Q & A with Provost Laura Hartley

In June, Laura Hartley joined SPU as provost, overseeing undergraduate and graduate faculty and academics at the University. Prior to accepting this position, she served as associate provost for student academic success at George Fox University. Response contributing editor Hope McPherson spoke with Provost Hartley about her new role.

What are some things few people know about you, Provost Hartley?

I am often very analytical and data-driven. I’m also a closet creative. I like to make things with my hands. A lot of the beaded jewelry I wear is stuff that I constructed myself. I like doing graphic design. I like to do home repairs. I also love to sing and was involved in drama through college. I really like that creative part of me, even though to see the work that I’m doing, you wouldn’t necessarily know that about me.

You’re a closet creative. You also earned your master’s degree and doctorate in linguistics. Why linguistics?

I got interested in language and culture as a teenager, and then chose to study linguistics in graduate school because I originally planned to go overseas as a Bible translator. I never envisioned myself as a professor or a university administrator. The discipline of linguistics itself has made me very aware of the power of language and the way we can use language to either dignify or dehumanize others by the words we choose. It also showed me that  individual perspectives are limited, so learning from differences is crucial for a fuller appreciation of how God has designed the world.

Tell us a bit about your family.

I’ve only been able to progress in leadership in my career because of the support of my incredible family. My kids are two of my biggest supporters. They never made me feel that I needed to choose between being a mom to them and being a leader in the careers I was pursuing. I’m incredibly proud of both of them and a little humbled by the adults they are turning into.

My husband, Ben, is an academic. He’s a teacher and a scholar of the World Christian Movement, and an ordained permanent deacon in the United Methodist Church. He’s now given up jobs on two different occasions to move with me for my career advancement. That’s no small thing in the academic world, where those kinds of jobs are hard to come by. He has been my biggest supporter, and I’m just really grateful. We’ve been married for 27 years.

The diversity of this city also gives us the opportunity to attract students from all different kinds of backgrounds to live, study, work together, and to engages with one another across those differences.
– Laura Hartley

What drew you to Seattle Pacific University?

Seattle Pacific has a Christian commitment that is open, inviting, and welcoming to all staff and students. I have a central commitment to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, reconciliation, and justice. They are really important here, so that was exciting to me.

SPU has a strong senior leadership team, so it was attractive to me to join and contribute to a group that was already working well together.

I also think SPU is in a vibrant location. I love cities. I’ve lived in Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, but this is a different urban context, interesting and dynamic. The city of Seattle provides so many opportunities and challenges for our students — technology, health care, research, the arts, hospitality industries — these are all here, and they provide wonderful opportunities for hands-on, real-world learning. The diversity of this city also gives us the opportunity to attract students from all different kinds of backgrounds to live, study, work together, and to engage with one another across those differences and learn how to do that graciously.

What is your approach to diversity issues on campus?

Issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are not some bonus or add-on. They are absolutely central to the work we need to do. There were already many good things happening here, so my approach will be to identify what’s working well and then build on those efforts. If I uncover gaps, I will do what I can to pull together individuals and resources to address those gaps.

How can we improve Christian higher education?

Christian higher education is uniquely positioned to pay attention to the holistic formation of students. We want to help students develop intellectual and practical skills to become ready for jobs, but to quote John Wesley, “We also want them to grow more perfect in love.” Our classrooms should be the very best places to grapple with hard issues, to help our students feel both safe and challenged to do that. We should do that from a stance of humility and respect, but I know that doesn’t always happen because we are fallen, broken people.

Most courses remained online this year due to COVID-19. How can we ensure that SPU meets the needs of students who may not be on campus?

The idea of teaching and learning in an online context is not a new movement in higher education. We have had decades of research that has looked at best practices and pedagogies for teaching and learning in an online context. There are ways to create high quality, engaging learning opportunities that are relationally oriented that also happen to be mediated partly or fully by technology. Our goal for this academic year is really no different than it’s always been — create engaging learning opportunities for our students.

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Seattle Pacific receives accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities