By Leah Jones, Features Editor


As finals impend, classes draw to a close, students graduate, and The Current publishes its last newspaper of the semester, endings are abundant around the University of Missouri–St. Louis’s campus. However, the adage that endings are also beginnings rang true at UMSL’s fourth “Last Lecture” series.  The Office of Student Involvement hosted the lecture on April 25 at 7 p.m. in the Millennium Student Center (MSC) Century Rooms. This year, the event featured Dr. Joyce Marie Mushaben, the new College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) professor of global studies and Curator’s Distinguished Professor for comparative politics.

In 2007, Randy Pausch gave the first “Last Lecture,” titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” as he was dying from pancreatic cancer.  Pausch, who worked as a Carnegie Mellon professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design, was known for his passionate and inspired teaching. His “Last Lecture” captured this enthusiasm and has since inspired other follow-up last lecture series, including the “Last Lecture” series at UMSL.

Mushaben received the honor from the nominations by her students Abby Naumann, senior, foreign language, and Victoria Williams, junior, political science. Both women introduced Mushaben before she spoke. Williams lauded Mushaben’s The Politics of the European Union course, claiming that the course changed the way that she thought. Both said that though Mushaben challenged them academically and intellectually, they were grateful for how hard Mushaben pushed them.

Williams stated later in an interview that “[Mushaben] is an inspiration [.] She pushes you to never settle and always stand up for what is right… Don’t cheat yourself. Always study because you will short yourself out in the long run.”

Mushaben’s dedication to students does not end with her simply pushing them. She has also worked to provide students with new opportunities, such as helping to develop the new global studies certificates, which Mushaben said will give students an edge in the job market.

Mushaben then took the stage to deliver her lecture, titled “The Challenges of Everyday Resistance.” Mushaben is familiar with the topic, having devoted herself not only to studying, but also to actively participating in protest movements, including the Women’s March on Washington in January of this year.

Mushaben’s scholarly interest in protests spans back to her dissertation at Indiana University (IU), in which she explored how student activists in Germany democratized universities and the political culture in Germany in the 1960’s.  Before Mushaben arrived at UMSL for her job interview, Dr. Elinor Ostram of IU warned Mushaben to tone down her feminism for the job talk. While Mushaben managed to not talk about feminism for two days, she said, “That was the first and last time that I deliberately kept quiet about my feminism.”

Shortly after joining UMSL in 1980, Mushaben informally served on a committee to impeach Chancellor Arnold Grobman  (who served from 1975-1985) for what she called his inability to dig the university out of the growing budget cuts that plagued the university at the time. During her second year at UMSL, she was elected to the university senate. As the budget cuts increased, administrators talked about cutting university faculty. A faculty member from the chemistry department suggested that the assistant professors, those whom had been hired the most recently, be let go first. Mushaben pointed out that besides violating federal laws, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that this would disproportionately affect women and minorities, since they had been hired most recently.  Mushaben said that The Current ran a picture of Mushaben at this meeting on the first page of the paper that week, marking the beginning of Mushaben’s features in the paper.

Mushaben continued to stand up for feminism and women’s rights as one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Studies Program at UMSL. At the time, women professors were not given paid maternity leave, and so had to obtain external funding through research grants to support themselves while they bore children. “We all faced discrimination problems within our departments; in music, in biology, in mathematics, [in] psychology, and certainly in political science, but that just made all of us work three times harder to prove that we had the same or equal qualifications,” she said. “We often out-published our male colleagues, but still got smaller raises.”

While she worked for women’s rights on UMSL’s campus, she continued to work for the rights of others as well as her research turned to the anti-nuclear weapons movement in Germany. In studying the movement, Mushaben camped at protesters’ sites in Stuttgart, Germany, from which nuclear missiles stronger than the ones which the United States dropped on Japan during World War II could have been launched and reached Moscow in a matter of minutes.  She also worked to understand peace and ecology movements in East Germany, much to the chagrin of the Stasi, the East German secret police. The Stasi interrogated and kept a file on Mushaben, declaring her an enemy of the socialist state. After the fall of the Berlin wall, a friend of Mushaben gave her the file for her birthday.

During this time that the Stasi labelled Mushaben as a threat abroad, a faculty member in the political science department, whom Mushaben said is still employed at UMSL, labelled her a “feminazi” at home. Despite this, she joined the Nuclear Freeze Movement and was able to bring internationally significant visiting scholars to UMSL. She spoke out against then-president Reagan’s Strategic Defense (Star Wars) Initiative, which sought to develop advanced anti-ballistic missile systems to prevent nuclear missile attacks on the United States. The controversial futuristic laser defense system could have raised tensions between the United States and Russia during the already tense Cold War period.  

Mushaben also said that she “had the audacity” to ask students to not smoke at a campus event, prompting her a feature in The Current. In addition to being featured in The Stagnant as “Professor MuchRaving,” Mushaben said that an article referred to her as the “communist instructor hanging out with sleazeballs from the German movement, who doesn’t deserve to teach anywhere.”  Despite these criticisms, two students wrote letters to The Current in Mushaben’s defense.

Mushaben continued to fight these labels and struggles at UMSL into the 1990’s. “By [then], some people in my department were so hell-bent on denying me raises and promotions that I tried a couple of times to file a lawsuit,” she said, though she was unable to get support for the lawsuit. She also married, had children, and refused to teach night classes, as the UMSL childcare center closed at 5 p.m.

However, after the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, as a scholar who had done extensive research in Germany, Mushaben became an international media sensation, appearing on stations such as NPR, CBC, NBC, and CBC. During this time, Mushaben’s husband lived in Ohio, she so brought her son with her to all of the international conferences which she attended.

Despite these successes, Mushaben said that she still clashed with the political science department, waiting 12 years before being put up for a promotion, and then having the promotion postponed halfway through it. “I had more grant offers than I could accept to study German unification, but a former chair of political science tried to deny me a pre-negotiated raise [which was] on file in the dean’s office, declaring that my many international grants were ‘proof of my lack of collegiality’,” she said.

In response to this, Mushaben began documenting salary discrimination against herself and two other people in the political science department who studied foreign politics. This prompted Dean Mark Burkholder to commission a study in 2001, which found that women faculty members earned an average of $8,000 – $9,000 less than male faculty members at UMSL. “Hit with yet another budget crisis, campus administrators, including female Chancellor Blanche Touhill, did nothing to remedy that pay gap,” Mushaben said.

Mushaben pointed out that the wage gap at UMSL today has grown to over $16,000 on average. According to the UMSL Factbook, which was updated in the Fall of 2016, women professors had an average salary of $88,644, compared to an average $105,724 for men professors.

Still not silent about feminism, Mushaben also said that she was involved in the University of Missouri System’s first policy that bannedviolence against women for UM athletes. While UM president Elson Floyd was the first to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Mushaben wrote Floyd a letter expressing her disgust after MU basketball player Ricky Clemons was invited to a fourth of July party at the president’s official residence in Columbia. Clemons had recently pled guilty to assault against his former girlfriend. Not only did Clemens violate his parole, but as Mushaben said, “A man who had pleaded guilty to choking and imprisoning a woman should have never been invited to a party at the UM president’s residence.”

In 2002, Mushaben took over as the Director of the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies. She hired the current director, Dr. Kathleen Butterly Nigro, associate teaching professor in sociology, gerontology, and gender, and director of gender studies at UMSL, who took over after Dr. Sally Ebest, Founder’s professor of English.

“Smart move on my part,” Mushaen said on hiring Nigro. “We tripled enrollments. We doubled our endowment. I brought in $80,000 to host international visiting scholars from Germany, Mexico, and Ireland, and I single-handedly raised enough money for a matching $30,000 Women and Leadership Scholarship Fund.”

Later disagreements about funding led to a schism between Mushaben and some of the humanities faculty within the department, causing her to leave the department.

While Mushaben has always held herself accountable for speaking out about the wrongs that she saw around her, these wrongs continued to proliferate, with Mushaben highlighting plagiarizing journalists, lying academics, fabricating politicians and cheating students. “Had these actions become so socially acceptable that we had to make our students promise in writing that they would not cheat so that we could legally fail [them] if [they] did?” Musahben asked. “Cheating and plagiarism are not shortcuts to learning. If you do engage in such activities, even if you think you can get away with it, you are only cheating yourself, or else, cheating the people who are paying your tuition. You are not getting a real learning experience.”

Mushaben said that the courage to stand up for these wrongs is not easy to acquire. “Human beings are not born with courage. Too often we confuse courage with adrenaline or testosterone. You have to plant the seeds of courage in yourself. You have to nurture it everyday. You have to protect it from the little vermin…You want it to be there when it is time for you to make a really hard decision in your life,” she said. “Courage is a matter of learning by doing. You start to develop your own courage by telling a professor, in front of the whole class, that a sexist comment, or a stereotypical joke about Muslims, or a gay-bashing cartoon on the overhead projector is unacceptable…Professors may be smart people, but we are far from perfect.”

Though these situations may be difficult, Mushaben said that people cannot afford to be silent anymore. “There are so many awful things happening to so many vulnerable people in this country right now that I am sure you are going to get all the practice that you need in order to succeed in making that really hard decision. You may even experience retaliation, like delayed promotions, and salary discrimination,” she said.

While the onus for developing courage falls on individuals, Mushaben said that it also falls on the people around those individuals. “It also requires parents, teachers, professors, editors, and bosses who do their jobs, rigorously jumping to ensure that you are doing the right thing, every time, all of the time,” she said.

Mushaben also asked that students become aware of how privileged they are to be attending college, considering the hunger and poverty that afflicts millions of people not only around the globe, but also within Missouri as well. However, Mushaben said that people should not give up despite these sobering statistics. “[Do not] wallow in the feeling that because you cannot save the whole world, you may as well just give up and be happy in your own social media bubble. Get off the damn cell phones and pick just one cause; one cause that impels you to volunteer at least once a semester. Zoom in on something that already makes you feel passionate, or kind of sort of could make you feel passionate. The personal is the political,” she said. “Besides that, community service is going to look great on your resume.”

“Be kind to each other,” Mushaben concluded. “Do not allow others to pretend that hate speech is merely an effort to exercise their constitutional right to free expression guaranteed by the first amendment. People will not always like you when you stand up over and over again for what you believe…. They will, however, begin to respect you, and sometimes even trust you.  Others will be cheering secretly for you in the back row…Find your own small group, and start committing right here, right now.”

On October 14, 2014, Mushaben’s husband passed away. “Less than 48 hours after my husband died in my bedroom, I showed up fully prepared to teach my senior seminar. Stop making excuses, I would say, if this were my last lecture. Be responsible,” Mushaben said.

While Mushaben’s “Last Lecture” message hits a relevant note as finals and the last day of classes approach, her message and research becomes even more poignant as concerns about international nuclear conflict grow as they did during her protests in Germany. Despite these looming challenges for students and the international community, as Mushaben said, students and individuals not only have the agency, but also the responsibility, to develop courage within themselves and face these challenges.