The Incomparable Caryn McTighe Musil

Last Thursday, I had the honor of introducing close friend and colleague Caryn McTighe Musil at the Women’s Networking Breakfast at the AAC&U Annual Meeting. As she truly is a remarkable person, I wanted the opportunity to introduce — or re-introduce — you to her:

I am pleased and truly honored to introduce Caryn McTighe Musil as our speaker this morning, and I can’t think of any group that would be better suited to celebrate her than you who are here at this Breakfast.  For this introduction, I want to talk sister-to-sister about one of the most incredibly competent and courageous women I know.

 As many of you know, Caryn has partnered with Carol Schneider, president of AAC&U, for the past twenty years in making AAC&U inarguably the most well-known and respected higher education association in the world.  Having served as senior vice president for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives and claimed many successes during her tenure, Caryn decided to narrow her focus and take the role of Senior Fellow and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy beginning in November 2012.  The acclaimed report, A Crucible Moment, is one outcome of this multi-project national initiative.

 Caryn and I became friends upon our first meeting.  I’m sure all of you who claim Caryn’s friendship could probably say the same thing.  Caryn and Carol Schneider hired me to work with them on their big Ford Foundation initiative American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Learning.  Having an opportunity to read, learn, and plan how diversity could be infused throughout the curriculum through forums, publications, and workshops was the most intellectually stimulating experience of my career.  

It was during this time that I learned that no one can work harder and longer than Caryn McTighe Musil.  Even when I would stay up half the night reading and writing for this initiative, I would find that Caryn had stayed up all night to continue the work.

When I put working hard and all night together in talking about Caryn, I recall one of the occasions when Caryn and I were roommates somewhere doing the work of AAC&U.  I was dreaming that I was listening to Caryn make one of her fine speeches.

 It seemed so real to me. Well, it was real. Upon awakening, I looked over at my dear friend who was speaking eloquently as she slumbered.

As I spent time with Caryn as a colleague and friend, I saw a woman of great moral courage, a woman of infinite grace, a caring, considerate, and compassionate woman, and a woman whose passion for social justice is as innate to her as her maternal sense and her love of beauty– be it in nature or the arts.

Caryn’s moral courage and passion for social justice, come from her foremothers who were dedicated educators, brilliant, and persuasive writers, and activists for civil rights and women’s rights.  She is the embodiment of all that is praiseworthy of Ida B. Wells, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Like Ida B. Wells whose writings were the impetus for the anti-lynching campaign, Caryn’s publications on social responsibility, civic learning and engagement have launched a world-wide campaign about the civic expectations of today’s graduates.  

Like Susan B. Anthony, Caryn has dedicated her life to “the cause.” Caryn was a pioneer in bringing Women’s Studies to college and university campuses.  She taught the first Women’s Studies course at LaSalle University, and she served as a faculty member for eighteen years before bringing her many talents to the national level.  

And like Anthony, Caryn knew how to bring people together for the cause. In 1971, she was helping women organize and network in order to support one another in finding their voice in male-dominated institutions in the Delaware Valley.

Like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, through her great rhetorical writing, Caryn has always been able to communicate her vision about social justice that ignites a sense of urgency in her readers. These skills and her track record made her the ideal person to be selected Executive Director of the National Women’s Studies Association in 1984.  

This was a critical time for women because there were momentous gains and setbacks.  

Among the gains, Geraldine Ferraro was nominated as the first woman vice president for a major political party, and Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman named to the Supreme Court.  A setback was the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment.  

It was during this time that Caryn was recognized for her work by being named a “Pennsylvania Woman of the Year.” During this same period of activism, she was chosen as a Commonwealth Speaker by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

What I’ve described is just a part of who Caryn McTighe Musil is.  Caryn is married to Bob Musil who with all of his successes as the leader of a prestigious professional association and scholar, he considers as his greatest achievement his good fortune to be Caryn’s loving husband.  

Caryn has always worked full-time and has not failed in balancing her maternal and spousal role with the demands of her career.  If she had not found the energy to be an attentive mother for her daughters, Rebecca and Emily, they would not have had the foundation and confidence necessary to become the successful attorney and college professor, respectively, that they are today.

To get a better sense of the whole of Caryn McTighe Musil, I asked her husband, Bob, to tell me what she liked to do for fun.  He said that she has this intense curiosity, passion, and joy for French history, culture, and politics.  She loves to spend time in France and she speaks French.  She also gets a lot of enjoyment out of analyzing films.  He said that she has this incredible ability to empathize with characters and analyze plots in film and literature.

When Bob mentioned empathize, I thought of how Caryn is with colleagues and friends.  She is patient and attentive and by being this way, she can see and feel the world that we inhabit.  And when she sees this world through our lens, she looks for and helps us identify our full potential.

I don’t want to give the impression that Caryn is perfect.  She has her faults.  For example, she will keep you waiting while she does one more thing before leaving the office.  

I mentioned her love of beauty, especially in nature.  She is an avid bird watcher and the season’s change and turning of the leaves are like a special holidays for her.  In all the years I have known Caryn, there is only one time that I recall when I irked her and really got under her skin.

Caryn thought it would be a great idea for us to invite our spouses to join us at the end of one of the trips we were making for work.  It was fall and we’d all drive to New England to see the fall foliage.  

Early on, I had said that the date was too late and the leaves would have already been at their peak.  Caryn disagreed and thought they would still be lovely.  

As the plane was making its approach to land, I pointed out the brown leaves.  Caryn pointed out the leaves that still had color.  As we drove through New England, I mentioned that the leaves had lost their color one time too many, and while I don’t know exactly what she said, the comment had the effect as if she had said, “Girl, if you say one more negative thing about these leaves, I’m going to clobber you.”  

As we all know, Caryn would never say anything like this, but as patient and as kind as she is, she has her limits.  She is fun to be with and never loses an opportunity to learn and to share that learning.

It is my joy to present to you our speaker this morning, our friend and colleague, Dr. Caryn McTighe Musil.

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