President Hart balances family life and higher education
Kyle Wasson / Arizona Daily Wildcat
President Hart speaks about her upcoming inauguration this Friday, Nov. 30.
Kimberly Hart Baker remembers getting a glimpse of her parents’ bedroom as her mother prepared to defend her dissertation. A sign on the door read, “You have a father, ask him.” Baker made sure that her youngest sister, a toddler at the time, did not go into that bedroom.
“In order to study for it, she had — I mean what seemed to me at the time, to my young eyes — hundreds of index cards … and they were strewn about her bedroom in this intricate and organized way,” said Baker, the oldest daughter of UA President Ann Weaver Hart. “And I just remember … understanding that there was a whole other world of important things happening behind that bedroom door.”
Hart, who will be inaugurated today as the UA’s first female president, was a mother of four by the time she got her doctorate in higher education leadership. Her family has been very supportive of her education and career, she said.
“The kind of career I have been fortunate to have requires a lot of attention and focus that is very, very difficult without the support of one’s family,” Hart said.
When she accepted the job as the UA’s 21st president, her family was thrilled. Having spent a lot of their young adulthood backpacking, bicycling and hiking, Hart and her husband, Randy Hart, were ready to move back to the west, Hart said.
Randy Hart, a retired attorney, is the “lowest-paid full-time employee of the University of Arizona because he loves this place,” Hart joked. But he also keeps the family grounded and maintains communication between the couple and their four daughters, she said.
Hart and her husband met in high school.
“He was the first chair clarinet. I was the first chair cello. And we bumped into each other walking out the door one day and just started to talk,” Hart said. “We hit it off immediately. We’ve been together since then.”
They were married 44 years ago, after her undergraduate freshman year, providing her with a different experience than most undergraduate students, she said.
Though it’s difficult to get the whole family together, Baker said they usually get together in Salt Lake City, Hart’s hometown, for the holidays. When they see each other, Hart and her daughters often cook, go camping and spend a lot of time outdoors. Hart also helps her eight grandchildren with homework and reads with them.
“When I get the energy, I knit very complex projects for grandchildren,” Hart said. “That way, you can never think about your problems. Because if you have to keep track of four colors and lots of different patterns, there’s no way to get distracted successfully.”
Baker’s two daughters are very proud of “Gran” and her love of education, which Baker says has always been her passion. Hart’s work inspires her grandchildren to take pride in their own intellectual accomplishments, Baker added.
Growing up, Hart’s family expected her to attend college, which was an unusual expectation for women at the time, Hart said. Although she began her career by teaching history, she discovered her interest in working in administration while she was dean of the graduate school for the University of Utah. There she helped design a graduate stipend support system for graduate students.
“It was a difficult and complex experience but we succeeded when no one thought we could, and it was so exciting to realize that we had been able to contribute to the future success of others,” Hart said. “I think that’s when I really began to feel a commitment to a broader engagement across the university.”
Prior to becoming UA president, Hart served as the president of Temple University for six years. Hart has also been president of the University of New Hampshire and provost and vice president for academic affairs at Claremont Graduate University. The most rewarding part of having a career in higher education leadership is helping others succeed, Hart said.
“She has strong leadership skills,” said Leslie Tolbert, senior vice president for research at the UA. “She’s very engaging. People listen when she speaks. She can generate an energy around the topic she’s speaking about.”
Constructing a new vision of the 21st land grant university and successfully incorporating two medical schools and an industry economic development, Hart said, is the biggest challenge the UA faces. Having previously worked in a land grant setting and at a university with a comprehensive medical center has given Hart the right tools to run such a university as the UA, she said.
“I believe I’ve had experiences that have allowed me to be broad and complex in the way I approach institutional problems,” Hart said. “And this is definitely a complex time and the U of A is definitely a comprehensive and exciting and complex university.”
Hart said she wants the UA to be her last stop before she retires.
“This is the best job one could ever hope to have and incredible opportunities for contributing to the future are a part of this job,” Hart said. “I hope that I can spend the rest of my higher-ed leadership career here at the university.”
What is your favorite aspect of the UA?
The spirit of the people here. There is a commitment and excitement to being a part of the university among alumni, students and faculty and staff that is hard to describe when you’re in the middle of it and haven’t been places that don’t have that kind of pride and excitement. It’s a very warm, forward-looking and energetic approach to life.
What is your favorite aspect of Tucson?
The Sonoran Desert. The incredible variety of life that flourishes here in what seems to be an insurmountable climate. I love the monsoon. I love the variety of birds and reptiles and other animals.
What book is on your nightstand?
“The Devil’s Highway” by Luis Alberto Urrea … It is so wonderful and I want everybody to read it. It’s incredible. It’s about the border and the culture. It’s really great.
What is your favorite movie?
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” And then there’s another old French movie that you should all watch called “A Man and a Woman” that is very romantic, from the ’60s.
What is your favorite thing to do with your grandchildren?
Read … with them. To them, when they’re little, of course. And camp.