Women in Leadership – Violet Johnson



Violet Johnson
Professor of History and Director of Africana Studies Program
Department of History, College of Liberal Arts
302, Glasscock (History) Building
4461 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-4461


What made you decide to become an administrator?

I realized that beyond my scholarship and teaching I could contribute further to the growing field of Africana Studies by tapping into my expertise and experiences to influence faculty development, student engagement, curricular design, programmatic advancement and the overall visibility of an interdisciplinary field that is sometimes not fully recognized among university academic units.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an administrator?

Ensuring team work can be very difficult. I often grapple with the best ways to develop a vision to a truly collective project with clear rationales for its necessity and how to achieve it. There are always instances when priorities and processes clash. During these times I am confronted with conflicting decisions on how best to lead, ensuring that the project has the necessary “buy-in” that ensures inclusion of all members of the team. Inevitably, but thankfully rarely, at some point I may be forced to make decisions that are not agreeable to all. Trying to explain and stand by such decisions, in my view, is the most challenging aspect of being an administrator.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an administrator?

When I get clear indicators of success of my personal goals as well as those of my program I am excited and inspired further to hone policies and practices that have worked. Such indicators of success can range from successful faculty reviews to increased student enrollment.

What were the choices you made (and why) related to maintaining (or not maintaining) your scholarship as you took on an administrative role?

Balancing research and administration is not easy, which is why it is important to have a plan. I made a conscious plan not to abandon research for administration. When I first became an administrator, I had an active research agenda that I did not want to discard. Not only was I convinced that my scholarly work was good for my professional development, I realized that it would be useful for contributing to the visibility of my program as an academic unit. Nevertheless, my plan had to be realistic. I realized that even though I was not about to discard my research agenda, I had to make it more manageable. I embarked on prioritizing scholarly projects and developing workable timetables that enable me to work more intensely on research during the summer months, when my administrative duties are usually less demanding.

How have you balanced your personal life with your career?

I have over the years developed strategies of how to demarcate personal and work time. I have clearly designated times for work and my personal life. The tricky part is usually when work threatens to encroach on personal time. Admittedly, there are times when, given the urgency and gravity of the work-related issue, I have allowed work to encroach on personal time. But overall, I have consciously sought avenues for lessening encroachment of work on personal time or vice versa. One of the most successful avenues for achieving this is building support networks both at work and at home. It always helps to be able to delegate a task to a work colleague who is qualified to take on that task and is already “in the loop” as one of one’s team players. Similarly, at home, I can always rely on my husband and my son to work collaboratively so that I am able to be successful at and actually enjoy the two spheres—work and personal life. My personal life support network extends beyond my nuclear family. As a “transnational” with immediate family and friends in America, England and my original home country of Sierra Leone, ongoing personal interactions are quite expansive and sometimes overwhelming. During crises in Sierra Leone, like during the recent Ebola assault, my international support network comes in handy in contributing to my emotional and physical readiness for family and my social life as well as work. In sum, one cannot achieve the balance alone.

What advice would you give to women faculty who are considering administration?

Although I became a part-time administrator without any formal preparation, my advice would be to explore what administration really entails and to seek experienced administrators to serve as formal and informal mentors. Formal programs and activities that are designed for introduction to and growth in administration are also very useful. I am currently participating in the year-long SEC Academic Leadership Development Program. I am amazed at how much I am learning from the monthly meetings and SEC institutions site visits. The program is already giving me the necessary knowledge and tools that I need to understand and deal with a variety of administrative responsibilities, some of which I am already tackling but needed help to undertake more successfully. As a prospective woman administrator gains insights into the business, the challenges, especially for women, become more recognizable. Instead of allowing this discovery to be a discouragement, it should be used to better prepare.