In September, Barbara Mills became the first woman to lead the UA Department of Anthropology, but that wasn't the first time Mills broke gender records. From 1993 to 2004, Mills was the first woman to head the UA Archaeological Field School; she says that gave her the administrative experience she needed to become a department head--though she didn't anticipate the economic woes that are now forcing the UA to make some difficult decisions. For more information on the UA Department of Anthropology, go to the department Web site. For information on the UA Transformation Plan, go to the Plan Web site.
What makes the UA Department of Anthropology special?
The department has a lot of people who started their careers here and went through the ranks as assistant professors and then professors. ... This is one of the best places to do work as an anthropologist. You can do work in the community. For a Southwest archeologist like myself, there are many sites. ... We are (also) sort of like a family. It is the culture of the department. It's about making people feel like they are welcome. Everybody has their strengths, and we recognize if there is some weakness, people help each other in terms of advice and grantsmanship.
When you started in the department in 1991, was there a history of hiring women?
I was the second archeologist, and, yes, we have had many women in this department. In terms of gender equity, it's a very balanced department in part because of the hires that were made by my predecessors.
As the globe heats up, how will anthropology students, who look at the past, help us look at our future?
Unfortunately, we can't predict the future, but we can train people to anticipate problems. Problem-solving is one of the things we try to do and instill in the students ... recognizing the issues that are present in today's world. ... When we teach about gender or ethnicity or statuses and how they affect people's lives in the past or present, we're also trying to teach them about what it might be like in future situations.
Do today's students seem different than in years past?
I think there is a lot more awareness, more volunteerism, a greater sense of community. Certainly, ecology is back like it was in the '60s and '70s. ... I think there's definitely been a change, and I think for the good.
Because of the state's financial crisis, President Robert Shelton has asked all departments to restructure to save money. This must have been a great time to come in as a department head.
(Laughs.) Well, when I agreed to do the job, I had absolutely no idea this would happen, and it happened so fast, I've barely been able to take a breath. No. It's not a good time to come in, but on the other hand, when you take a job like this, it is to help the department and to help solve problems. It is a time you can be creative in thinking about our future. ... This transformation plan is about sudden change, and I think we can use that change to strengthen us and to make us much better.
How have the beginnings of the transformation taken place for your department?
... What we are proposing is a school of anthropology that integrates the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (a UA research institution). ... In this applied area, you take what you know about anthropology and use it for solving some very specific problems. Sometimes, those problems are problems government agencies have identified. ... The students love it, and it gets them jobs. More than half of the jobs in anthropology are in applied fields right now.
When does the dust settle for you guys?
They're supposed to be reviewing (plans) right now ... to get back to us in early November, and then we have another white paper to do that expands upon the one we've already submitted, and that's due in December. So then we should hear something by the end of January.
Does it feel strange to kind of be billed as the first female department head?
Well, I was the first female Archeological Field School director. I guess I'm used to it. I guess somebody has to be first. Let's just hope I'm not the last.