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First Female MBA Alumna Used UD Education to Navigate Political Career

By BeLynn Hollers, BA ’21

It was the late 1960s, and Jo Ann (Shoaf) Gasper, BA ’67 MBA ’69, had completed her degree in politics at UD. But when she looked around at the options for a woman with a liberal arts degree, her options did not excite her. 

“I got my bachelor's and started looking for a job, and it was kind of like, ‘Can you type, or do you want to be a librarian?’ In other words, typical female jobs — secretaries, librarians, those sorts of things. And I knew that I didn't want that,” Gasper said. 

Bob Lynch, the founding dean of UD’s Graduate School of Management (now the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business), suggested that Gasper enroll in the Master of Business Administration program that was being established at UD. This made Gasper not only part of the first cohort, but also the first woman, in the class of 1969. 

Gasper recalls Lynch’s Price Theory course. Professor Lynch asked Gasper, “Why should women be paid less than men?” 

“So I told him the reason why women should be paid less than men. And then, I turned around and told him why women should be paid more than men,” Gasper said. 

Gasper’s Liberal Arts Education Expanded Her Ways of Thinking 

When Gasper entered the university as a freshman at 17, she was the youngest student the school had ever had. 

Because of her age, Gasper had wanted to begin college close to her home in Grapevine, Texas. Additionally, her stepfather had worked with the Hungarian refugees coming to the United States after the Hungarian Freedom Fighters were overthrown by the Soviet military. Having Hungarian Cistercians teaching at the university made UD more attractive to her family.

Gasper explained that her background in political philosophy, studying under Willmoore Kendall, taught her to always go to source documents – primary sources. When studying the United States Commercial Code (USCC) in the MBA program, one of her professors, Bob Perry, asked her a question about the USCC. When she answered, Perry said her answer was incorrect. Gasper referred her professor to the primary source, the USCC, to prove she was right. Studying the original sources earned her an A. “Willmoore always said to go to the source documents. Don’t take what somebody else says about something,” Gasper emphasized. 

For Gasper, her education at UD through both undergraduate and graduate programs allowed her to flourish. 

“The MBA in conjunction with a University of Dallas undergraduate degree in political philosophy provided the practical analytic skills necessary for effective planning, evaluation and program management,” Gasper said. 

Gasper said that the most important course for her career that she took during her MBA was Business Law with Perry. 

“This course combined with the broad-based liberal arts education enabled me to write regulations and manage a program, the constitutionality of which had been challenged,” she said.

From MBA to a Political Career 

Gasper served as the Family Policy adviser to the Reagan / Bush presidential campaign. 

“Under the Reagan Administration, I was asked to be the deputy assistant secretary for social services policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Gasper said. 

Jokingly, she noted that her father thought her job was being a typist. 

“So I told him that I had the responsibility for a $30 million demonstration project, and then he realized that it was a significant job,” she laughed. 

Gasper is thankful for the impact UD’s education had on her political career. 

“Thanks to UD and the UD education, there were several issues that I was active in that went to the Supreme Court, and the court ultimately sided with my position,” she said. One of those issues was the parental notification regulations proposed by the Reagan Administration, which require minors seeking an abortion to notify their parent. “While the Supreme Court declared the regulations unconstitutional, a provision that I had inserted was declared constitutional,” she explained.

As deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, she was responsible for the administration of the National Family Planning Program and the Adolescent Family Life Program. 

As a Catholic, she had to adhere closely to Catholic ethical standards while managing a program that was inconsistent with Church teaching regarding contraception. She eventually was removed from her position in 1987 for her refusal, on ethical grounds, to sign a grant to Planned Parenthood. The secretary had not allowed her to review the grant to make sure federal money was not going to be used to promote abortion – an illegal use of the funds.

“As Catholics, we are called to what is right and proper. We are obligated to do the best job we can and provide full measure of value. No matter what one’s chosen field, there will be ethical challenges,” Gasper said. 

For Gasper, though, her UD education helped her navigate those tough questions. 

“A University of Dallas education enables a person to recognize the dilemma and find an appropriate response to the problem,” she concluded.

 
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