Dr. Elizabeth Holloway and Dr. Jon Wergin Contemplate Retirement.
The Graduate School of Leadership and Change teaches reflective practice—now it is time for Drs. Elizabeth Holloway and Jon Wergin to reflect back on the past twenty years, as these two founding faculty members are set to retire.
How did you first learn about the Antioch opportunity?
Jon: I’m sitting in my office minding my own business and the phone rings. It’s a woman I’ve never met basically making a cold call. Her name is Laurien and she shares this cool idea that she and Antioch’s then-Chancellor, Al Guskin, had about putting together a PhD in leadership and change. At that moment, my life changed forever. I thought, what an exciting idea to help build a program from scratch! I didn’t really realize how unsettled I was at the time – how the kind of graduate education that I always really wanted to be part of wasn’t quite what I was doing. So basically, “Laur, you had me at hello.”
Elizabeth: There’s this serendipitous moment that came into my life. I was on research leave from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was living in Santa Barbara and a colleague shared with me the description of the Antioch position. It sat on my desk for two weeks and then in despair that I wouldn’t have a paycheck in two months, I read it and found words like ethical leadership, reflection, and professional growth. I was immediately intrigued at such a bold statement. The deadline had passed so I wasn’t very hopeful but sent off my CV anyway. Within a month I was interviewing with Al and Laurien. I thought, these people are real, they are going to do something exciting, I think that I can grow here.
You both took a big leap of faith to join the program, well, it wasn’t even a program at the time. Let’s say, to join the idea. Why?
Jon: It sounds like both of us felt like we had more to offer than the opportunities we were presented with at the time. I remember thinking to myself, this just feels right. It feels like a place where I can contribute with everything I have. It was this amazing sense of agency as a professional that got me.
Elizabeth: I was at a great institution but I felt like I was sort of stuck in a silo. I had this vision of the rest of my career, we’re going stuck in a silo. I had this vision of the rest of my career, we’re going to make you chair, then you’re going to be a provost. I had to ask myself, what really gives me joy? And it wasn’t those things. What is going to make the next 20 years really worthwhile? There was something intriguing and so appealing to be grounded in a community with visionary colleagues in an institution with a social change mission and a program dedicated to innovation. It was the possibility to have colleagues with whom you can think together and play together, a collaboration and connection to foster a fullness of creative spirit.
Taking such a leap requires no small measure of professional courage. Did you have colleagues at the time who said, “Are you crazy?”
Jon: I certainly did. People with whom I was close at Virginia Commonwealth looked at me as if to say, “Let me get this straight. You’re leaving a tenured full professorship at an R-1 university to join a program without tenure where you will be working from home and meeting with students every once in a while? What kind of program is that?” To say they were skeptical is putting it mildly.
Elizabeth: I didn’t get that reaction. My close colleagues understood that I would take risks. Many of them expected that I would ultimately get bored and siloed in psychology. They weren’t surprised. Maybe behind the scenes they talked about unnecessary risk, but my close women colleagues wanted me to use my creativity in ways that meant something and they supported my decision. Of course, as psychologists, they were interested in personal fulfillment.
EVEN FACULTY CAN HAVE THE IMPOSTER SYNDROME
You each had decades of recognized research and scholarship in your fields, but neither of you were leadership scholars per se. Did that give you pause?
Jon: I was nervous about meeting students for the first time. I had a bit of the imposter syndrome, like, I’m an educational psychologist. I work in higher ed. I’ve done a lot of faculty development. I’m an assessment expert. What do I know about leadership? Here’s a true story. I turned to our other colleague at the time, Dick Couto, and said, “Dick, I don’t know diddly squat about leadership theory.” He recommended about eight books and said, “Read these and you’ll be OK.” Even still, I was nervous. When I met Cohort One for the first time, I felt like I was going to an audition. I really did. But then things just clicked. And it was truly a flow experience. I’m going, “Holy Moly, this is it.”
Elizabeth: I remember saying many times, 90% of what I know wasn’t relevant in the program. I felt that I had lost my identity. But we needed someone who knew how to do research and I had confidence in that. I trusted that this would be a worthwhile contribution to our fledgling program. Nonetheless, I wanted to fit into a leadership content area and I was itching to do some research and collect data. I started to ask, “How could I translate my work in clinical practice and supervision into an area that was relevant to organizations and change? And then, Mitch Kusy and I collaborated on a research project on toxic behaviors in the workplace and ultimately did training, consulting, and writing in this area for over a decade.
It sounds like this new situation required you to be open to learning. What was that like?
Jon: We didn’t just come on board and implement a program and leave it at that. We designed and redesigned continuously for five years. We never said, OK, this is good enough. No, we kept going back, reflecting, and saying this or that needs to work better. Let’s rethink this particular learning achievement because it isn’t quite where it needs to be. Or, what are we trying to accomplish in proseminar? A question we’re still asking ourselves, by the way. It was a constant back and forth.
Elizabeth: I do think that the reason we were able to keep evolving was the students’ presence and keen sense of what they needed in the learning space. We tried not to shut out what they were telling us. Our program had the freedom to create a learning community responsive to students and the current world happenings. This evolving process of learning and changing and redesigning and creating was challenging intellectually and personally; it creates the unsettledness of continuous challenge and change.
Jon: There may be some eye-rolling going on reading this as if these were halcyon days. It wasn’t always wonderful – but even then, there was a culture of respect. There was a fair amount of back and forth, give and take. Disagreement sometimes. We did that in the space of knowing that the other person’s point of view had merit, it was useful, it stimulated our thinking in ways that it wouldn’t otherwise have. Mutual respect, I think has been part of the program throughout most, if not all, of its history.
Elizabeth: Well, I think that’s because we knew each other interpersonally, we knew the particular style our colleagues would bring to the discussions. Jon, I was always waiting for the moment when you would say, “ I have a different view or I have a problem with that!” And, you wouldn’t be shunned but rather given space to elaborate on your position and have us engage with you. That open space to consider different ideas can be incorporated into solutions and it is different than simply letting someone say their peace just to get it out of the way and be ignored.
INTERDEPENDENT YET GEOGRAPHICALLY DISPERSED
You’ve both shared how interdependent we are in this program, yet live across the country and world, more so than your experience with colleagues who worked down the hall. I wonder what you attribute that to? What has enabled this to be so different from the rest of your experience in higher ed?
Jon: It was a bunch of things. Let’s start with your leadership style, Laurien. You set the tone for having a collaborative working relationship and I don’t just mean collegial. From the beginning you wanted people to contribute their views about things and you took them seriously. That’s a huge difference from so many academic cultures. I think it’s the lack of hierarchy, no pecking order.
I think the most interesting thing, though, is how we’d come together and have such an intensive experience for a few days, rather than just go to meetings. There’s this notion called “hollowed collegiality,” which is so expressive of the way things are in most academic settings. It’s like, you know, you go about your business, I’ll go about mine, and we don’t need any deep discussions. It’s never felt that way in this program. We got to know each other not just as professionals, but as people. It’s just a very different kind of culture, made all the more remarkable by the fact that we don’t get together that often.
Elizabeth: As you said, Jon, there’s no pecking order. Everybody is paid the same. We are all senior scholars who chose to move away from the traditional culture of academic autonomy and hierarchy. And, importantly those faculty who chose to come are not so invested in the “academic ego” but rather to make the core of the work the students’ learning.
Jon: Perhaps if we came from similar academic backgrounds, there would be those implicit comparisons about, you know, who is more well-known in the field. Under those circumstances, it’s impossible for your ego not to get in the way. But here, everybody comes from a different place and there’s no need for those kinds of implicit comparisons because we contribute from different places in different ways.
Elizabeth: It isn’t a zero-sum game here. Laurien, you’ve always shown an appreciation for the talents and skills of what each individual faculty member brought to the whole. Because we are multidisciplinary our contributions are quite different. So, I wasn’t teaching leadership but I never felt that I was going to be judged negatively. There are many wonderful examples about how you recognize a faculty member’s unique contribution and how you made space, time, and resources for each of us to flourish.
THRIVING IN INTERDISCIPLINARITY
You’ve raised something interesting about professional growth within an interdisciplinary program. And does this mean that one already needs to be at a particular place in their own discipline to be able to thrive in a model like ours?
Elizabeth: One has to come with some humility as well as some confidence of self as a professional and as a person. Students are going to bring you things you don’t know. It creates this necessity for collaboration. One has to be at a certain stage of understanding their own discipline to be able to have the confidence to hear other perspectives and join into that conversation with what they can contribute. This is so different, being in a relationship with a colleague where you can be vulnerable and engage and stretch knowledge. I am reminded of many emotional moments of feeling the mutuality of discovery that opened through “not knowing” together.
Jon: It’s having the capacity to want to stretch yourself to be challenged with other points of view without backing into a corner and deciding that there is some right and wrong. So, this is really interesting, isn’t it? You can come into an interdisciplinary program and be yourself. You can contribute in all sorts of ways that are comfortable for you. You’re in a position of working with and learning with other really smart people, both colleagues and students. You know, what’s not to like about that? And yet it means a spirit of being humble.
MOMENTS TO REMEMBER
I am sure there are many moments that stand out over these two decades. Would you please share a few that come to mind right now?
Jon: I look back on the week-long residency for the Healthcare students in Chester, England, and it’s like everything worked. Everything clicked. I remember being with Donna Ladkin for the first time there and it was as if we’d been working with her for years. But it was also with the students, just this bond that we had. And remember, Elizabeth, they called us Mom and Dad! They didn’t know that Laurien would have to separate us at faculty meetings for acting like a couple of adolescents.
Elizabeth: One moment that really stands out for me, we were in Los Angeles sitting in the Courtyard Marriott, and we realized that we needed to find another way to teach inquiry. We recognized that we were using too much of our traditional assumptions about how research is taught, and it absolutely wasn’t going to work as we didn’t have course structure nor weekly contact and regular assessment. That began a 20-year effort. Our mission was to make research design respond to the complex questions our students brought to their practice and ultimately to support a rigorous and relevant dissertation study. I do think it is one of our biggest achievements. The journey isn’t over as students will continue to challenge us with their questions. For me, the inquiry journey has been filled with joy!
Jon: Every single year I would go away from our Commencement ceremony, thinking. “My goodness. These are amazing people.”
Elizabeth: One highlight from the early, early years was our first program accreditation visit. I can remember the preparations, the charts, the anxieties, then entering the den of wolves in Columbus where we were cross-examined on our scholarship and essentially our right to be a doctoral program. I can still see you sitting across the conference table from me, Jon.
Jon: Yeah, that’s the day I lost it, when they challenged Laurien’s credentials to lead the doctoral program because she wasn’t a traditional academic. I wasn’t gonna shut up. I was not putting up with it.
On another note, some of the biggest highlights have nothing to do with the program specifically. They relate to moments where at one point each of us was feeling vulnerable and each of us was there for the other when it was needed. That has meant the world to me over the years.
Elizabeth: It is so rare to have that depth of personal connection in academics. I am struck by the paradox of physical distance and the level of connection we created with one another.
It wasn’t smooth all the time. What was the nature of conflicts? Were they professional disagreements? Was it constructive conflict that we were able to use to improve the program?
Elizabeth: The biggest trouble was when we had faculty members who were influencing students against other faculty. It led to us engaging in behaviors that were disrespectful of each other’s contribution, you know, behind their backs talking bad about a faculty member. The most courageous thing we did was to have a group intervention. We brought someone in. It was a very important turning point on how we were going to behave together.
Jon: I remember saying, “Wait a minute, this is not OK.” This is reminiscent of what we left behind, not where we want to be. The alarm bells were going off early enough that we could see what was going on before things got really out of hand.
You’ve talked about professional growth. Would you be willing to share some aspect of personal growth you recognize from being in this learning community?
Jon: My worldview in 2002 was very different from my worldview in 2022. I attribute that to what I have learned from my colleagues, faculty and students. I have been challenged. I’ve been forced to look at my own deep-seated biases. As an older, White, heterosexual male, it’s one thing to espouse all kinds of particular views about how things should be. It’s another to take a hard look at one’s own worldview and ask,
“How am I seeing the world and what assumptions I am making about it?” I’ve been a bit shaken at times. I’m certainly not the poster child for a Renaissance man in his 70s but I have taken an awful lot away.
Elizabeth: I can’t imagine another academic arena where my needed growth in understanding my own White privilege could have happened. There is an opportunity to grow in our learning community and it is scary but I just can’t imagine another place that I would rather be to discover.
The students have enriched my life for twenty years. In fact, as I retire, I think about each of the students that have touched me professionally and personally. They have offered me the joy of thinking, creating, and being in a relationship with them. I am proud to have chosen to be an Antiochian and stand with them.
AND WHAT’S AHEAD?
So, each of you has made the decision it’s time to retire. What do you plan to do next?
Jon: I don’t have a clear answer. I keep thinking it’s time to leave some things behind and look at a different kind of life for myself. We’ve got some amazing new faculty coming in. The program is going to be reinvigorated without losing the spirit that the three of us have brought to it. There doesn’t have to be a place for me there. At the same time, there’s this other voice saying, I can’t just let go just like that. I just can’t.
It’s part of who I am now. I said earlier in the conversation, my life changed when you called, Laur. I cannot imagine just going off and doing something completely different. I would be grief-stricken if I thought that there wouldn’t be some ways to stay connected.
Elizabeth: I want to have a time in my life when I wake up in the morning and there isn’t anything I have to do. I have some ideas, but I want to see what evolves. What I have thought about is how do we stay in relationships while living on different parts of the continent? When we don’t have the commonality of our work what takes center place in our connection? As I retire from this remarkable learning community, I don’t want to retire from the relationships that have sustained me throughout the journey.
We’ll figure it out. We always have. This has been quite a shared moment. I thank you for this. And what a moment this has been!
Dr. Carol Baron Retires
*Dr. Carol Baron joined the PhD Program in March 2004 on a half-time appointment and we have benefited from her care and expertise ever since. As Clinical Professor of Research, Carol has been a quiet mentor, valued committee member, dedicated program contributor, and trusted faculty colleague. Although technically half-time, her presence, contributions and commitment to Antioch and to the PhD program are literally time-less.
As her long-term colleague Dr. Elizabeth Holloway noted, “Carol’s deep commitment to students and the Antioch mission, her tenacity in helping learners complete the study of their passion, and her willingness to share her deep expertise in quantitative methodologies with faculty has made a significant impact on our program’s capacity and quality. Carol has been a valued and essential member of our program’s success over these many years.