Esteemed U prof stays the course

A fixture of the University for the last 28 years, women’s history professor Sara Evans is a rarity in modern academia – a professor who has shown loyalty to her institution.

Last month, the University of Florida released its annual report on the nation’s research universities, in which the University of Minnesota fell in faculty rankings. Some attribute this decline to other universities offering more-lucrative salaries for faculty positions.

But for more than a quarter of a century, Evans said, she has built her career at the University of Minnesota as a teacher and writer. She was hired in 1976 as one of the first professors in the nation to teach women’s history.

Evans has had a noteworthy career at the University of Minnesota. A professor, author and noted activist, she is also a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and became a Regent’s Professor this summer – the highest faculty award given to a University of Minnesota professor.

“I was amazed and humbled. The honor reflects not only on the individual faculty member but also on the department and college they represent,” she said.

Living as an author, professor and activist

Evans is an internationally recognized writer. She is an author of many books, and her “Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America” has been translated into several languages, including Korean and Japanese.

As a tenured faculty member, Evans said she is expected to publish.

“It’s my job at a research university,” she said, noting that for a professor at the University of Minnesota to receive tenure, he or she must publish at least one book.

To make time for her writing and research, Evans rarely teaches during the summer term and occasionally lives on only nine months’ salary.

“You have to give yourself time to wrestle with material and write yourself into corners,” Evans said.

Evans’ books have received national and international acclaim. Seminars based on her works take place around the world.

University of Minnesota professor Lisa Norling used Evans’ book, “Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America,” as the main text for her women’s studies class.

“There are many textbooks for American women’s history, and ‘Born for Liberty’ is one of the best of them,” Norling said.

“Professor Evans is also one of the most-important founders of the whole field of American women’s history, and she’s right here at the University of Minnesota.”

Born in South Carolina, Evans grew up in the middle of the segregated South and, at a very early age, believed segregation was wrong, she said.

With a strong interest in African studies, Evans became an active participant in the social movements of the 1960s, including the civil rights and women’s movements.

“I was able to act on the values I was raised with,” she said.

She said she took part in a kneel-in at a Baptist church and the Selma march in Alabama. She said she also became a member in one of the first women’s liberation groups in the country.

Staying put

Evans said that in the 1960s, there were no women’s history courses. Rather, the entire discipline was founded by a wave of scholars who had questions about the past.

“Women need to know that women like them shaped history,” Evans said.

Evans said the University of Minnesota has been supportive throughout her career.

She said she has had the opportunity to leave the University of Minnesota for other jobs but has decided to stay because this university nourishes its faculty.

Evans said she is worried about the University of Minnesota’s falling faculty ratings, which she fears could harm its quality of education and student support.

But she’s quick to say it is not the University of Minnesota’s fault.

“States across the country have declining support for higher education,” Evans said. “The state needs to work hard to keep brilliant faculty.”


– Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]