Guided by an Open-Minded Approach

Jean Morrison, PhD ’76 serves as the Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Boston University. Her career in higher education has been guided by an open-minded approach to pursuing opportunities that began when she was a student on campus at George School.

In reflecting on her time at George School, Jean said, “I loved my time at George School. I made lifelong friends who I still keep in touch with. I remember playing field hockey and lacrosse, and living with the Waters family in Brown House, which had a wonderful family atmosphere that defined my George School residential experience. I had teachers that were spectacular—Russ Weimar ’48 (math) was one of our beloved teachers. I also did ceramics and still have, littered around my house today, many of the things that I made at George School in the ceramics studio. George School still permeates a lot of my space today.”

George School helped to foster an appetite for learning across all subject areas for Jean. “In some ways, my career in higher education was rather accidental,” Jean explained. “After George School, I went to Colgate University. I did not know what I wanted to major in and majored in just about everything. Then I stumbled upon Geology, and like my time at George School, had great teachers so I decided to major in Geology. That started me down the path of doing research, which led me to graduate school and eventually getting a PhD in Geology. I started as a professor at the University of Southern California and now at Boston University. It was not a pathway that I mapped out or had long term plans about, but at each juncture, the opportunities that I had led me in this direction.”

Jean’s career moved from the classroom into administration through an opportunity she had during her time as a faculty member at the University of Southern California. She was asked to take part in a brand-new program that was just getting started to help increase the number of women in science and engineering. “I was a female faculty member in science and engineering at USC, so a group of us put together a program that would help achieve the outcome of more women faculty in science and engineering,” explained Jean. “I ended up as the inaugural director of that program and after that role, one thing led to another and one administrative role led to the next and the next thereafter. Through a progressive series of opportunities and promotions, I found myself where I am now as the Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Boston University.”

Jean is proud of several educational innovations that have been implemented during her tenure at BU. “During my time as Provost, we have established a new general education program for Boston University undergraduates. It is the first truly university-wide general education program at BU, so all 16,000 undergraduate students take the same program to help provide breadth in their educational exposure and create critical learning pathways for them. That is one of the programs that we created at BU that is really important.”

“Another program that I am very excited about is the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, which is being led by Ibram X. Kendi,” continued Jean. “We recruited Professor Kendi because of his work establishing academic programs and efforts to help create antiracist programs and policies and eventually a society that is characterized by antiracist work here at Boston University. This is one of the most important things we are doing at BU,” said Jean. “It is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people, undergraduate, and graduate students at BU in this moment, that inspires me in the work that I do. I want to make sure that they have opportunities to be doing important and impactful work that is meaningful to them, so it is really important that we provide the education, training, and setting that allows students to excel and find their place in the world.”

“Being an educator comes with challenges,” continued Jean. “Right now, we are in a moment where there are real challenges to continuing to build a multiracial, democratic society. How we function as a true multiracial democracy, when we all do not agree that our actions and words have to be truthful, is the single biggest problem that we face today. We are working to use education to overcome those challenges and bring truth back into social discourse.”

Many George School graduates go on to work in education, and when asked what advice she could offer students who are interested in pursuing a career like hers, Jean offered, “Seize every opportunity that you come across, be engaged with as many different topics and areas that you can be so that the greater the breadth of your exposure, the better. You do want to choose one or two things that you have a real depth of knowledge in. Make sure that you do not narrow down your area of interest too soon.”

George School has so many unforeseen connections across the world. Jean shared an interesting George School anecdote about one such connection between George School and her daughter. “Neither of my children went to George School, but my daughter’s partner, who she met at college, went to George School as a day student. When she visited his family in Newtown, they visited George School’s campus and found my class picture and texted a photo of it to me. That is very small world stuff but an example of the GS connections we all have and experience,” Jean said.