As Dean Judy Mitchell’s family and the college prepare for Friday’s memorial service, condolences are flowing in from around the country. George Murdock echoed the feelings of many in the following eloquent remembrance:
Judy Mitchell was already past the point at which most professionals bid farewell to their careers and fade off into the sunset of retirement.
As the senior dean at Washington State University, Mitchell was instead more interested in continuing her crusade of forging a new identity and mission for the College of Education than she was in surrendering to the lure of a less hectic existence. And because of her tireless efforts, she was making dramatic headway. During a meeting of her Advocacy Board last Spring, she proudly led the group to the area of Cleveland Hall where a new generation of major donors are being acknowledged for their contributions. Mitchell was a strong believer that discretionary contributions were a vital part of advancing the future of her college. Driven by that belief, she devoted a quarter of her time to traveling wherever necessary to advance the visibility, the credibility, and the potential of the College of Education.
As individuals make career choices, they contemplate such options as power, influence, and wealth. Most of those who choose education, also choose the opportunity for influence. Therefore, by its very nature, the College of Education is not a breeding ground for graduates who are likely to amass fortunes in the economic sense of the term. But Mitchell understood clearly that regardless of where WSU graduates might direct themselves, education was a universal asset and a fundamental part of the bigger picture. While some would choose to use their education for success in the world of business, without teachers, the equation simply won’t work.
Academic types are often chided for being distant from the public school classrooms where American education finds its roots. Mitchell understood that challenge and sought to create a college which was in tune with its fundamental constituents. She constantly encouraged her staff to reach out to local school districts and she actively promoted research that would improve the delivery of instruction.
Land Grant colleges, by nature, are designed to play a vital role in advancing the welfare and quality of life of those they serve. Judy Mitchell was a perfect choice to carry out that mission on behalf of public education and on behalf of the university she served with distinction. The news of her sudden and unexpected death shocked both the education community and the university family.
For my own part, according to Judy, I was the second Washington school administrator she met after accepting the position as dean of the College of Education. We’ve laughed about that first meeting over the years because she found me a bit irreverent regarding our profession. In return, while she was always considerably more professional and dignified in her deportment, she had a certain gleam in her eye and a guarded penchant for candor and even mischief that those who knew her best admired most about her leadership.
Change is never about preserving the status quo nor about a reverence toward the way things have always been done. Judy knew that and that understanding permeated her approach to her job. Washington State University is richer because she was willing to spend eleven years reshaping the College of Education. Her friends are richer because our paths crossed and she touched our lives.
George has many perspectives on the college. A WSU alumnus, he met Dean Mitchell when he was superintendent of schools in Pasco. He later became a trustee of the WSU Foundation, a member of the Education Advocacy Board, and an ardent promoter of the the Dean’s Excellence Fund. This spring, he was hired as superintendent of the Douglas Educational Service District in Roseburg, Oregon. He has also worked as a journalist, most recently as editor of the East Oregonian.