Keeping an Open Mind
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Oct. 1, 2011
Keeping an Open Mind
This philosophy guides Trinity University political science professor Mary Ann Tétreault
October 2011 - Mary Ann Tétreault, the Cox Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at Trinity University, has had a long and distinguished career as a political scientist, but she also has learned an important lesson during her journey through college classrooms - be open minded. That philosophy permeates her personal beliefs as well as her teaching practice. She tells students to start with a framework that guides their thinking, but to consider a broad range of perspectives and ponder outcomes as they make decisions about political issues. Flexibility, as long as it is backed by sound reason and thorough examination, is a good thing, she says.
"I make jokes in class that on Monday, Wednesday, Friday I think 'this,' and on Tuesday, Thursday, I think 'this.' On Sunday, we have no ideas. We rest," Tétreault quips, adding that she does hold some constants, such the support of human rights and of sharing resources with people who are less fortunate.
"How many times I have changed my mind on policy questions?" she says. "When you teach, you have to represent something in a serious and logical way, and you present ideas you might not agree with. Years later, you think that's right and you shift." Tétreault advises students to be open to information from a variety of sources. "It means things are never settled."
Her quality of listening without judgment and being open to a range of ideas has endeared Tétreault to her students. A social fraternity selected her as "Professor of the Year" in 2009, and the University bestowed an advising award on her the same year. Students have given glowing testimonials of how Tétreault helps them gain self- confidence and reach their fullest potential and speak of "her patience, energy, enthusiasm, and sage advice."
She often relies upon graduates for feedback about internships, graduate programs, jobs, and lessons they wish they had learned as students. Tétreault compliments Trinity graduates for answering calls from current students and former professors, citing the example of a colleague planning to visit Ethiopia who was in need of housing. She contacted an alumnus who connected the student with an English-speaking cab driver and leads for a place to live.
Tetreault began in academia as a chemist and historian. As an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence, her roommate was Linda Hardberger, wife of former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger. Tétreault won a National Science Foundation scholarship to study politics after several years as a community activist. When she decided to go to graduate school, she was reading novels by author Larry McMurtry, a Rice University graduate, and she ended up there. "I was amazed in grad school," she says. "Political science was all new to me, and I loved it." She worked as a teaching assistant, and loved it, too. "There's something about a classroom and what students want to know."
Tétreault also found a curiosity about the oil industry and America's love-hate relationship with the Middle East because of oil. After writing her dissertation about the Arab oil exporters of the Persian Gulf, she earned a doctorate from Rice. In subsequent years, Tétreault was a Fulbright Fellow at Kuwait University in 1990, and Comenius University in Slovakia in 1996. She taught at Kitakyushu University, Old Dominion University, and Iowa State University before arriving at Trinity. She also has been a visiting professor at the American University of Kuwait and a fellow at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
Not one to shy away from unpleasant topics, Tétreault has taught courses that cover the torture of political prisoners, genocide, and espionage involving secrecy and government lies. "People believe what they see on TV. That astounds me. People are uncomfortable criticizing the government - why is that?"
Although she plans to retire from Trinity in the spring of 2012, she has designed two new courses, International Law and The Cold War through Film, which she has developed in partnership with Joy Rohde, assistant professor of history at Trinity. Tétreault says Trinity is "such a great place to work because you can do new things and it's encouraged to do new things. Plus, team-teaching is encouraged."
In retirement, she plans to return to her home in Vermont, travel, and visit friends. In hindsight, she has no regrets about leaving chemistry, saying that chemistry in that era was not hospitable to women. She plans to continue research, possibly delving more deeply into her work in Kuwait or going in another direction. She is donating a library of about 250 books to Trinity's planned women's center. Next April, Tétreault will be honored as the Distinguished Senior Scholar in Political Economy at the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Diego.
The Individual in World Politics
The Politics of Violent Conflict
Energy and the Environment
International Political Economy
Gender and IR
The Politics of Development
Political Change in the Arab Gulf States: Stuck in Transition, editor, with Gwenn Okruhlik and Andrzej Kapiszewski (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2011).
World Politics as if People Mattered, with Ronnie D. Lipschutz (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield), second edition, March 2009.
"Identity and Transplant-University Education in the Gulf: The American University of Kuwait," Journal of Arabian Studies 1(1) June 2011: 79-95.
"The Struggle to Achieve Arab Human Rights." Review essay, Human Rights in the Arab World: Independent Voices, ed. Anthony Chase and Amr Hamzawy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), Minerva 38, April 2011: 46-48.
"Paradoxes of Democratic Progress in Kuwait: The Case of the Kuwaiti Women's Rights Movement," co-author Doron Shultziner, Muslim World Journal of Human Rights 7(2) 2011, at http://www.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1192&context=mwjhr.
"Gulf Arab States' Investment of Oil Revenues," in Shifting Geo-Economic Power of the Gulf: Oil, Finance and Institutions, ed. and Matteo Legrenzi and Bessma Momani (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2011): 9-21.
"La Longue Durée and Energy Security in the Gulf." British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 36(3) December: 375-393. Reprinted in Security in the Gulf: Historical Legacies and Future Prospects, ed. Matteo Legrenzi (New York: Routledge, 2011): 41-59.