The Team Builder

September 2, 2011 FIU Foundation News No Comments

Founding faculty member Judy Blucker helped build FIU and its women’s athletics programs. Now, she’s leaving a gift for future generations of female athletes.

By Bryan Gilmer for FIU Magazine

Last spring, FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg was a guest at an FIU reunion hosted by retired faculty member Judy Blucker (seated) and her partner Annette Gathright. Photo: Steve Floethe.

Though Florida International University launched in 1972 – the same year Congress enacted Title IX requiring equal opportunities for college women to play sports – FIU athletics started with a handful of men’s intercollegiate squads and none for women.

Judy Blucker, an assistant professor in the College of Education, wondered why not. She played on a national champion Miami recreation softball team. As a Memphis State undergrad, club volleyball and basketball had given her leadership and teamwork skills she still uses daily. Men-only varsity sports seemed contrary to the progressive, inclusive culture she loved at Miami’s upstart university, where the faculty played coed Friday-afternoon pickup volleyball on an asphalt parking lot on the west side of campus.

So she went to the FIU Equal Opportunity Programs Office and “told the woman working there, ‘With Title IX coming on, we need to be offering women’s sports,’” Blucker recalls. “She asked me what Title IX was.” The incredulity still comes through in Blucker’s voice.

Blucker went straight to the administration, and soon, she was working with the athletic director to launch women’s varsity sports at FIU, coaching volleyball and softball herself. And very quickly, women’s golf gave FIU its first famous pro athlete.

“Every time they would mention her on television, they would say, ‘Pat Bradley, graduate of Florida International University,’” Blucker says. “And nobody knew what school that was.”

And if you know the now retired Judy Blucker from her 35-year career at FIU, it’s probably for something besides women’s sports.

By 1980, she’d turned over all her coaching duties to others to focus on what was to be a legendary career on FIU’s faculty and then in its administration. She gained a reputation as an executive who could step into quagmires or conflicts and foster consensus and enthusiasm. She could wield power and project authority in a way that elevated rather than diminished those who worked for her. She was known as self-assured, straightforward. Open to everyone’s opinion, but decisive.

“She took a lot of jobs nobody wanted,” said Honors College Fellow Steve Fain, like Blucker a founding faculty member. “She was part of orchestrating the university. She’s a team player. She calls it a ball or a strike before she has a chance to think about whether she likes the pitcher.”

In 1978, when she was the only woman in the School of Education’s 17-man Department of Subject Specialization, a majority of Blucker’s colleagues recommended her to the dean to become chair.

“When the dean told me that, I was quite surprised,” Blucker remembers. “I just kind of employed some of the skills I’d learned in coaching: Involve people. Share information. Have a collaborative experience instead of just sending out memos demanding this and that.”

Success positioned her to become assistant dean for academic affairs in the college and then acting vice president of Student Affairs, working directly for FIU President Gregory Wolfe. Soon after Modesto Maidique succeeded Wolfe, Blucker earned a promotion to vice provost with the assignment to launch a new FIU campus in Broward County.

“I think she’s very empowering,” says Barbara Bader, who worked with Blucker on the initiative. “We started as colleagues, and she got a promotion and I reported to her for 14 years. If she wanted me to go to an external meeting in the community, she would never say, ‘You have to be there.’ She would say, ‘Barbara, does this interest you?’ The person who would empty the wastepaper basket would say, ‘Dr. Blucker,’ and she’d say, ‘Please, call me Judy.’”

Blucker later served as executive vice provost for academic affairs, executive vice provost for academic administration, and the university’s chief negotiator for collective bargaining. She served as acting dean at different times of both the College of Health and College of Education, tough assignments with competing interests and factions.

“All around, she has been willing to step in and do things,” says Rosa Jones, FIU’s vice president of Student Affairs. “In new roles, she was able to learn because she’s a great listener. I think everyone feels she’s fair, but she has some high expectations. She’s been very good at helping to build the careers of both men and women, but especially women.”

As interim dean of the College of Health from 1994 to 1997 – a subject area only tangential to her own academic experience – Blucker remembers that faculty responded to her willingness to listen and her openness with information.

Her masterstroke was to distribute to all faculty the details of the college’s budget, a document already available at the library as a public record but which was perceived as a secret tool of power.

“They had plenty of expertise in the latest health trends,” she says. “They needed someone to help them reunite around the common goals of the College of Health.”

In 2007, Blucker retired for the second time (after the first, she returned as the chief negotiator for collective bargaining and then acting education dean).

With time to golf and relax, she and her partner, Annette Gathright, began planning their estate. Gathright is a career educator who was an adjunct in FIU’s College of Education in those early years, teaching elementary physical education and supervising student teachers.

They decided to leave a $1 million gift to FIU by establishing a dual life insurance policy with FIU as the beneficiary. The gift will qualify for a state match, bringing the total to $2 million. The life insurance policy, which was created in cooperation with FIU’s Planned Giving Office in the Division of University Advancement, allows Blucker and Gathright to spend their annuities and IRAs during their lifetimes while still providing a substantial gift to FIU.

As much as FIU has grown since it and Judy Blucker started out together in 1972, such a bequest is the first for FIU faculty, a new marker of FIU’s progress.

“This is a significant gift by any standard and is a high water benchmark for faculty generosity toward FIU,” says FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “My reaction was one of gratitude and thanksgiving, that Judy and Annette were willing to give back to the institution in such a strong way after over three decades of commitment to FIU. What a reaffirmation of their journey.”

Giving back to FIU feels good, said Blucker. “The faculty who came to the new university in 1972 and stayed to build the university were provided with opportunities not available to them at more established universities. There are a lot of us, 30 or 40 faculty, who have been at FIU since the beginning, and I would hope they, too, would consider giving back to the university.”

And four decades later, the bequest is designated to keep open the very first opportunity Judy Blucker helped create at FIU. The gift will endow scholarships for female athletes.

For more information on how you can make a planned gift to FIU, visit go.fiu.edu/plannedgiving.

Bryan Gilmer is a Durham, N.C., writer, author of the thriller novel Felonious Jazz and the forthcoming Book of Faces.

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