at different scales of action does involve an incredible, incredible kind of intricate thinking and planning and staging. And so that’s the thing I find interesting about the book is that it’s over and over again, telling stories about offering examples of multi layered staging of, of a strategic plan, a, an action, the action needed to move that plan forward with a number of actors in lots of different spaces. And that is something I do all the time, more and more now is many, many different people, and many, many different units, who I need to work together to kind of get somewhere who have very different kinds of interests, and trying to figure out how to, how to hear from them, when to hear from them, what I need to say to them back, how to move things, which thing to move first, do a lot of that implementation, I guess, would be the sort of an eye I find it pretty interesting to take. I mean that it’s interesting because the people I work with are really talented. And so to help really talented people do something together. It’s very gratifying, you know, helping people who maybe aren’t that talented, it needs to get done but but working with people who have great ideas and also a fair amount of strong opinion, and figuring out how to move that. I’ve been doing some of that that and I’ve I’ve found like, I have a lot of have a lot of energy for it. You know, it’s it’s something that’s that’s working for me at the moment where I feel like it’s where I’m zeroing in on a set of skills and talents that I think that I, I used more when I was younger. And I’m using again now, and I’m enjoying it.


Will Bachman  30:21

You mentioned earlier that you took over as chair in 2018. And you’ve learned a lot of lessons over the, you know, over the duration of that role. What are some of those lessons that you’ve learned of managing a department?


Rebecca Walkowitz  30:37

Well, I would say that as I’ve gotten older, and this is really true from even before I was chair, you know, there are mistakes that I’ve made, we’ve all made mistakes, but there were mistakes that I made, that has had to do with lacking confidence in my judgment, and then not always making the right judgment about who to take advice from there’s those kinds of mistakes, then there’s mistakes in which you instead of moving quickly, you spend a lot of time, I would say too much time worrying about what the right decision is to make. And figuring out the balance between the need to be frank and be fast. And the need to be careful and judicious, I feel like I’ve that balanced has gotten better. For me, it’s partly more experience. So I can make decisions more quickly because I have experience of similar problems to draw on. Some of it is a sense of getting a sense of, of what are the kinds of things I actually have a pretty good gut sense about. I’ve learned more about what to look for and people I take advice from. And that’s really helpful. I’ve also, I’ve developed a thicker skin. Well. And that I think is not just from the life experience of professional things that have happened. It’s from the life experience of personal things. And it it has recalibrated things. So for example, you know, when things when friction happens at work, and you deal with subordinate or maybe a peer who gets mad about something, or somebody criticizing you in public, whatever it might be, that can be sometimes uncomfortable, or you have to make a decision. And some people are unhappy with your decision, and they voiced their unhappiness and unpleasant way, being kind of, you know, euphemistic here, but you get it, that can be when you’re younger, I feel like that can be one of the most difficult things that you’ve ever experienced. And it can also, thus keep you up at night a lot, and you carry it around with you for a while. But I feel like as you get older, maybe I’ll just say for me, as I’ve gotten older, some other really tough things have happened. And so when I compare, like the friction of people being like, I didn’t like that decision you made to other things that are way harder. I just, I feel like, okay, that’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me. And I’m okay with it. I can I can live with it. You know, I can live with having people not agree with the decision I’ve made. Or deciding that they don’t want me doing something or feeling angry because they didn’t get something that they wanted. I don’t, I don’t take it home. You know, because it just on balance. It’s just It’s okay, I can live with it. And I would say when I was younger, those things were larger. And I hadn’t also hadn’t experienced them before. And now I kind of have, so that has changed things for me.


Will Bachman  33:48

When we saw each other at our last reunion, you I saw that you told me that you’ve been running. Talk to me about that a bit. That I’ve been what sorry? You’ve been doing some running some serious? Oh, yeah.


Rebecca Walkowitz  34:01

Yeah. I mean, when I saw you at the last reunion, I was running really seriously. And I would say, that was right around the period when I was doing maybe, I don’t know, four half marathons a year and maybe another dozen shorter races. So I was running quite a lot. And sometimes I was running with some running groups. But I got into running, I would say, pretty seriously around 2012 2013. I was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, which is now a kind of a research center became the College became a research center and I was there on a fellowship for the year. And one of my colleagues who was a fellow who’s an astronomer, astronomer, sorry. She was getting she was a really serious runner and was getting ready to run the Boston Marathon and she was like, Oh, why don’t we just like run a little bit together and I didn’t realize that she was like a really serious runner. And we started just running, you know, four or five, six miles together periodically. I was more of a jogger in retrospect than a runner. And she said, you know, why don’t we run a half marathon together in the spring. And I had never, ever run a race in my life. I hadn’t been a runner as a young person, never run any kind of race. And I was like, oh, no, I can possibly do that. I’ve never even run more than five miles. And I’ve never run race. She’s like, Oh, no, no, no, we’ll work our way up. We’ll run just a little bit more each week. And then we’ll do it together. And she is a person of, I always think of myself as a person with strong will and conviction. She’s like a whole nother level. So I said, Okay, so we signed up, this was the fall, and we signed up in the spring for a half marathon in Western Massachusetts. And well, we went to that Fr. And I was the first, we maybe did a one five mile race earlier in the season, because I was like, I can’t start having only never run anything, and then run a half marathon. But we went and did it. And the first half marathon we did together, she paced me. And I ran under two hours, which I have to say, in retrospect, I feel like for the first half marathon ever was actually pretty good. And, and then I just kind of got into it, I got kind of hooked on it, and I over COVID, and that period, kind of stopped running for a while, because I had my daughter home, in school all the time, and I was working constantly. But I have just started running again. And my goal will is to, uh, that we’re gonna run a 5k together one morning at the reunion, so if you’re on for it, I’m on for it.


Will Bachman  36:39

That’s fantastic. And listeners, join us as well. Absolutely. Meet at the pump handle. So what else outside of work?


Rebecca Walkowitz  36:52

What else outside of work? Well, I finally, you know, I was supposed to go abroad, for work and also for life bunch of times in 2020. Like everyone, I think, who travels, and many people and I had two trips to London, a trip to Berlin and a trip to Shanghai all got cancelled between March and August to 2020. Additionally, they were all just rescheduled because I think we all thought we were just going to be, you know, two weeks or three weeks, and it would all be over and then some case. So this December, I went abroad for the first time in like 22 months, and I went to London for work just for a long weekend was great. So but over COVID in the past couple of years. I started skiing. So I’ve learned to ski since the last reading and I had never done downhill skiing. And I decided that since I’d been a runner, and I’d like the outdoors. And since it was hard to travel, I would learn to ski and and so I taught my daughter to ski we got us both ski lessons. And now I would say through COVID is one of the things we kept doing. I have car we would drive up, you know, you’re outside, you’re wearing a mask anyway. And we’ve been doing downhill skiing, like a bunch of weekends, in the winter. And I’m really into it. So I guess that’s something I’ve started since since the last reunion. That’s


Will Bachman  38:20

fantastic. And it seems to be a hard thing to learn as an adult. I yeah, I’ve never been a good skier. But I learned in seventh grade or something so I can go downhill. But it’s it’s tough. Seeing some people start as an adult is just maybe even harder than learning a bike. What was it like for you?


Rebecca Walkowitz  38:39

You know, I did I maybe I had a really good instructor. And I did have a couple of really good instructors. But I didn’t find it that hard. I mean, I would say partly I have a lot of strength in my quads from running. So just as in terms of the balance, and being comfortable balancing and kind of move shifting my weight from one leg to another. That was pretty something I could do pretty comfortably. I would say the hardest part about learning to ski, at our age will is the shoe no fear. And he and you, you’re aware of the fact that if you hurt yourself, you’re likely you’re not as likely to repair quickly. So I think it’s like one of those things that’s easier partly to start when you’re younger because you just you kind of don’t worry so much. Whereas it’s true that when I’m now looking at some of the steeper hills, which I still don’t do, I think to myself, ooh, like really bad things could happen if that goes wrong. And so it makes a little bit slower because I think you have to be a little bit willing to push yourself. But no, I really, I like it and I found it. You know, not too hard. I’ve done a lot of biking also. I keep a road bike up in the Hudson Valley and I keep a mountain bike in city and that’s something I do a lot of you know honestly with all the work and all of the restrictions, finding outdoor activities that you really like. And that can take you into environments that are just different than the one you’re in all the time. I think it’s just been so, so important. As I once pointed out to someone, you know, the trees don’t know there’s a pandemic. And so being with nature and being just realizing that there are some things that are unaffected, in a direct way, the last thing I really like to do, and I’ve done a lot of it, I’ve done a lot of theater. And at every pause in the pandemic, I’ve been going back to the back to Broadway, as they say. And even in December, I took Lucy, my daughter to see company and had gotten tickets long before Sondheim had died. But we ended up going just a few days after he passed. And it was just incredible, incredibly energetic, beautiful experience to be there. I’d love company, I think it’s a fantastic show. The cast was really excited to be there. The audience was really excited. They were everything was really careful and masked, felt, you know, like a wonderful New York experience and a great return to being in a crowd. And I really miss being in a crowd. So I was great.


Will Bachman  41:18

Yeah. Theater and dining out are the two main things I’ve asked the most in the epidemic. And we’ve gone back out theater in the fall this year, whenever we could. Yeah, it’s been great. That was a segment of the show when we talk about and you hinted at earlier, what are some of the courses that you took in college that had some effective view over the long term? It doesn’t necessarily have to be professional ones English classes, but it could be just things that the lessons from them have somehow had an impact on your life.


Rebecca Walkowitz  41:55

Hmm. Well, I think back on so many classes, well, I mean, just in terms of the feel of being in them, the kind of ways they made me think, I mean, it’s true that because I became a professor, there are some classes that were one would have to say the impact was incredibly profound, because they were so the experience of being in the room with those particular faculty members and the other students, the feel of the the, almost like the electricity in the room, the intellectual electricity, the emotional electricity, the excitement, was what made me go to graduate school and made me decide that I wanted to write about fiction, and that I wanted to teach. So I took a course on Jane Austen with Da Miller, my junior year, I took a course on the lyric. With Barbara Johnson, who has since passed, I took some big Shakespeare courses with Mitch Garber, they, all of those were just incredibly exciting to me. And what was happening in the room, the intelligence in the room, the intelligence, I felt, the classes brought out in me the ways they made me think about writing, and about the different ways you could express yourself through language, whether I was going to be a journalist or an academic, I felt like being in touch with that was going to be important for whatever I did next. And, you know, one thing we haven’t really talked about, since we talked about the beginning of this conversation is that I’ve continued to become a different kind of writer than I was at the beginning of my career. And then obviously, I was in college. And I feel like my voice as a writer is still changing. And that thinking about voice and audience and wanting to speak to different audiences and writing for publics that are maybe people who are interested in higher education broadly, wanting to be able to write in a way that people who are just interested in books, but who aren’t academics at all could read and get something out of all of those things are things that that have continued to be very vibrant for me. And I feel like the classes that I took, made me think about the life of the writer in that way. And maybe think that one could have the life of a writer, no matter what genre you’re writing in. And I don’t mean just genre as in science fiction or fiction. But every kind of writing that you do from writing a letter to writing a memo, to writing a any kind of public announcement to obviously writing an essay or criticism. One of the things I do as Dean is periodically about quarterly, but not to the day, I write a letter to all of my faculty and students in the humanities, about what we’re doing together and what we’ve accomplished. And I usually have a kind of theme around last year’s inauguration I wrote about civic engagement and all the things that our colleagues and our students were doing to, in the most, in some cases, you know, advise Joe Biden about, you know, the history of United States, but in other versions, teach collaborative courses together, etc, etc, but just in a way that tries to reach people, and make them feel what it means to learn and to be part of a community together, and not just know the facts about it. And so I feel like, my classes, I don’t know, those were things I thought about in those classes. And it was what made me want to be an academic, not just in the kind of research sense, but in the sense of a writer and a communicator. So


Will Bachman  45:43

is there one moment in the classroom that you’ve had as a as a professor, that stands out as a moment that you’re particularly proud of, when you helped maybe one student gaining insight or share a story about that?


Rebecca Walkowitz  46:04

Well, I don’t know, if I have the one student I’ve two different kinds of moments, I will say that I have taught a lot of first generation students over the years because my teaching jobs been at public universities that serve a great range of students, people whose parents are professionals, and who’ve come from multiple generations of college graduates and people who really don’t come from those who come from working class backgrounds, or families that have had real hardships, who had to work their way all the way through college, and maybe who are the first in their family to go to college, I had a student, my first job at the University of Wisconsin Madison, who had one parent I think, was institutionalized and another parent who was very sick. And he had become even as an undergraduate, the principal guardian for his younger teenage brother. And while doing that, and also working, he was going to school at Madison. And he was an English major, but he hadn’t come from a family where a lot of reading happened. And he decided to take this course I was teaching on Henry James, and I’m not even sure you’d even heard of Henry James before we took the class. And, and I thought James is a really hard writer, and really hard for undergraduates, particularly the longer novels, it’s a real challenge. I think of it as a kind of mountain that we’re going to climb together when they take this class with me and I, I make it accessible for them. And together, we, we read a number of the short works, but we get through one of the really major important novels we get through the ambassador’s together. And he took this class with me, he took another class. And he he just took to it. He was so I don’t know he, he really he wrote these beautiful papers for me. And at the end of the two classes, and as he graduated, he eventually decided that he actually wanted to be a fiction writer. He didn’t come from a background like that. I don’t think it was something he was planning to do. But he ended up becoming a really successful fiction writer. He ended up actually getting into the Iowa writers workshop, and publishing a couple of novels. And he, he wrote me one day to tell me that he and his wife, who had been another student in my Henry James class, had had a child and they had named their son, Henry James. So that was kind of a remarkable story. Wow. And I have other students who I met, there’s a student who was in the very first undergraduate class I ever taught as a professor, I was 29 years old was the fall of 2000. And he was an undergrad. And he is now a tenured faculty member at University of Illinois, Urbana. So he went from, you know, the beginning of my career, and he’s now more senior than I was at that time. And I wrote for him for grad school. And then I helped advise him when he was looking at jobs. And so I feel like there’s a lot of young people at this point who’ve come through and made their way and who’s kept in touch with me, and I feel just excited, pleased, proud, I guess proud is the word at not just helping them find their way which, you know, people helped me find my way at Harvard. But I came from a background my parents are academics, the professionals. Were I needed help finding my way but I didn’t need help. Knowing that I could go very far, knowing what the options were even imagining the goals. I always imagined I would have some kind of leadership position or that I could if I wanted to, but I have sometimes taught students who didn’t even know what the goals were or but they could be, and have felt that one of my jobs was to give them a sense of even what the options were. And also help them understand how they themselves could get there, and to tell them that they could. And that’s been enormously gratifying.


Will Bachman  50:18

Those are such beautiful stories you shared. And it’s an encouragement to, to me and listeners, too. If you had a leader or a professor who had an impact in your life some time ago, send him a note, you’re really brighten their day. Yes, just out of the blue. And if there’s some younger person that send them an encouraging word, you know, just a small note from someone that they respect, can really make a big difference. Rebecca, this has been an amazing conversation. If folks wanted to find out more about your, your work and your professional activities. Where would you point them online?


Rebecca Walkowitz  51:00

There’s a website at Rutgers. So if they just, you know, they Google me, Rebecca Walco. It’s Rutgers. They’ll find both my dean website and also my website at the English department. And they’re connected to each other. And there’s actually quite a lot there. And, yeah, that that’d be the best way to go.


Will Bachman  51:19

All right, well, we will include those links in the show notes, even though you can just Google it. And you can also visit our website 92 That’s nine to Look at all the episodes and sign up to get a email notification notify you whenever we get a new one out. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining today.


Rebecca Walkowitz  51:39

Thanks. Well, it’s been great. I look forward to seeing it through union well