MENTORS ARE OFTEN THE UNSUNG HEROES OF A SUCCESSFUL CAREER, PRESIDENT EMERITA SAYS

R. Barbara Gitenstein, President Emerita of The College of New Jersey.
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Whether she was building resilience from mentors who were unfair or downright cruel, or gaining confidence from mentors who were supportive and helpful, R. Barbara Gitenstein was honing the skills that would one day propel her to the highest level of academia. “Mentors make all the difference in an individual’s success in the world,” Gitenstein said. “I was blessed with extraordinary mentors, who helped me navigate the difficulties of being the singular voice in a room.”

First

Being a female administrator was relatively rare when Gitenstein became the first woman and first Jewish president of The College of New Jersey in 1999, a position she held until 2018.  Now a consultant for institutions of higher education, Gitenstein chronicles her path to the presidency and acknowledges the impact that people, places and perceptions had on her personal and professional identities in her new book, Experience Is the Angled Road: Memoir of an Academic.

She shares valuable lessons she learned across more than four decades in academia — plus personal and historical obstacles she overcame — and pays homage to extraordinary mentors for helping her navigate challenges. “My story captures the shock and the humour as I, almost always, was the only ‘whatever’ in the room — woman, Jew, liberal,” Gitenstein said.

‘Otherness’

Calling her childhood  ‘challenging and strange’,  she describes how, as a young girl, she learned that being different was all that there was. Born and raised in Florala, Alabama, after her parents headed south from New York City, Gitenstein’s  ‘otherness’  went beyond being Jewish and a Yankee. Her intellectual passions and love of music were considered peculiar by most of her acquaintances.  Additionally, she grew up with a particularly embarrassing chronic disease. All of these things, she said, taught her to approach the periphery as a position of power.”I found that embracing the privilege of being an outsider results in great vision and ultimately can be a great foundation for strength,” she said. 

That combination of second sight and resilience helped guide her as she confronted sexism, anti-Semitism, regional animus, and the distrust of expertise in her professional and personal life. Gitenstein reveals her difficulties and disappointments with refreshing candour, vulnerability and doses of dry wit, resulting in a story that is uplifting, tender and an exemplar of intersectionality, leadership and survival.

Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey, calls Gitenstein’s memoir :  “ A  remarkably readable book about the people surrounding a young Jewish girl growing up in the Deep South. … This is an unflinchingly courageous story of love, exasperation, argument, and forgiveness.”

About the author

R. Barbara Gitenstein, President Emerita of The College of New Jersey, has over  forty  years of experience as a college professor and administrator in both the public and private sectors. Named president of The College of New Jersey after more than six years at Drake University as provost and executive vice president, she was the first woman to serve as provost at Drake and as president of The College of New Jersey. Currently, she serves as a senior fellow and consultant for the Association of Governing Boards.

She is the author of some  thirty   academic articles on Jewish-American literature and academic administration as well as the monograph Apocalyptic Messianism and Jewish-American poetry. She has made over  one  hundred   presentations at literature and academic administrative conferences and was often interviewed on radio and television stations in New Jersey, focusing on higher education issues. She resides with her husband in New York City.

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