This semester, ACU has welcomed Dr. Allison Garrett to its family to fill the role of executive vice president. Garrett, who was formerly the senior vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma Christian University, is now filling the position that was last occupied by Dr. Phil Schubert, president of ACU.
“She’s going to bring new ideas and thoughts to the table–she’s an experienced leader– I feel like God brought us the right person for the job and that she’ll bring a positive change to ACU,” Schubert said.
As Garrett took on her new role, she said she perceived that this university has made great strides over the last couple of decades and is really poised for some great things in the future that she is excited to be part of.
Making the Move
Garrett held a very respected and influential position at Oklahoma Christian. She oversaw three colleges and, last year, was one of two finalists considered for the presidency at Oklahoma Christian.
“I’m really excited to be here at ACU because ACU is doing so many innovative things and it’s going to be fun to play in new sandboxes,” Garrett said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know some of my colleagues because my sense is that Dr. Schubert has assembled a really talented team of people.”
Schubert said Garrett will be taking on a significant portion of the internal operations of the university, allowing him to spend more time Â representing the university and working to secure the resources needed to fund ACU’s mission and vision.
“Her role is ensuring strong financial operations, building a strong image for ACU through marketing and helping achieve a quality campus environment for learning to occur,” Schubert said.
Lessons Learned at Wal-Mart
Garrett has filled a variety of roles in her lifetime. After graduating law school, Garrett took a job at a law firm and was immersed in a case involving a huge security fraud scandal that victimized many Hollywood celebrities and was covered for months by the Wall Street Journal.
Before getting into higher education, Garrett spent over 10 years working as the general counsel for corporate legal services at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. where she worked on many of the deals that allowed Wal-Mart to expand into several different countries. She also served as the company’s vice president for benefits compliance and planning where she managed a budget of over $550 million.
“I was intrigued after reading her resume and biography; the combination of her business experience in the legal world and at Wal-Mart combined with her five years as provost gave her a unique combination of strong academic understanding and business and legal background,” Schubert said. “She looked like a stellar candidate for a leadership role.”
Garrett also worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington DC before entering into leadership roles in higher education, serving as a provost and professor, as well as filling other high administrative positions.
“I think the single most important thing in any job is to treat people with a lot of respect,” Garrett said.
As a professor for business law, Garrett said she really enjoyed getting to know the students.
“I tried to have a lot of fun and do some crazy things in class,” Garrett said. “Because business law can be a deadly boring subject if you’re not careful.”
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
When Garrett went into the practice of law in the mid-80s, she was one of two women at a firm of more than 30 lawyers. In many of the positions she has held, she has been a pioneer in breaking through the barriers placed before women in the workplace. This carried on to her consideration for the presidency at Oklahoma Christian.
“I was excited to have the opportunity to, maybe not break the glass ceiling, but to crack it and I felt fairly confident that I would at least get a serious look,” Garrett said. “I don’t know if women have applied for positions of presidencies at Church of Christ schools in the past, but I thought it would be nice to cause people to start thinking a little differently than maybe they have been thinking.”
Garrett said she is fairly confident that, in the next few years, there will be a female board chair for at least one of the universities affiliated with the Churches of Christ. She said it is a really different world today that is offering more opportunities for women in leadership.
“ACU is blessed to have several very talented female board members,” Garrett said. “In higher education, just as in other industries, women have made a lot of progress over the past couple of decades, but women often still face unique challenges in the workforce.”
Fighting for Religious Liberty
Earlier this year, Garrett testified before Congress against the proposal that women should have access to low cost contraceptives at the expense of violating their employer’s religious beliefs.
“I’ve never really dabbled in politics or that particular issue but I felt strongly about the issue of religious liberty,” Garrett said. “There are other ways for the government to reach this same end without making people violate their First Amendment rights.”
Garret said she believes religious liberty is crucial to this country and to Americans as individuals.
“It’s one of the things that makes it so wonderful to live here and it’s important that those of us who are Christians be able to exercise our religion,” Garrett said.
Words of Wisdom
Garrett encouraged students to take advantage of the networking possibilities here at ACU and also advised that students follow their interests.
“Look for connections, if someone were to come to me with a strange assortment of skills and interests, I know that somewhere out there is the perfect job for that person,” Garrett said. “Really follow your interests and see what kinds of connections you can make.”
Garrett said, as a student, she probably did not even know that the position she now fills existed. It was a process of seeking her passions that brought her to where she is now.
“Don’t let your job get in the way of you living your life as a Christian and don’t let it get in the way of your family or even at work just being able to enjoy your colleagues,” Garrett said. “In a bigger company you occasionally get to see the bad side and it is so important not to sacrifice your principles.”
Garrett also said humor is a great tension dissipater for really awkward discussions and that she believes in figuring out ethical alternatives for reaching the same means that others may try to solve by unethical methods.
Looking at where Garrett has come from, she brings a rich and varied history of experience to her position serving ACU.
“The exciting thing is that I really feel like I can make a difference,” Garrett said. “A lot of people talk about multiplying their impact, and when you work in a place with amazing young people who can go out into the world, what little you do can have this multiplier effect and it’s really exciting to influence people who are making decisions about where their life is going to take them.”
“She has an incredible understanding of Christian higher education and gets who we are,” Schubert said. “She knows what we stand for, her own personal values and integrity promote God and higher education. I’m excited and thankful for what she can do for ACU.”