Reflections on a half-decade of service
In the fall of 1968, amid reactions to the Black Student Union’s sit-in at then-President Charles Odegaard’s offices and mounting unrest over the Vietnam War, freshman Gerald J. “Jerry” Baldasty entered his very first classroom at the UW.
Looking back on that time from his Gerberding Hall office, now-retiring Provost Baldasty marveled at the trajectory his UW career has taken, describing the almost-50-year journey from student to senior administrator as “transformative.”
“Coming from a working-class family in eastern Washington, who would have thought [I]’d ever become a provost or even a faculty member,” Baldasty said.
The Spokane native left the UW briefly to earn a master’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison after finishing his bachelor’s degree in communication in 1972.
But Husky pride had left its mark, and when he returned to the Seattle campus in 1974 to begin his doctoral work, Baldasty realized his profound appreciation for the myriad of opportunities and connections it contained.
“I stayed here because this was such an exciting and energizing place,” Baldasty said, explaining his decision in 1978 to accept a teaching position along with his Ph.D.
As a professor, he immersed himself in the pursuit of knowledge, filling three books – “The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century,” “E.W. Scripps and the Business of Newspapers,” and “Vigilante Newspapers” – and multiple journals with what he’d learned.
As the accolades for Baldasty’s innovative coursework and mentorship programs started rolling in, so, too, did invitations for him to tackle more administrative challenges.
Baldasty served as chair of the communication department from 2002-2008, then interim dean, dean, and vice provost of the UW Graduate School until 2012 when he took over as senior vice provost for Academic and Student Affairs.
Finally in 2015, friend, colleague, and newly-named interim UW President Ana Mari Cauce asked him to set aside his retirement plans to succeed her as interim provost.
The job had a steep learning curve at first, but Cauce was “a great mentor,” Baldasty said. “She’s great to work with, she helped me figure things out.”
Regarding the provost’s workload, he continued, “You can’t do it all.”
“Any senior administrator’s success is dependent upon having great people working with and for [them],” Baldasty said.
He was quick to credit the high points of his three years in the office, like redeploying funds for the UW’s Children’s Center at Portage Bay and launching the UW 2050 initiative, to the tireless efforts of his support staff.
Provost Baldasty is excited about the five candidates to pick up and carry these efforts after he leaves.
“I think we’re lucky,” Baldasty said. “It’s really five great people. I spent an hour with each one of them, and they’re all very impressive.”
Much like Cauce did for him, he’ll mentor his replacement and point them toward success right up until his last day June 30, 2018.
“Then I’ll get out of the way … and give them room to develop their own approach to the job,” Baldasty said.
When asked what he is most looking forward to after he leaves the office next June, he replied, “I won’t work on Sundays or weeknights.”
For Baldasty, retirement is just a fancy word for a slightly slower pace and a return to his true passion – teaching.
Ultimately, the most “transformative” part of his lifelong Husky education, Baldasty said, was growing into his identity as a faculty member at the University of Washington. “That’s who I really am,” he said.
In the fall of 2018, he’ll join fellow communication department professors Randy Beam and Lisa Coutu in teaching at the UW Study Center in León, Spain.
It’s been three years since he last taught his own students, and he looks forward to returning to the familiar patterns of classroom life.
“Students are pretty wonderful,” Baldasty said. “You learn from your students and ideally they learn from you, too.”
“As I’m getting ready to leave,” he continued, “the thing that still strikes me is just how important to my life my education here has been.”