Gaylin came to Fordham from Yale, where she had served as associate dean for graduate education since 2017. She has held several leadership positions at other institutions, including associate dean of undergraduate education for academic support at Harvard University, associate dean at Brown University, and program officer at the American Council of Learned Societies. Gaylin, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University, is a scholar of English and French 19th- and 20th-century literature and culture who has taught courses at Yale, Princeton, and Brown universities. She was born in Chicago and raised in Washington, D.C.
In a Q&A with Fordham News, Gaylin reflected on her personal journey in higher education and shared her vision for GSAS.
You told me you once wanted to become a museum curator. How did you become an administrator in higher education?
I was one of those people who enjoyed many things but didn’t have a single passion. I loved reading, studio art, ceramics, folk dancing, and learning about art and history, as well as French literature and culture. After I graduated from college, I spent three years in the art world. But I came to realize that I wanted to surround myself with people, not just objects.
I returned to my first love—literature—and learned how to teach. For 11 years, I taught at Yale. I thought, ‘I can’t believe I am paid to talk about the books and ideas that I love.’ But I gradually recognized that being a faculty member in a single field—even one as broad as comparative literature—wasn’t for me. What I really enjoyed was getting to know students outside the classroom and helping them grow in ways that weren’t just academic. I remember talking with a senior who was worried they didn’t know what they wanted to do after graduation and, after a long conversation, helping them realize that they would be okay; they would figure things out. That’s cura personalis, right? Care for the whole person. It was something I was instinctively drawn to, but didn’t have a name for at the time.
I discovered I wanted to continue to bring people and ideas together, but not as a faculty member. I found a job at the American Council of Learned Societies, where I helped to convene faculty and researchers across the humanities and social sciences to think broadly about the humanities and to award research fellowships to scholars in these disciplines. But I missed being able to walk across a campus and see students excited about their first day of classes, being goofy on a beautiful day, or just sitting outside in a circle with a faculty member in a seminar. I was recruited to serve as an associate dean at Brown University, where I worked for six years, and then I became an associate dean at Harvard University for three years. At Harvard, as much as I appreciated creating better systems of academic support for students, I wasn’t able to interact with students and faculty in a direct and sustained way, and I missed those interactions. Finally, I moved to Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I loved thinking holistically about the health and development of graduate programs and their students and working in a faculty-facing position. Having been a faculty member myself, I believe I also understood where they were coming from, the concerns and pressures they faced, and their aspirations and goals for their students and programs.
What drew you to Fordham?
This was an opportunity to bring all that I had learned throughout my many years in higher education to a leadership position at an institution that places value on principles that resonate with me. It was also very exciting to hear about Tania Tetlow’s appointment and to realize that the institution was poised to enter a new era of leadership and innovation. I think she is going to make all kinds of amazing changes here. It will, no doubt, take me a while to understand fully the Ignatian philosophy undergirding Fordham, having been in secular institutions for most of my career, but I was drawn to its commitment to cura personalis—that sense that the institution is attentive to more than the intellectual life of students.
What are your goals for GSAS?
One of my biggest goals is to create robust professional development programs that can enable our students to think about a variety of career paths. I want to connect them with alumni to help them think about how they can use their skills in the broader world, for the greater good. For example, I would like to create easier access to internships at publishing houses, archives, and museums for students in the humanities, together with career placements in less traditional sectors of employment. Fordham is uniquely placed in an amazing metropolis filled with cultural institutions, non-profits, industry, etc. I also want to encourage more undergraduates to stay for an accelerated degree, which is a great way to get a master’s degree at a discount.
In addition, I aim to strengthen our partnerships across the New York area, especially in STEM, with the Bronx Science Consortium. Can we connect our students in the health administration program more deeply with local hospitals and create pipeline programs with health care companies to encourage professional development of their staff through graduate coursework? What about our student historians with cultural institutions like the New York Historical Society? How can we revitalize the Co-tutelle program, where our doctoral students learn from mentors at other institutions—a great way to encourage intellectual cross-fertilization between Fordham and other graduate schools in New York City like NYU and Columbia? Also, can we increase the number of students from other institutions who take classes with our faculty, so that intellectual communities are not just within a single institution, but across institutions—especially since we’ve now learned, thanks to the pandemic, that we can do this without having to get on a plane, train, or a bus? Even more importantly, how can we enhance the pipeline of students from all backgrounds and walks of life to come to Fordham for graduate study and support them while they are here, and afterwards?
I also want to develop programs that capitalize on Fordham’s strengths. This year, we’re launching a new dual-degree program in economics and data science, and I’d love to work with faculty to identify other such possibilities. We already have a dual-degree program between the School of Law and IPED. A J.D. with a Ph.D. in theology or history would be really interesting, since we already have strong theology and history programs. Dual-degree programs are a great way for humanities students to think about how they can put their education to use for the global good. Also, our interdisciplinary medieval studies program and Center for Medieval Studies draw from strengths across a number of humanistic disciplines. Could we create a new program for early modern studies across a number of disciplines? What about a program that brings together ethics and another field, such as computer sciences, the biological sciences, or health administration?
Essentially, I see myself as the connector who brings people together and enables innovative ideas to come to fruition. None of these are short-term goals or easy wins. But they are exciting challenges, and I’m looking forward to working with our students, faculty, staff, and administrators to address them.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I have a commuting marriage in order to work at Fordham. I live in New Rochelle during the week and go home on weekends to my husband and our poodle, Colette, in Hamden, Connecticut. Within the family, we think of her as ‘Coalette’ because when we first got her, she looked like a little lump of coal. She keeps us laughing and reminds us not to take the world too seriously, as well as to find pleasure in the smallest of things.
Not living with my husband and our dog—and giving up my garden, which has been a great solace in the pandemic—has been difficult. But I was eager to come to Fordham. My husband has been very supportive in all of this, and we cherish our time spent in person together. And when I come home, Colette gives me the best greeting; it’s as if she hasn’t seen me for a month, rather than just a few days.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Our entering class has students from Azerbaijan to Zambia—literally from A to Z. I met some of them at our new student orientation, including a young, gifted Lebanese woman in our humanitarian studies program, as well as a couple from Egypt. The diversity of not only the countries of origin, but also life experiences that our students bring to Fordham is amazing.
In my welcome speech at their orientation, I gave them the following advice: 1. Get to know your faculty outside of the classroom. These are people who have devoted their lives to preserving and advancing knowledge; you can learn a great deal from working closely with them, as well as your peers. 2. Be intellectually adventuresome, and explore courses and events across Fordham, not just within your own program. Great ideas often come from bringing fields of knowledge together. 3. Learning happens both in and outside the classroom. You’re in one of the most exciting places in the world, so take advantage of all that New York City has to offer. 4. Consider doing an internship. It’s a wonderful opportunity to help you investigate a career path or two. New York is a great place to learn more about not just academia but industry, non-profits, international organizations, and more, and Fordham has alumni in all kinds of fascinating sectors of employment. 5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it’s a sign of strength and wisdom. 6. Give back to your community. There are many opportunities for public service, and you learn as much from the people you serve as they will learn from you. 7. This is a precious moment in your lives. Take the time to reflect about what you are studying and why, as well as its effect on the people around you. Consider how you can apply what you learn here at Fordham to the creation of a more just, equitable, and better world.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.