Questions for the next stage of university leadership

What do I want my legacy as a woman leader to be? These questions can provide a road map for reflection on and planning an academic career, writes Katia Paz Goldfarb

Katia Paz Goldfarb's avatar
6 Mar 2024
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I find that reflecting on the choices I have made during my career strongly intersects with personal changes and professional opportunities. I see the next chapter of my scholarly journey as the moment to pause, to take stock of how far I have come and consider how far I still want or need or must go.

Early on, I chose to focus my teaching, scholarship, service and administrative work on issues related to Hispanic families and communities. Lately, I have begun to truly reflect on what I have accomplished in my chosen profession, and I am starting to ask myself important questions that will help to guide my remaining years in higher education.

Until now, I never stopped to intentionally think about what it means to truly leave a legacy; I have been too busy doing the work to create the change I wanted to see for future generations. But while that work has been an important endeavour, it will not matter if I cannot answer “yes” to the questions I have been contemplating.

Those are questions I’m asking myself as I enter this stage of my career. Hopefully, they can be used as part of a road map for other women who are at earlier stages of their journeys.

Question 1: Have I been a leader within my chosen path?

People often equate “leadership” with being at the top of whatever organisation you work in. But to me, true leadership is making a difference within the space you occupy. No matter your title or your place within your institution, you can find ways to make a positive impact. I have shared my story, my mistakes and my triumphs, and I encourage the next generation to learn from them and create their own paths.

As a leader, I have listened, connected, opened access, learned from everyone and helped others to reach their potential with respect and integrity by creating opportunities through such initiatives as our Fulbright HSI Leader designation.

Question 2: Have I done enough to be a steward of future female leaders?

It’s one thing to lead others; it’s another to help foster the next generation of women who aspire to lead themselves. I have made it part of my mission to ensure we are reversing the negative trends surrounding Hispanic students attending college and becoming leaders in higher education. This work needs to be done at all levels. I am particularly proud of the work done by Latina doctoral students so they can lead by example in and outside academia.

For undergraduates, we are getting there. Hispanic student enrolment is reaching record highs, and Montclair State University is a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) with 45 per cent of its most recent incoming class identifying as Hispanic.

But numbers are not enough. We must develop opportunities to practise being leaders. For example, in our summer initiatives, including our Hispanic Student College Institute and our work with first-generation students, we have created leadership opportunities for mentorship, co-directing programming, visiting high schools and to actively serve as role models for the next generation.

Question 3: What is my legacy beyond my work?

My business card might read “associate provost for Hispanic initiatives and international programs”, but that is not the whole of who I am. My professional accomplishments are things I am proud of, and I will carry them with me when my career comes to an end. But if I have not been the best with the people who I love most, then my professional legacy will have nowhere close to the same meaning.

Question 4: Will my work carry on after I am gone?

It’s not enough to do important work while you have the time to do it. You must ensure the work you do – the programmes you help launch and the initiatives that change the trajectory of students’ lives – can carry on after you are no longer there to spearhead them. To me, this is the ultimate test of your legacy, and how I am judging my own journey. That is why, with each passing year, I am empowering those around me to take on leadership roles on the things I have usually overseen at Montclair. I am teaching them how to present a compelling case to ensure our work will live on.

I want my legacy to be not only what I myself was able to accomplish – I want it to be about what lasts long after I have closed the professional chapter of my life and know that I have been an active agent in repairing the world.

To me, that is the mark of true impact. And I hope that we all take stock of what we have achieved and ensure we do all that we can to allow it to continue when we say goodbye. 

Katia Paz Goldfarb is the associate provost for Hispanic initiatives and international programmes at Montclair State University.

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See our International Women’s Day spotlight for more advice and resources from women leaders in higher education.


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