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Dec. 8, 2020

Transformational leadership with a focus on what really matters with Patricia McGuire | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

Transformational leadership with a focus on what really matters with Patricia McGuire | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker
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In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University,  talks about how she led the transformation of Trinity, the leadership principles that she has learned, and advice she has for other leaders, as they're looking to lead their organizations through transformation. 

Some highlights:

Pat McGuire shares the story of her early years of activism

How Pat McGuire transitioned from law to becoming president of Trinity University

Pat McGuire’s reinvention of Trinity University

How to effectively lead organizational transformation

Building partnerships and finding allies to support the vision

Also mentioned in this episode:

Henry Kissinger, Former United States Secretary of State

Richard Nixon, 37th U.S. President

Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. President

Bart Giamatti, President of Yale University 

Bill Conway, co-founder of the Carlisle group


A Free and Ordered Space by Bart Giamatti

Connect with Pat McGuire:

Trinity Washington University Official Website


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited to bring to you my conversation with Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington university. Pat McGuire actually studied at Trinity, then eventually went on to get her JD from Georgetown university. She was actually working at Georgetown when she was recruited to Trinity back in 1989. 

She led the transformation of Trinity, and has led many transformations since then at the school. Pat talks about leadership principles that she has learned and advice she has for other leaders, as they're looking to engage their organizations through transformation. 

If you enjoy this podcast, share it with a friend. The easiest way to do that is at partneringleadership.com where they can listen to it on the web app or access all the podcast apps that carry it. And if you get a chance on the same site, partnering leadership.com or on Apple podcasts, they're the only ones that really care about reviews. Please go, leave a rating and review. I really appreciate that. 

And I hope you enjoy the conversation with Patricia McGuire.

Mahan Tavakoli: President Pat McGuire, welcome to the Partnering Leadership podcast.

Patricia McGuire: Thank you Mahan. It's such a privilege to be here with you. Thank you.

Mahan Tavakoli:  Absolutely. I can't wait to share some of your brilliant story of leadership with a partnering leadership community. I've admired what you have been able to do over the years and would love to find out a little bit more about your story.

So Pat, our upbringing has an impact on us. So I would love to first start out by hearing a little bit about whereabouts you grew up and how that has impacted the kind of leader you've become. 

Patricia McGuire: Well, thank you so much. And you're absolutely right, that upbringing has a lot to do with how all of us develop our professional personas in our lives.

I'm a Philadelphia girl from way back, if you can't tell, by the way I talk, I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. I am one of seven children, so it was a big Irish, Italian Catholic family. Mom's Italian. Dad's Irish. I had five brothers, a sister, and it was a very typical mid century conservative.

We were a very conservative family, very religious. I went to Catholic schools in the Philadelphia region. And I think I was the middle child among the pack of brothers. My sister was much older. So I think growing up with brothers had something to do with my survival skills, at least. 

But my mother wanted to civilize me to some extent. So she insisted that I go to a girl's high school and then to a women's college. And it was really coming to Washington, to go to Trinity, that just changed my life. Because it took me away from a wonderful, and loving, but somewhat insular experience. It brought me into the world's greatest city. It made it possible for me to study politics, which was my love at the time. And it really set me on the course for the rest of my professional life. So that's how it all began.

Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, that's wonderful. And we're glad that Trinity brought you to Washington. 

Now, I imagine the Trinity of those years was quite different from the Trinity university right now. It was a small college back then.

Patricia McGuire: It was a small residential women's college. We have a lot of rules. When I started as a freshman, we weren't allowed to have any visitors in our rooms, certainly no men around. But things had started to change. I started in the fall of 1970, and one of the things that I think was notable, the Kent State massacre had occurred in my senior year of high school. And Kent State really changed a lot of colleges. By the time I got to Trinity in the fall of 1970, although my parents thought it was very conservative and safe, it was actually a very liberal and, as someone once said to me, a dangerous place because of the ideas we developed. 

The sisters, the nuns who were here, they weren't wearing habits anymore. They were out on the front lines, marching in all the anti war demonstrations. And we students got involved in all of the wonderful and exciting and sometimes tumultuous events of Washington in the early 1970s. I went to every single demonstration I could find, because I just loved being out there.

We had Political Science courses where we had to do what was called field work back then. It would be more like internships now, but we had to go interview senators and congress people. And back in that time in Washington, unlike today, there was not very much security around the Capitol or even around the famous people.

Some of my classmates and I, we would ride the Senate subway. We would sit on the subway all day long, riding it and catching Senators to interview them. We staked out Henry Kissinger's home, hoping to get an interview with Henry Kissinger. You could get close to the decision makers back then, because it was really before all of the obsession about security and walls and fences and all of that.

The most notorious person in town was Richard Nixon, of course. We demonstrated at his second inauguration. And then I remember the day he resigned, I remember going down to be with the crowd, the ellipse waving goodbye to his helicopter, and cheering. So those were very formative years, the early 1970s. 

Most people talk about the sixties as being tumultuous. The early 1970s were at the end of that, but they were almost more like an anarchy. Our politicians today talk about Antifa and all of that. Well, we weren't Antifa, but we were any good protestors back then. And that had a lot to do with forming me. But it was also the climate at Trinity, which was always a very highly intellectual place, that prided itself on educating women for leadership. Trinity encouraged us to get out and be involved and to give witness to the world. And that was part of what I did. So that was my formation and how I made that bridge. And I never looked back. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Yes, and from the education and the activism at Trinity, then what led you to law school? 

Patricia McGuire: Well, that's an interesting case. And so this goes back to my family. My father and mother did not go to college.

Dad was a world war II vet. He served in the Philippines. I think he might've done some night classes on the GI bill when he came home. But neither of them went beyond high school. In fact, my mother was the first person in her family to finish high school. So both of them valued education tremendously because they never had it.

We did not have much exposure to professional life. It wasn't part of our heritage. I watched Perry Mason. I watched all the lawyers on TV, but I never met a lawyer. But when I was in college I majored in political science and I talked a lot. And everybody said, “Oh, you talk a lot. You should be a lawyer.”

I had no idea what this was really going to be about. I thought it was all Perry Mason, glamour, courtrooms, dramatic speeches to the jury. I went to Georgetown law school, thinking it was going to be that, and it turned out to be something quite different. 

I'm very grateful to Georgetown. I had a wonderful law school experience and also a wonderful career at Georgetown, which I'll talk about later. But my first year of law school, I wound up being somewhat miserable. Because far from being exciting and talking about the great issues, I was reading these dull, dreadfully dull old cases, badly written.

I mean, I was a liberal arts person and in liberal arts, you keep expanding your mind. But in the law, you have to keep narrowing your mind to find the one sentence in one court opinion that supports your position. I found that dull and uninteresting. Although I had always been a good student my whole life, I was not so great as a law student in the first year. 

But then while I was there and I was kind of wandering around the law school one day, I saw a sign for something that also helped to change my life, and it said, come teach law in the DC public schools. And I said, “What's that? Teach law in the public schools?” The other side of my story is I had never set foot inside a public school cause I was a nice Catholic girl raised in Catholic schools. 

I signed up for this clinical program at Georgetown for credit, in which the law students were trained about how to go into the DC public schools to teach law. And it was called street law. It's a very famous program now, I was in the early stages. So I went and taught street law at Coolidge high school in DC. And wow, that was such an experience for me. I had never been inside a public school. Here were all of these young black men and women who were so different from me.

I frankly learned a lot more than they learned from me. Actually being with them two or three times a week, and trying to learn about their lives, their experiences, their communities, all of the trauma that they experienced and their challenges, why they were fearful of the police. Part of the point of street law was to try to reduce juvenile delinquency by helping young people understand the police and legal rules and so forth.

I love that program so much that when I graduated from law school, I wound up becoming the director of the program. And as a result of that, although I could have been a law clerk, I could have gone with a firm, but I didn't really crave any of that. I love teaching and I loved working with the young people. So, I became the project director. They were looking for one. And it was through that program that I had to travel. I did that for five years. I visited all of the senior high schools in the district of Columbia once a month. I was supervising the law students who were out teaching, and we had mock trial competitions. 

But the most important thing was I learned about Ballou high school in Anacostia. And I learned about Woodrow Wilson, McKinley Tech and HD Woodson. All of these schools that you read about every day, I was at those schools. I was walking those corridors. I was listening to the young people in those schools. 

I didn't know what I was going to do 20, 30 years later. But I knew that there were these wonderful, ambitious, young people out there for whom life had often dealt them a bad blow, and a bad hand. I remembered them and I thought there is so much talent here, and so much ambition and not enough structure to help these young people to become stronger and better. 

The DC public schools back then, were in crisis. They really were. The superintendent was Vincent Reed. He was trying to improve them, but it was part of the crisis of DC. That was where I developed a bit of my affinity for DC and our public school, young people were through my street law work. 

So that was that phase of my career. And I managed somehow to graduate from law school, in spite of my disdain for studying old cases.

Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah. It sounds like law, at least going to law school, connected you even more with your passion of serving youth in getting to know them through the DC public schools.

Patricia McGuire: That's absolutely correct Mahan and I never would have thought of that.

But one of the things I did realize the combination of having a really strong liberal arts education that teaches you to have an open mind and to explore. And that's what a good liberal arts college does. That's what Trinity did for me. Explore, learn, keep on learning. 

And then in the law, you are up close and personal with every problem in life you can imagine. And while the methodology of studying the law, at least back then, I think it's changed a little in law school now, but back then it was still a Socratic method and it was stultifying. The methodology was dismal. But the exposure to real life problems that people had in these cases, and the challenges they had.

And when I found that I could do that through education, not just through the conflict of legal cases, it was like a light bulb going off in my head. I had never thought I could mix those two different callings and it really worked for me. So it was a great deal of fun. 

Then what happened though and I'm going to fast forward a little bit. I actually have my current career to thank Ronald Reagan for, because the program in street law at Georgetown was funded by grants from the Department of Justice. But when Reagan became president, he took away all those grants, for all of the social justice type programs we've seen similar things more recently. So I had to start fundraising to save the program. And very quickly, the Dean of the law school came to me cause I was kind of successful pretty quickly, and the Dean of the law school said, “Hmm, you're good at this. I want you to create a development office.”

They didn't really have much of a development office back then. And at first I thought, “Oh, I don't want to do that. I want to stay working with the kids.” I went to Palm beach a few times and met with the rich elders and decided that was an okay life too. And because I was raising money for the worthy cause, and I started raising money for the law school.

That turned out to be a great career for me also. I got to work with lawyers all over the country. I worked with the law faculty. I mean, it was deeply involved with my legal experience, but in a very different way, and to generate resources to support programs, the new law library, it's not new anymore, but at the time it was new. And it taught me a skill that I didn't know I was going to need for the next phase of my life. I had no idea. I was in 1988, 89. I wanted to retire from fundraising, become a law professor and teach about law for the rest of my life. I thought that was where I was headed. And Alma mater called. And the course of history turned out to be different. 

Mahan Tavakoli:So when Trinity called in 1989, in essence, you had to fix it or close it, that was the board mandate to you.

Patricia McGuire: That was indeed the board mandate. I actually was sitting on the board, because for one reason or another, I had become president of our alumni association. I always volunteer to do things so that was an example of how volunteer service can also propel you into a great job. But it's very interesting, so I had no executive experience. I mean, being the chief development officer at the law school at Georgetown was a great experience, but it wasn't a really big executive job. I had never managed people in great numbers before, or had to think through complex budgets. 

A friend of mine said, “You don't know anything, why did the board pick you?” 

And I said to her, “You know, Janie, because I don't know anything, It was a safe choice, because I could come in and say, ‘this makes no sense, why are we doing it?’ I didn't have any hangups about why things were the way they were. I could ask questions. I could be as naive as I wanted to be, and still make a dent. “

That did not go over well with some of the very traditional faculty, who thought that I, as an alumni, would come in to save Trinity and to restore the golden age, whenever that was. And instead they quickly figured out that I was breaking a lot of furniture.

I was blowing up things, and they didn't like that at all.  

Mahan Tavakoli: Pat, it's obvious that Trinity was in need of reinvention and you looked at it and you try to reinvent Trinity. I imagine that must not have gone over very well with a lot of stakeholders. 

Patricia McGuire: Yes, absolutely. And back then, I had never heard the word stakeholder, so I didn't do any focus groups at all.

I ignored all of the rules about how you do this. And so did the board, cause things were a little desperate. So not to put too fine a point on it, we almost did close back at the end of the eighties. We had 300 full time undergraduates the year I started. 

There had been a program that one of my predecessors started called “Weekend College”, which was for adult working women. And those women were great, and they were hearing much greater numbers than full time young ladies. But they were predominantly black, from the city. They worked in the federal workforce. They were business majors. And the traditionalists wanted to know why they were here? Who let them in? And that was a big red flag. 

So the first or second week I was president, I still remember this, I'm sitting in the room where I had this conversation. I called in the admissions director and I said, “Well, how many students do we get from the DC public schools?” And she said, “None.”

And I said, “What do you mean none?”

She said, “We don't recruit in the DC public schools.” And I said, “Why not?” 

And she said, “They can't do the work here.”

I was not as radical as I am today. I was still pretty moderate, but I could see institutional racism staring me in the face. I could see the wrong answer coming at me. And that was a galvanizing moment. 

And I said, “We're going to recruit students from the DC public schools.” And I attribute part of that, to that experience I had with street law where I knew these kids. I knew that we could have them be very successful with the right teachers at Trinity. So that was the beginning.

Over the first 10 years or so that I was president here, I mean, we had no money. I was constantly trying to rob Peter to pay Paul and our salary is still, even to this day, are not that great. But here's what I learned, first of all, it's very hard to kill a college cause there's a lot of resilience and loyalty.

I also learned that a lot of times the conflict in the opposition comes from fear about people being afraid that they will lose something that they love. And I had to learn not to be defensive while also being very firm that we were going to move in a new direction. 

I appreciate that the faculty member who teaches French that can no longer be a major is mourning the loss of the major, but she still has a job. And French is still very important to teach. It's just in a different way. And we had to figure out how to bring people along. 

We had a small group, but a very vocal group of alumni who were a guest at the changes that were occurring here. And they use some pretty harsh language at times. Some of them would write me letters and say that they would not send any more money until we stop accepting black students. All these nice, Catholic ladies who were very harsh in their judgment. Here again, because they didn't understand what was happening. 

Now, one of the things they did not know, and this is the business side of it, social justice is one arm of this conversation and doing the right thing in our city. But another arm of it is the business principle at stake. Women's colleges were dying left and right in this country. 

In 1960, there were approximately 300 women's colleges. And today there's just about 35. But of the original 300, about two thirds of them were Catholic women's colleges because the Catholics, particularly Catholics didn't like co-education. And they also use their colleges to educate nuns. The nuns all left the convent after the sixties, after Vatican two, and all of that, that's another whole podcast.

The Catholic women's colleges declined rapidly. So from about 190 of these institutions, today in the year 2020, there's just eight of us left. And that shrinkage was occurring in the early 1990s. It was occurring rapidly. These Catholic women's colleges were closing everywhere. They were merging with brother schools all over the map. The women's colleges generally were closing, or going co-ed. 

I asked our board if we should go co-ed and we did examine the question of co-education at that time, when we started the dramatic racial and demographic change here. And I said to the board, “Well, you have a choice, we can go co-ed and hope we get a thousand coed undergraduates, in the traditional way like Catholic residential. Or we can accept the fact that life will be permanently different, but we can keep our mission to women.” 

And it was the nuns, the sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who were our congregation, who stood up and said, “We founded Trinity to make a great higher education, accessible to women who could not get a higher education in 1897.-” On that day they were white Catholics. 

“-But that's why we founded Trinity. And today there are tens of thousands of women at our doorstep, who cannot get a great higher education, and Trinity is still called to educate those women.” 

It was galvanizing and it was the nuns who said that, I didn't say it. The nun said it. 

And I said, “Sister, you are absolutely right. We have to go after the women of our city. We have to open the doors wider.” 

And that was the impetus for saying rather than going coed, we would turn our attention to a new population that we should have had here all along. But for all of the reasons of racism and classism and all of that, we did not. 

The alums who were angry with us for doing that, most of them came back. Most of them realized that this was not the place they should be, that they needed to see this. I had some great alumni leaders along the way who championed the cause. 

One of the things I learned about leadership that was important during the big fights we had was that sometimes the leader has to back off and let others be the leader. That sometimes the worst thing you can do is try to be your own champion. 

So I found some other really great alums who are my friends today who went out and met with alums in the different cities and class meetings, and basically told them they were being ridiculous and could talk to them eyeball to eyeball in ways that I could not, because I was still generally younger than most of the critics. I was the little sister. I was not a nun, but I was like their little sister. And they thought I was messing up their thing. So getting others to speak for the leader was important. 

Mahan Tavakoli: What a fabulous example of leadership from the vision that you had for Trinity, to the nuns that represented the values, the core values of the founding of Trinity, and then the allies that you were able to get, to advocate on behalf of that vision, helping transform Trinity.

Patricia McGuire: That's what I learned all along the way. You do need vision as a leader. You have to be able to articulate it. 

But it can't just be your vision. That's a mistake some leaders make, some college leaders make. You have to have a moral influence that supports your vision. It can't just be any old vision. And that's what the nuns gave me. 

And then you really do need allies. Leadership fails if you're trying to do it all by yourself. When I hear certain politicians today say I alone can solve the problem. I mean, that's ridiculous. That flies in the face of every principle of good leadership. 

It was Bart Giamatti, who was the president of Yale before he became the baseball commissioner, wrote a beautiful book called “A Free and Ordered Space.” In it, he wrote about presidential leadership in colleges. And he said, “The art of the art of management is to make sure nothing bad happens. But the art of leadership is to persuade the community of the goal that we want to achieve, and to motivate the community to go there together.” 

And I've always cherished that idea that I can manage things every day, but that's not being a leader. I have to persuade people that this is the right path. I have to motivate them to be on the path, but ultimately it's the people who will get us there. And the leader's job is to coach them and go with them, be the shepherd along the way. 

And sometimes, I drive the train. Sometimes some people here will tell you sometimes I drive it very hard. But other times I fall back in the back and let somebody else be the leader, when I'm satisfied that they're heading in the right direction so I can take a break. So it's an art form, it is. And I think I've worked on it over the years. 

Mahan Tavakoli:Absolutely Pat, part of what I advocate is that leadership is truly a partnership.

There are times when the leader does need to lead with the vision, and with a strategy, and pushing people outside of what they would have normally considered. But there are times where the leader needs those partners, those other people to lead. So it's a balance back and forth. 

Now, you have helped Trinity become a totally different university and institution of higher learning over the years. It looks very different now than what Trinity looked like 30 years ago when you took over the helm.

Patricia McGuire:So there were a couple of things along the way that exactly exemplify the principle of allies and partners. And I'll use one example of one of the things that I felt was essential for us to do, in the early days of my presidency. We did not have any indoor sports facilities. And I had said to the board repeatedly, I'm an old basketball player, but we played under the chapel and we were terrible. We played field hockey outside. 

I said to the board, if you want to have a first rate women's college, you do have to provide sports for the young ladies. You can't say that you can have a great college and not have some recreational facility. Well, the trustees ignored that for a long time. They weren't so sure. 

And then, I started working with the Greater Washington board of trade, and I met wonderful people including Susan Williams, when she was president of the board of trade. DC was going after the 2012 Olympic bid. I got involved with the 2012 Olympic bid and John Tidings, the great John Tidings, who was on my board for a while. 

Late great John and John Schwitters and Susan Williams and I developed this idea that while we weren't going to build a gym for basketball, we were going to build the Trinity center for women and girls in sports. And it was going to be a signature place for women's sports to be in this town. 

That idea caught fire. That idea was really a sale. And we partnered, Susan took me to meet the women's sports foundation. We partnered with them. We were able to organize and raise the money for the building. It was our biggest capital campaign in our history at that time. 

And on the day we broke ground. The donors, the first donors were, a somewhat older couple, very conservative. She was in the class of 1941, and they were Southern. And we had conceptualized the sports center as a community recreation center, not just as a place for Trinity, but we wanted to share it with our community here in Brooklyn and Edgewood. 

So at the groundbreaking, we had all the children from the local shade elementary school come over and we gave them little hardhats. There must've been a couple of hundred little kids here. And so my major donor, Ross, poke me in the side at one point during the ceremony, because he was just so conservative. And he said, “This idea you have about having all these community people involved-”. And I was holding my breath thinking it was going to be terrible. And he said, “-this is a really good idea. I love this.”

And I remember that because I was just so overjoyed that once my conservative alum and her husband and their friends could see the children who were going to be helped with our new sports center, they loved that idea. They thought that was the best thing. And that word went out because the ladies talked to each other and then suddenly everybody began to understand that was great. 

Later on great partners, Don Graham has been an amazing partner for Trinity. And he created the DC tag and DC cap program, tuition assistance grants, college access program. And once he understood what we were doing, he helped introduce me to other people in DC who were working on school reform, and who were trying to improve the college going sites for children from the DC public schools.

And that was how Trinity became a partner with the DC public schools, because we had advocates like Don and others, working with us saying, well if you're going to do this, you really need to meet these people, and be involved in this way.

Today, this year, Trinity has been the early college partner with Coolidge high school, my old street law high school. And that's kind of a culmination of a lot of those partnerships. Then along the way, and this is where getting involved with the board of trade was just so important. I began to meet other people. I began to be invited to serve on other boards. One of the boards I was invited to serve on was at the Washington hospital center. I had never been involved with medicine before. That was an eye opening experience. 

And one of the things I learned was about the nursing workforce shortage. And the president of the hospital asked me to sit on the board cause we're just three blocks away. And once I got into it, he said, “So why doesn't Trinity have a nursing program?”

And I had no idea why we didn't have a nursing program, except when I started to look into it, it was because of the tradition that we do liberal arts. We don't do professional studies. 

The faculty were a little disdainful of that saying, “Well, we do with pre-med.” 

And I said, “Heck, we're going to do nursing. The hospital center wants us to do nursing.” 

And by that time we had been successful enough. This was the late first decade of the 21st century. We had been successful enough. I'd been successful enough that the faculty didn't resist as much as they might have 10 years previously.

And what I began to learn about nursing was that by starting a nursing program, all boats would rise. That the sciences would have full classes again. That all of the gen ed would be full and robust again. 

And so we started nursing in the year 2010. The Washington hospital center in MedStar were and are fabulous partners, they helped us get going. National Rehab hospital helped us. Children's hospital, Kurt Newman, fabulous partner. So we work with partners. We got the program going. And within the space of two to three years, our enrollment doubled due to nursing. It doubled with our local population from DC and Prince George's County and Montgomery County.

And today our nurses are being pipelined into all of the area hospitals. And one of the examples of this is that gentlemen named Bill Conway, who's another important local philanthropist. One of the founders of the Carlisle group. Well, he heard what Trinity was doing with nursing and he now is supporting with scholarships more than a hundred nurses at Trinity, to help them complete their education.

That's building partnerships, that's finding allies and support. And the other piece of this is most people don't know, fewer than 10% of nurses in our country are African American. Nursing is actually a very white profession and most people don't know that. So as we're pipelining our majority black and Hispanic students into nursing, we are also doing our piece of racial equity by helping to change the face of the profession.

And, we're looking to do that now with other professions, but nursing has become our superstar. And nursing made it possible actually for us to build an entirely new academic center five years ago because we didn't have the modern laboratories that we needed. So once nursing got off the ground and brought us all this new enrollment, we were then able to raise another $30 million to build a new laboratory building with classrooms.

It all comes to fruition, and it's basically we're doing well by doing good if you will. Our students are the beneficiaries of these great partnerships and wonderful support

Mahan Tavakoli: You have Pat led the transformation of Trinity, both over the years, substantially at the beginning. But you have reinvented Trinity over different projects, initiatives that you have rolled out to make it more relevant, more impactful.

Now, Trinity has been doing outstandingly well. I know you were about to launch a big campaign. When the pandemic hits, that has hit a lot of education, especially higher ed pretty significantly. So how have you been handling that? 

Patricia McGuire: Well, one of the things I learned a long time ago is the good planning leads to good results.

So in March, March was a terribly, distressing time. And, I had never thought about a pandemic. I had never done any planning. When this happened to us in March, in the space of a week, we went from typical teaching classes, everybody's seeing each other to suddenly nobody was here.

I immediately began to think, what happened if this goes on for any great length of time? And we started planning. And along the way, DC let it be known that they expected plans from the colleges and universities. I had my whole senior team. We met routinely as this went on. 

The good news was, we submitted a plan to DC early. They approved it early. And so we handled this with, I think, a good deal of professionalism. Nobody was right running around saying, “Oh my God, what's happening?” Let's just work through the issues here. And staying calm, working through it, figuring out what each step was, that we had to do was important.

Now, a couple of things that happened were equally important. One, we had not been the kind of university that did a lot of online. We have a good tech infrastructure. We use a learning management platform called Moodle. But frankly, face to face teaching was our hallmark. We always would say, I touch, I feel. 

Within the space of a week in March, our faculty changed all of their pedagogies and syllabi from face to face to remote. Some of the remote was online, some of it was just giving assignments, and occasionally being online. But nobody had done this before, and yet we completed the spring semester successfully. Everybody graduated. And we made it without blood spilled on the floor, and everybody stuck with it. So along came the Cares Act, which was great because the Cares Act really helped us. We got about a million and nine from it. And we gave a million dollars to have that to the students directly in the form of grants to help them. But we reserved a piece of it to pay the faculty to go to school in the summer. And I realized that one of the things the faculty needed, if this was going to continue, they needed to learn how to teach online. It couldn't be improv forever. So we actually put 200 faculty through an intensive summer program.

We paid them for it so that there were no complaints about that. They loved it. They started this fall semester so confident and feeling so successful that they could do this. Meanwhile, with the students, I'm a big fan of survey monkeys. I'm sending out surveys every week, practically. I love to survey our students. So we surveyed them to find out what they needed and what kind of critique they would give to the faculty, and we fed that into all of the planning around how to do this. 

Most of our students said they did not want to come back until it was safe. Some of them did, however, want to come back. Some of them felt they could not be successful unless they saw their faculty members. 

So we developed a plan that has what we're calling multimodal. We do everything. Most of our professional classes now are fully online. Some are hybrid and a lot of our full time undergrad, especially for our freshmen and sophomores. A lot of those classes are face to face. The classrooms are spaced, everybody's masked up, but it's going great. We've been very successful. We have not had any significant challenges with coronavirus. 

We have a group of students living in residence about 175 of them. And this is a very respectful community. You read about the big universities with the pub crawls and the frat parties, nobody's masked up. And we've never had that tradition here. We've always been a little more sedate. Maybe because we're a women's college. Our students are mostly not Catholic, but maybe the Catholic thing hangs on.

But it's also been said that many students from black and Hispanic communities are also aware of the great dangers. There is a clear racial inequity in which communities are affected by Coronavirus. So it is more likely that someone coming onto this campus not wearing a mask will be reminded by 10 people before they get to the front door to put it on.

We have great health services. We have partners with the hospitals, so we're doing great. So the other good news is our fall enrollment is up. We have not had an enrollment decline. We've had an enrollment increase.

Our admissions office thinks that because we're now online, that we're able to reach more adults and professional students, especially. And so strategically, we've started a new round of strategic planning. And this new round of planning, it started with the questions, what have we learned? What do we leave behind before the pandemic? And what do we take forward after the pandemic? 

And as our deans and senior staff answered that question. What's very clear is we take forward all of the virtual learning and all of the, what we've learned about online, learning and teaching. We will still have face to face, but it will be part of the toolkit and not the only toolkit anymore.

We have learned that, staff actually, and this surprised me cause I was old fashioned enough to believe that staff had to show their faces every day. I was wrong. Staff actually have been more productive in the remote work environment than by being forced to come every day. We adopted the policy immediately back on March 10th that no one would be forced to come here.

Students, faculty, staff, that every person was empowered to choose whatever modality they felt safest in, and that we would design work and learning and teaching around that. That's important. Giving people the autonomy to make choices while being clear that we said, well, if you choose to work at home, that's great, but you still have to give us eight hours. And we have to see it to see the productivity from that.

It made them so happy. And you know this, happy employees, happy faculty, happy students, they'll be successful. And we've been successful. And the other thing is we've also had some great benefactors who have given us some very wonderful, special gifts to help us through this period of time.

We're not a wealthy place. I don't have a contingency fund of any kind. So having a few extra dollars to help us through it, has been great.

Mahan Tavakoli: Well, Trinity is fortunate to have an experienced leader that has led reinvention in the past. To be leading another re-invention at this point, leading the organization forward. 

You've already shared a lot of brilliant leadership insights Pat. Just wondering if you were having a conversation with the younger Pat or younger leaders, aspiring leaders that want to be as impactful as you have been. What recommendations, what leadership insights would you share? 

Patricia McGuire: A couple of things that I still have to work on every day actually. But I would have told my younger self. On the first day that I was president of Trinity, I called a faculty meeting and I walked into the faculty meeting and I gave a glorious speech about the future and my vision and how we were all gonna get there together. 

And at the end of the speech, I remember it well because there was no air conditioning in our grade hall at that time. This was the old Trinity. We were sweating bullets. It was August, but I was giving a glorious speech. And at the end of the speech, the faculty sat there and looked at me.

There was no clapping. There was no response. And they got up and walked out of the room. And I turned to the Dean and I said, “What just happened?” 

And she said to me, “Do not ever speak to them like that again.”

And that was a hard lesson for me, because I thought, follow me, men and women let's do this. You know, I'm a lawyer, I came out of the legal tradition of giving the opening and closing arguments. And I had to learn, and if I knew then what I know now, I had to learn how not to give all the speeches all the time. How not to be walking into a meeting and telling everybody what to do or what they should think. How to allow the group, the wisdom of the crowd to emerge. How to recognize who needed to be allowed to speak even if it was an opposition, even if it was a terrible idea, they needed to be heard. So my younger self needed to learn that I didn't know how to do that, and that was one thing. 

The related piece of that, it is absolutely related to this. I did not know how to read the room when I was younger. I would go in and give those speeches and I would be completely oblivious to what I call the bubble above each person's head. So I'd be giving a speech about moving to a new enrollment market, and the bubble above somebody's head was why isn't she fixing the leak in my office. Or why is she allowing students to park in my space in the faculty parking lot.

And I learned that people sit in meetings, looking and nodding, and they're not paying the remotest bit of attention to what you're saying. And that's another reason to engage them because in terms of learning styles, if people get to engage, then the bubbles above their head are about the conversation they're engaged in, and not hamburgers for lunch. So I had to learn that piece along with not giving speeches. And I still have to remind myself sometimes because like all leaders, I want it done yesterday, and sometimes I have to be patient. 

I also had to learn patience. I had to learn how to be me. Okay, so having said that I had to learn how not to give speeches. I had to learn how to interpret human behavior. I also had to be honest and authentic and not be what other people wanted me to be. 

I remember a delegation of older alumni in my first year came to visit me to tell me about how to dress, how to tone it down, how to be this kind of woman or something, I don't know, and for a while I tried to do what they asked and I was miserable. I was terrible at it. I didn't like it and I finally decided,  to hell with that. I have to be me. But I can be me while also learning and growing. And that's the part of the nuance. I can be me, but I don't have to give all the speeches. I can be me, but I need to understand that Sam across the table is having a hard time and I need to stop. And that's important for leaders to be authentic while also not being egotistical, I guess is part of it.

Mahan Tavakoli: What fabulous lessons Pat, sort of in closing, are there any leadership resources, books, anything that you recommend to people when they ask you about leadership? What do you recommend for them to pursue?

Patricia McGuire: Well, this is gonna sound probably odd for a woman leader. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of biographies of women leaders.

I love historical biography. So I read a lot of biographies about leaders. Good leaders. Bad leaders. There are not that many about women, unfortunately. But I love Churchill's biography. Anything about Churchill. I've read anything about Teddy Roosevelt. I read Franklin Roosevelt. I went through all the T E Lawrence biographies at one point.

You can learn so much by reading, and learning about how other leaders did their jobs. And some of the things you learn is that most of them, whether it's George Washington or Lyndon Johnson or any one of them, forget about being men and they all failed at a lot of things. So it's also important to be comfortable with the idea that failure also is part of leadership.

I say to my team all the time, “You know, if you bat 500, you go to the whole thing. And batting 500 means you strike out half the time. So let's not obsess about our strikeouts.” Look at George Washington, he lost most of the battles he fought. Churchill was a terrible tactician. He lost some of the greatest battles. Being comfortable with failure as part of what you learn as a leader and how to cope with that, so you don't get down on yourself.

So I would say read voraciously, read everything, study other leaders. Take a look at what makes Angela Merkel tick, what made Margaret Thatcher tick, whether you like or not. Hillary Clinton, what keeps these women going? So read a lot, listen a lot, be open to learning from others. Those are my tips. 

Mahan Tavakoli: What wonderful advice and thank you for your leadership over the years, impactful leadership, Pat. And thank you very much for sharing so much of yourself and your leadership wisdom with the partnering leadership community.

Thank you, President Pat McGuire. 

Patricia McGuire: Thank you Mahan Tavakoli, it's been wonderful to be with you. And thank you for all of the leadership and wonderful resources you have brought all these years to our Washington community. You too have been a great leader, and I've learned from you, watching you. Thank you for letting me be part of this.

Mahan Tavakoli: Thank you, Pat.

Patricia McGuireProfile Photo

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University

Patricia McGuire has been President of Trinity since 1989. Previously, she was the Assistant Dean for Development and External Affairs for Georgetown University Law Center, where she was also an adjunct professor of law. Earlier, she was project director for Georgetown ‘s D.C. Street Law Project. She was also a legal affairs commentator for the award-winning CBS children’s newsmagazine “30 Minutes” and the Fox Television program “Panorama.”

President McGuire earned her B.A. in Political Science cum laude from Trinity College and her J.D. from the Georgetown University. She is currently a member of the boards of directors of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Washington Metropolitan Consortium of Universities, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, Catholic Charities of D.C., the Ameritas Mutual Holding Company. Prior board service includes the D.C. College Success Foundation, Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, Goodwill of Greater Washington, the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, the Washington Hospital Center, the American Council on Education, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Defense Intelligence College, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

In 2014, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appointed President McGuire to the U.S. Department of Education Advisory Committee on Student Financial Aid. She previously served as a member of the Independent Governance Advisory Panel for the American Red Cross. In June 1998, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin appointed President McGuire to serve as a member of the first-ever citizens’ advisory panel on coinage, the 8-member Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee, which recommended the image of Sacagawea for the new dollar coin.

President McGuire has received honorary degrees from Georgetown University, Howard University, Chatham University, Emmanuel College, Saint Michael’s College, College of New Rochelle, Liverpool Hope University, Mt. Aloysius College and College of St. Elizabeth.

In 2018 the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities honored President McGuire with the Association’s Presidents’ Distinguished Service Award. In 2016, the TIAA Institute honored President McGuire with the Hesburgh Award. In 2015, the Carnegie Corporation honored President McGuire with the Carnegie Award for Academic Leadership. In 2012, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities recognized President McGuire’s leadership in higher education with the Henry Paley Award. In 2010, the American Association of University Professors recognized President McGuire’s defense of academic freedom with the Alexander Meiklejohn Award. In 2007, the Greater Washington Board of Trade honored President McGuire with the “Leader of the Years” award.

Trinity Washington University (historically Trinity College, Washington, D.C.) is the leading woman-centered academic institution in the Washington region, now serving a majority of Black and Latina students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Trinity’s signature programs include the Conway Scholars Program in Nursing; the Trinity Global Leadership Initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation; the Inclusive Excellence in STEM initiative funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and a new project known as Trinity DARE: Driving Actions for Racial Equity.