CANDID: Joanne Keselman’s exit interview
Joanne Keselman came to the U of M in the 70s and loved it so much she never left, even though her first day on campus was a bit jarring. She was walking through the tunnels when the Engineering Band scooped her up, put her under one members’ arm, and suddenly she was part of an impromptu parade. She’s been wary of the band every since.
She came to the U of M to become a school teacher, but then she discovered new passions – psychological methods, and academic administration. The University is grateful for that because she has served her peers and the academy in various administrative roles with integrity and passion since her first appointment in 1984. Now, the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) is about to take administrative leave. (Join us on June 23 to celebrate her service.)
UM Today spoke with charming, sharp and indefatigable Dr. Keselman on the eve of her departure from the Administration Building. We asked about her fond memories, ambitions, and pet peeves.
UM Today: A lot of people say you’re a very funny woman. What’s the funniest moment from your career so far?
Joanne Keselman: Every leadership team I’ve been a part of – as Associate Dean in Education, VP Research, and now as Provost – has gotten into antics with people. Typically, it was around their send offs. So we’d dress up in crazy costumes and sing ridiculous songs.
When Bob Raeburn – the executive assistant to the President – left, we all got dressed up and Debbie [McCallum] was Dolly Parton and Gerry Miller was Kenny Rogers. I was somebody in that band. I was dressed up as a country singer, but secretly pretended to be Tina Turner.
We’ve done a variety of those things. When Elaine Goldie left, Debbie and I dressed up as Elaine Goldie. (We all had the same outfit as we shopped at the same dress shop!) And we serenaded her to the tune of “She’s a Lady” along with Jeff Leclerc as Tom Jones.
You have a lot of fond memories. What’s your proudest achievement?
I loved all of my positions but I particularly enjoyed being Vice President (Research) because I got to know and work with so many of our fantastic researchers. I was in that job at a time when the research funding environment was really changing and we were applying for new, large, team-based projects. So, it really gave me a great opportunity to learn a lot about what these people were doing and to work with them on preparing funding proposals – they are an amazing bunch doing amazing work!
I think the major research undertakings that were funded through these programs really highlighted for people the research mission of the university and the depth of our research enterprise. So I feel that one of the greatest—if you want to call it this—achievements that I was part of, was to really raise the profile of the university’s research and the impact and importance of our work to our province and our country. That is what I probably look back on most fondly.
I don’t have any regrets but I would say there is an endless amount of work and there are new challenges and opportunities every day so you never really feel that you finished everything off. But I think I’ve had a good run.
How are you going to personally celebrate stepping down from administration?
I’d like to do more travelling. My husband, Harvey, retired a couple of years ago, so I think he’s looking forward
to me having a bit more free time. In addition to doing some overseas travel, we’d both like to spend more time in New Jersey with our children and grandchildren.
I also have family here, including a new great-nephew who just turned one, so I would like to spend more time getting to know him.
I’d like to exercise more and take up cooking again, and I’d like to do more volunteer work.
Is any particular organization dear to you?
I have been really impressed with what our Rady Faculty of Health Sciences has done with respect to the Habitat for Humanity Builds, and I think that’s an organization I would be really interested in getting involved in. And Siloam Mission is another really great organization.
And my dad is in a senior’s residence in St. Vital and I go and visit him every Sunday. As a result of that I have gotten to know a lot of his friends over there. It’s interesting that, while some people are fortunate to have regular visits by family, there are a lot of people who don’t have family who can visit and it looks like it could be a lonely life. So I have thought I could volunteer some time there.
But I am going on administration leave, I’m not retiring. So I have projects that I have lined up to do during this leave period.
Through my administrative career I have become increasingly interested in academic leadership development. So one of the things I’m hoping to do during my administrative leave is to do more exploration and research on that – what are best practices with respect to developing leaders within academic institutions. I’m looking forward to spending more time on that. I’m also planning on exploring innovations in the teaching research methods and statistics in anticipation of returning to the classroom following my leave.
You’ve been here for a long time and have moved up the ranks. Would you say you were always ambitious or was that something that developed in you later in life?
I never had an aspiration to be in administration. I graduated with my PhD and assumed I would just focus on research and teaching, and would have been very happy to do that. But I ended up taking on some committee work early in my career, which made me realize that I really like working with other people and I got a lot of satisfaction out of helping other people achieve their goals. And then I had the good fortune, when I was in Education, of a new Dean arriving and appointing me to the new position of Associate Dean (Graduate Studies and Research). And as they say, the rest is history.
People often ask me how I got from there to here but I never planned it. Opportunities arose and I worked hard, focused on the job, and then other opportunities presented themselves. I’m kind of surprised where I ended up in a way. I came to the university as a student to become a school teacher of some sort.
Really!? What happened along the way to change your path?
When I came to the university I thought that I wanted to be either a kindergarten teacher or perhaps a math and French teacher. I enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and I was hoping to transfer into the Faculty of Education that following year because Education had indicated it was going to start a new four-year bachelor of education program with a specialty in early childhood education.
Shortly before the fall of that second year, however, I learned that the new program was going to be deferred a year. So I had to quickly organize myself and get a set of courses for my second year in Arts. In that second year I declared a major in psychology and I took a required undergraduate research methods and statistics course, which I really liked. And so I never went back to education – I decided I was interested in getting my degree in psychology and by the end of that degree I had already decided I was going to go to graduate school, majoring in psychological methods. So you just never know, do you?
What did you want to be as a little girl?
I always thought about being a teacher.
But I have always had an interest in animals even though I have never had a dog or a cat. I’ve only ever had birds—budgies. Given this interest, I took a number of comparative psychology courses during my early years at university that involved the study of animals, some taking place at the zoo. I started to think it might be fun to be a zookeeper. So, another area for volunteer work!
Have you received any advice that stands out and you took to heart, or have you ever extolled some wisdom you’re proud of?
I have been significantly influenced by John Stapleton, my first mentor in administration. I often think of my time working with him. It’s kind of funny because that was so many years ago – I was appointed Associate Dean in 1984. He was a very thoughtful, caring, kind person, and a great listener who really valued, I think, everyone’s opinion. I remember that and I try to be like him. I have tried to be a really good listener and to think carefully about what people are saying because even if you don’t agree with somebody, most times they have something useful to say and often they make you think differently about things.
But I have definitely learned something from everybody whom I have been fortunate to work with along the way.
If you were on Jeopardy, what anecdote would you tell host Alex Trebek?
I’m not sure. I have a lot of shoes. Oh my goodness, I have a lot of shoes, and earrings! What else is quirky about me? I have so many cookbooks it’s ridiculous. I used to do a lot of cooking, which is something else I hope to have a bit more time for.
Do you have any pet peeves?
People who drive well below the speed limit. And people who don’t get their wallet out to pay for purchases until after the bill is rung up.
What is your favourite spot on one of our campuses?
My new favourite building is the Active Living Centre – it’s gorgeous. And I really love to walk along the Pedway too.
But when I think about what is the most picturesque, I would say the centre of the Fort Garry campus with the quad and the buildings surrounding it. And I love the Administration Building – inside and out. I think it’s beautiful.
You really love it here.
I really do.
As much as when you first came here?