Q&A with Dr. Karen Boroff, “On Being in Charge”

Dr. Karen Boroff is a lot of things. A scholar, a mother, an administrator, a Catholic, and a wise soul, among others. Despite all these roles, most Seton Hall students know her as the woman who delivers the bad news via email. She’s been working here since 1989, but it turns out a lot of students here don’t know much about her – until now.

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IS: What do you have your degree in? Where did you go to school?

KB: I studied at Cornell University. I was supposed to start out as a biology major, however, the summer after I graduated high school. I worked at a small little Italian restaurant. I got intrigued by this notion of someone owning their own business, providing jobs to people. So as I began my studies as a college freshman, I already knew that I wanted to transfer out of biology and into a business program. After that I went to get my MBA at Lehigh University, and then my PhD at Columbia.

IS: How long have you been working at Seton Hall?

KB: I came here in 1989, and I’ve worked here ever since. I started out as a faculty member in the Stillman School of Business, and then rose through the ranks there. I ended up serving as dean of the school for 10 years, but in 2010 I went back to working on the faculty and was thoroughly enjoying that when I was asked to step up as interim provost in 2016.

IS: What’s the hardest thing about being interim provost?

KB: Wishing I had the funds to do everything I want to do. There are many good ideas, many things we could move on, but some things we just don’t have the funds for. So, then I have to start thinking, “How can I serve the community with what I have? How can students get the very best quality with the tuition that they’re paying?” Because, you know, there’s not a lot of slack for mistakes. And another thing: something that has always weighed heavily on me is that students have 120 credits to complete, that’s a scarce resource, and how can I make sure that there are no throw-aways? How can I help students make the most of their time here?

IS: What’s the best?

KB: The people. I enjoy working with everyone on the faculty and in the administration. This job has an array of feedback loops, and I enjoy discussing things with people who are kind and competent.

IS: Do you have any funny stories regarding your job?

KB: Not so much my current job per se, but there is something that involves my son. I remember when I was working as dean of the Stillman School, my son was studying at West Point, and you know there the academic dean is equivalent to the rank of a general. So, my son is a freshman in college, and he’s talking to his roommates about what their parents do. It comes up that I’m the dean of the business school. So, my son’s friends just assumed I was a general as well. And well, I didn’t dissuade them from that thinking.

IS: Do you think it’s hard being a woman in your position? Do you think you’re seen as meaner because you’re a woman?

KB: Totally. Small little things can get to me. For example, just last week I was at a Board of Regents meeting. I said something, this man reiterates the same thing. Stuff like that happens all the time.

IS: Do you have any advice for young women pursuing positions of power?

KB: It’s going to be hard. Quality wins. There will be people who cut corners, glad-hand, “be in the club,” and you’ll be the woman in the corner thinking, “Well what about me?” Be at peace with yourself, at the end of the day you are all that you have.

IS: What’s the best thing about being a mother?

KB: It’s kind of like gardening. Being a mother is just as much of a learning process for me as it is for them, and it continues to be even though both my children are adults. It can take a long time before something blooms, just like learning. And I’m so proud of them, you know, my son served in the Army in Afghanistan and my daughter was the first female platoon officer in combat arms in Iraq. I love watching them live their lives.

IS: Do you think being a mother yourself helps you do your job better?

KB: Most definitely. Motherhood teaches you patience, and college is a long game. I think patience is something that women uniquely bring to the table in work environments.

IS: Biggest lesson you’ve learned in adulthood?

KB: Knowing yourself. Being self-aware. You start to work yourself up if you’re not following the same timeline as everyone else. Everyone is on their own path, and things have a way of falling into place. I’ve also learned to utilize my own personal gifts. I’ve been blessed with the gift of energy – I always have to be working on something – but it might be different for other people. Use your gifts.

IS: If you could give every student on this campus a piece of advice what would it be?

KB: Invest in yourself. You have to apply the “sweat equity.” You have so much at Seton Hall that you can utilize, so do it. You must be an entrepreneur of yourself, no one is going to do it for you.

Isabel Soisson can be reached at isabel.soisson@student.shu.edu.

Author: Isabel Soisson

Isabel Soisson is a journalism major from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She currently serves as News Editor of The Setonian, in addition to interning at CNBC. She also studied voice for 6+ years and still continues to on the side.

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