At the end of this month, Dr. Haggett will cap 11 years at UNT System, the final jigsaw puzzle piece, as she says, that completes the full picture of a distinguished career in higher education and the federal government as a scientist, educator and leader. Well-earned retirement awaits the Vice Chancellor, whose skill and direction were key to starting the UNT Dallas College of Law and the College of Pharmacy at the UNT Health Science Center. A classic movie buff, Dr. Haggett's inspiration to become a scientist came as a young girl watching Greer Garson play Marie Curie in the 1943 film Madam Curie. She holds a Ph.D. in physiology and became just the second woman in the U.S. to serve as
a College of Agriculture dean when appointed at West Virginia University. She served in multiple leadership roles at the National Science Foundation, has held faculty and leadership positions at prestigious universities around the country and somehow found time to backpack the 33 miles of Alaska's Chilkoot Trail. Now new adventures await. Please read on for more on Dr. Haggett's proudest moments at UNT System and how the call of the ocean has already given her a new home address.
Does your approaching retirement feel real yet?
No, it doesn't. My husband and I relocated about two weeks ago, we moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and I'm working remotely my last month. I hadn't intended of leaving Dallas quite as quickly, but we sold our house in three days. Right now it feels like I'm on vacation even though I'm working because I see the marsh when I look out my window and I'm like, oh, I live here now.
Do you have a connection to South Carolina?
We used to vacation here and I became fascinated by the Lowcountry and the culture and I've always wanted to live really close to the ocean. I never thought I would and then we said we’re going to do this, and here we are. It’s me, my husband and the two dogs. Coincidentally, I have a nephew here in Charleston and I have a brother in Pennsylvania, who is the dad to the nephew, and a brother in Baltimore. So this brings us closer to family, but below the snow line which was one of the other factors. I wanted to be closer to family, but I didn't want to go where I would have to shovel snow.
You came to UNT System in June 2010 and prior to you had never lived in Texas. What made the opportunity attractive at that stage of your career?
The opportunity to grow and build in a vibrant community, both living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as the viewpoint on the UNT System. I came from Toledo Ohio, and I enjoyed my time in Ohio. It was during the economic recession however and it was a hard time to be a provost, which is what my role was, because we were not growing, conversely, we were laying off people and it was not a boom time to say the least. So when I was recruited to the position which I first said, no, no thank you, and I came in and met [former UNT System Chancellor] Lee Jackson, and he talked about his vision of what the system could become and said that we had authorization to start a law school and he didn't know how to do that. The initial search for the dean had just failed and he needed someone to start a law school, and so the idea of being able to build and become what we’ve become was just too fascinating to turn down. And there was nobody in my role before me, so I got to define the role.
So how does one go about starting a law school?
This is an interesting question as I had to figure that out. I cold-called law deans all across the country and said, "we’re starting a law school, this is what our vision of this law school is going to be" – because the vision was different. So I would talk to people, I would gauge their interest in both what we were trying to do and whether they would be personally interested in leading such a law school or if they knew of people who would be good fits for the law school. That’s how we started, simply by making some phone calls. Now, there had been a run-up to this, there had been a lot of political work to get approval for the law school, there were partnerships made with the city that we were someday going to get the Municipal building, the legislature was behind it certainly with strong, strong, strong support from Sen. [Royce] West and Rep. Dan Branch at that time. So there was a lot going on, but the very first thing I did when I got here was put together a timeline for building the law school.
Now that the law school is housed in the Municipal building downtown, has a growing enrollment, one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation and is moving toward full accreditation, how does that make you feel?
I’m very proud of that work and the people that we attracted to the law school. I think Royal Furgeson was the perfect founding dean. A lot of us take credit for recruiting him, me among them. I have had the opportunity to lead projects large and small here, but this one is probably the one I’m most proud of.
How about other UNT System projects, large and small, that you look back on fondly?
This kind of job really requires the ability to work across the institutions and to find common ground and to value the individuality of the institutions, and yet look for where we are synergistic with each other and where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So, there is a variety of different examples of how that’s manifested, for example, the UNT System College of Pharmacy. The Health Science Center took the lead on that and has done a fantastic job. They have been fully accredited now for a couple of years, but we were involved in a collective sort of start-up. I've worked on projects big and small, things like getting the law school attached to UNT Dallas. It started as an entity of the UNT System, so it didn’t belong to one of the institutions until it was joined with UNT Dallas as the authorizing language required. There was a time when we had to separate UNT Dallas students from UNT students when UNT Dallas became separately accredited in 2013. We’ve done a lot of putting together and breaking apart, which is not as simple as it sounds. In the last few years, I created and led the Equity in Student Success (EiSS) Coalition, a cross-institution team using an equity lens to look at our policies, programs and practices supporting student success. I am very proud of that work and what the Coalition will do going forward. I also feel good about the work I've done as Board Secretary since 2014. I think we improved Board support significantly and made the Office of the Board Secretary a well-run unit, thanks to the hard work of my team.
What about you might surprise your colleagues?
People may not know how much I’ve enjoyed traveling and seeing the world. I’ve been to all 50 states, I backpacked the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska, 33 miles into the Yukon. The Chilkoot Trail is how the gold miners got into the Yukon during the Gold Rush. Now, I was much younger then. I’ve enjoyed seeing places like Pompeii. As a child, I was fascinated with what happened in Pompeii and I managed to get there a couple of years ago and tour the archeological site, which was absolutely fascinating.
Do you have any concrete plans for travel as you head into retirement?
I don’t right now. I think first we’re going to figure out what retirement feels like and get settled in a different kind of lifestyle.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE...
Movie?: My favorite movie is The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, 1946, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas’ first role, Van Heflin. I’m a classic movie buff. We went on a Turner Classic Movie cruise right before the pandemic.
Book?: I’m very fond of the old style British detective novel. Anything by P.D. James, Agatha Christie, of that ilk.
Inspirational hero: Many. When I was a child, again classic movies, Greer Garson, Madam Curie. She was my first hero. I’m a Polish girl. She was a Polish girl and she grew up to be a scientist so I could be a scientist, too. She’s probably the first inspirational hero, it was a celluloid one, but she was for real – I just remember watching the movie, that’s how I found out about Marie Curie.
One final question: As you look back on your career, which weaved between many roles in higher education and the federal government, what do you appreciate the most?
When I think about my career, I think about the fact that I never would have predicted what I’d be doing five years later, throughout my entire career. If somebody had said to me five years from now, you will do this, I’d say, pfft. Every change needed a little leap of faith. But, each piece of my career as I look at it now as a jigsaw puzzle, it all fits together. The individual pieces maybe didn’t seem to fit at the time. I bounced back and forth from the federal government to higher ed and held different kinds of jobs, but I think it makes a pretty interesting jigsaw puzzle where the pieces fit. And I feel very fortunate to have had all those experiences and to have worked with so many wonderful people throughout my career, particularly in the UNT System. I will miss them.