One of the first female members of the business faculty recalls decades of change...

Giant Steps

Bernadine Meyer's first teaching assignment, basic accounting, was in an old-style lecture hall, entrance at the back, opposite the podium. On the first day of class, she passed rows of seated students, and their murmured reaction-"It's a woman!"- trailed her like a wake.

She absorbed their surprise with characteristic good humor. This was the early 1960s, and not only were nearly all business students male, Meyer was one of just two women on Duquesne's business faculty.

"The business school was a man's world," Dr. Meyer said, yet she never considered herself a pioneer, or a feminist, as most use the terms, rather a woman doing what she liked. "I never knew that women didn't study business," Meyer recalled. "I liked business."

Today, at 87, Meyer has the same easy manner that helped to see her through that first day of class and when facing other obstacles.

Like being chided that only husband-hunting women had any interest in business. Or the time that she was told that her office would best be located on campus, away from the downtown Fitzsimmons Building, then the business school's home and full of the offices of male colleagues sure to be uneasy by having to share an office with a woman.

In her three decades at Duquesne, Meyer did much to build a lasting legacy-and not only because of her gender. A superb teacher, she was also an effective administrator, one who served as dean as well as acting dean during years of momentous change.

Dr. Thomas Pollack, now an associate dean of business, recalls that Meyer was decisive as well as a good listener; and she possessed unmatched knowledge about the University along with an uncanny knack for accomplishing difficult tasks. In 1985 Pollack was hired to integrate technology into business school operations and curricula, and Meyer provided the kind of operational support he needed, ensuring that a business degree from Duquesne changed with the times.

He gives her much of the credit for successfully launching the Master of Science in Information Management (MS-ISM) degree program as well as the MBA/MS-ISM dual degree program, sometimes referred to as the techno-MBA. "I couldn't have asked for more support than I got from her," Pollack said. "Anything you could do technology-wise for the business school or the curriculum, she was for it."

Meyers matched her interest in improving the undergraduate and graduate business programs with a zeal for personal improvement.

After earning a bachelor's in business education, she taught typing and shorthand at McKees Rocks High School. Four years later she earned a master's in business administration, which provided an additional $200 a year, a big boost in the paycheck of a teacher whose income would otherwise total $1800 annually.

Not long afterwards, she made plans to teach college and decided a Columbia University doctorate would be the credential that could open doors for her. Leveraging her secretarial skills, she arranged work-study at Columbia, living in a dormitory and working full-time, with time off to attend classes that were scheduled during office hours. In two years she was back at McKees Rocks High, teaching and writing her dissertation.

Her first faculty position was at East Carolina College, in Greenville, North Carolina, and on a trip home at Christmastime, she ran into Dr. Clarence Walton, dean of the School of Business, who suggested that she return to the Bluff to teach, which she did from 1962 until her retirement in 1991.

She wasn't through earning degrees, however. In accounting classes, she was good at explaining how things should be done but fell short when a student occasionally asked why the law requires they should be done, so 10 years after coming back to the Bluff, Meyer earned a law degree and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.

Despite the academic credentials she accumulated in adulthood, Meyer as a youngster never thought that college could ever be anything other than a dream, out of reach for a girl from a large family that was struggling, as many were at a time when jobs were scarce and money tight.

Providence deemed otherwise. A nun who taught her at St. Mary's High School urged Meyer to take a test for Duquesne. When the letter arrived announcing that she won a scholarship, her parents were much more apprehensive than joyous. "Neither of my parents graduated from high school, and they wondered if I was going to last," Meyer said.

Family finances and Depression-era realism helped Meyer choose a major. Her parents thought that if she were forced to withdraw before graduating, majoring in business education, because of its required course work in typing and shorthand, would make her employable as a secretary.

"I was compelled by my family's financial situation to study business," she said. "But after I got into it I found that I really liked it."

Share Your Memories