Longtime educator has first novel published, ‘Shadow Campus’
Following the publishing of “Shadow Campus,” Reardon can add novelist to her resume.
Reardon was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and grew up 5 miles away in Stratford. She visited Rhode Island often as child, but her connection to Jamestown comes through her husband and sometimes co-author, Chris. His great-grandparents emigrated here from Ireland, and his grandmother was born in town.
For her undergraduate degree, Reardon studied at the University of Connecticut. She then got her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After teaching high school in Connecticut for five years, Reardon was offered a job at her alma mater. She taught at UConn for six years.
Following a sabbatical at Stanford University, Reardon was invited to the University of Southern California on a fellowship. While she was at USC, she was recruited to become a professor – Reardon has been a member of the Trojan faculty since 1985.
These days Reardon lives in Jamestown full time. She continues to write and publish, but can no longer teach because of the physical demands of the job. Reardon suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
“I love teaching,” she said. “I miss it a lot.”
Since she stopped teaching, Reardon has turned her attention to the fact that only 3 percent of foster children go to college. She came up with the idea of starting college-prep academies on campuses across the country to demystify the experience for foster children. She founded an organization called First Star to implement her ideas. In the last three years, academies have been established on four campuses: the University of Rhode Island, UCLA, George Washington University and UConn.
Reardon is the author of nine nonfiction books. Several of them center on the concept of persuasion, which has been the centerpiece of both her teaching and writing. Her first book on the subject, “Persuasion in Practice,” was described in Public Opinion Quarterly as a landmark contribution to the field.
“There’s probably not an idea in the world that doesn’t have to be sold, that people don’t have to be convinced to believe,” Reardon said. “Even with the best ideas in the world, if you don’t know how to present them and convey them, you are unlikely to be able to influence.”
Reardon looks at persuasion as something you do “with” people, not “to” people. She said persuasion is finding out how other people think, then finding out how you think, and then finding a way to make a connection between the two to help influence their view.
Reardon has always been interested in helping people become aware of persuasion. She says there is persuasion occurring in both public and interpersonal settings that people may not notice. From early in her career, Reardon has worked to make people conscious of the veiled persuasion.
More recently Reardon has begun to cover politics in her books. “The Secret Handshake,” a book about the politics of business, was an Amazon bestseller. “It’s all Politics” looked at the intricacies of workplace policymaking.
“Even if you know the best persuasive approaches and you are an effective negotiator, if you don’t know the politics of where you work then the likelihood of you being successful there is significantly lower.”
For her frontpage pieces on the Huffington Post, where she has blogged since 2006, Reardon has written about the inability of politicians to communicate effectively, resulting in the gridlock that now exists in Washington, D.C. She said the basic concepts are the same as in any workplace. If politicians understood the basics of negotiation and persuasion, she says, then they would be able to communicate more effectively.
Unfortunately, Reardon added, many elected officials don’t have good communication skills so they often resort to tactics that produce ineffective debates.
Reardon has been published in the Harvard Business Review three times. Her first article for the publication focused on international gift giving and has been used as a resource by the White House and chiefs of protocol around the world. It is considered the seminal work on the subject.
“It is actually related to persuasion,” she said. “If you want to negotiate anywhere in the world you have to understand the difference between a gift and a bribe, and what kind of gifts are insulting and which are likely to facilitate a good visit.”
After decades of nonfiction writing, Reardon has recently published her first novel. “Shadow Campus” is the story of a young university professor who has been found hanging, nearly dead, in her university office. According to Reardon, the novel has been in the works for some time and her background in academia spurred her interest in writing it.
“Tenure causes a considerable amount of stress,” she said. “There’s a great deal of controversy because you have a lot of competitive people, very intelligent people, vying for fewer and fewer spots as you rise to the top. So the politics of tenure are often fairly intriguing.” While “Shadow Campus” is a work of fiction, Reardon said she couldn’t have written it if she hadn’t spent so much time on campuses nationwide. She says some university campuses these days are so large they are much like small cities, and often have the same issues. The perception that ideas can exist in harmony within the university is questioned by some of the characters in the novel.
“A long time ago, I was an English major. During my many years of social-science writing, it was in the back of my mind there were certain aspects of the arts that I wanted to return to. I’ve also become a painter recently. This novel is part of my return.”
“Shadow Campus” is available online from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Reardon said it will be shipped to bookstores soon.