In honor of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is featuring stories about the “Outstanding Women of UA Little Rock,” faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are serving as leaders and making a difference for the university and their communities.
Now in the No. 2 leadership spot at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Dr. Christina Drale, interim executive vice chancellor and provost, often contemplates how to be a good leader.
“As an academic leader, you can’t go anywhere without the faculty and staff,” Drale said. “In this position, you don’t go anywhere alone, and you can’t achieve those goals if you are the only one who has them.”
Drale doesn’t have to look far for inspiration since she keeps a doll of her role model, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on her desk.
“I really look up to Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” she said. “I just recently watched the documentary ‘RGB,’ and I was very impressed with her considerable legal abilities and her mind. She is so sharp and intelligent.”
Drale believes Ginsburg’s ability to conduct herself in a professional manner, a trait she tries to emulate, has been the key to her success.
“I’m also impressed with the way she conducts herself,” she said. “ One of the powers of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the absolute self-control she has in an environment where everyone expects her to be less than she is, to crumble, and to get angry at the injustice and unfairness of everything she’s encountered,” she said. “Her incredible self-control is how she prevailed. When you are a woman in a man’s world, there are so many minefields, so many ways to fail. I think her ability to face down the most outrageous discrimination and unfairness without losing control is amazing.”
After growing up in the Los Angeles area, Drale earned a Ph.D. in sociology, a Master of Arts in sociology, and a Bachelor of Arts in communications, all from the University of California, San Diego.
“It was somewhere toward graduation where I had an opportunity to work directly with professors, and I got the research bug,” she said. “At the time, there wasn’t a graduate department in communication (at UCSD), but my department was very interdisciplinary, and I was working with a lot of social scientists. I was invited to apply for graduate school, and I picked between psychology and sociology. I felt the kind of work I was doing was more on the sociology side. I entered the sociology program and made my way through it. Once I got into that program, I had decided I would stay in higher education and pursue that career.”
She took her first academic position at Missouri State University, where she stayed for nearly 20 years and served as chair of the Department of Art and Design as well as associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters.
“When I came to UA Little Rock, I was looking for another opportunity,” Drale said. “Angela Brenton (former dean of the College of Professional Studies) had worked at Missouri State for a year as a department chair. She called me one day and said, ‘Why don’t you come here and work for us?’ I had heard good things about UA Little Rock, and there was a personal connection with several people who had already come here. Angie had a really cohesive and great set of chairs she was working with, and it seemed like a very positive environment. (Chancellor Emeritus) Joel Anderson was very welcoming, and it seemed like a very good fit.”
Drale joined UA Little Rock in 2006 as associate dean of the College of Professional Studies before becoming the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs in 2011.
“I have most enjoyed the work I’ve done with faculty and staff groups,” she said. “Once I got into the provost’s office, we spent a lot of time on the restructuring of the colleges. It did give me an opportunity to work very closely with colleagues across the board. One of the parts I was responsible for was the operational transition. This meant that we had to rearrange budgets and staff, and we had to arrange something new that was fair to all the parties. We had to fit together a thousand puzzle pieces to make this work. It was a very positive outcome in the sense that we had a lot of involvement, and everyone tried to do what was best for the entities involved.”
Drale’s immediate projects are geared toward the university’s accreditation process, the Institutional Effectiveness Committee, and recruiting and retention efforts.
“I will say the accreditation process has brought together a broad array of participants and stakeholders,” she said. “I think we’ve done some very good work here. In most of the roles I’ve had at UA Little Rock, my role has been a supportive role. This position is the first leadership role where I have been in a position to set the agenda at UA Little Rock. My most immediate goal is to help the institution get through its current financial challenges to get the institution stabilized and refocused on its academic and student-based goals.”
On the national level, Drale has been encouraged by the wave of women who are running and being elected to political positions.
“Since this is Women’s History Month, I’ll say I’m really heartened to see all the women who have been running for public office, who have been stepping forward to lead,” Drale said. “I think that the more that women get into these environments, the more normal it will become. Right now, it’s not normal in most people’s minds. It’s like diversity. The more you mix it up and the more different kinds of people are working together, the more accepted and comfortable it will be to everyone. The sooner we can get past those artificial barriers the better.”
In the upper right photo, Athletic Director Chasse Conque (right) presents a signed game ball to Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Christina Drale (left) during a men’s basketball game at the Jack Stephens Center. Photo by Benjamin Krain.