In its October 2007 feature on “Women and Power,” Newsweek magazine quotes University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann on leadership in the academy: “I think the best mentors are people who are talent scouts and show you how to succeed by modeling it themselves and being supportive of very talented people.” Dr. Jane Hill’s tenure as chair of English and Philosophy clearly reflects the rare and valuable skills that Gutmann describes.
During her five years as department head, Jane worked tirelessly to build and support the faculty under her charge, helping instructors and professors of all ranks deliver quality teaching, produce publishable scholarship and creative work, and provide valuable services to both the institution and the wider community. She streamlined workloads and created opportunities for advancement among the departmental staff. She also continued to teach students, guiding their development as readers, thinkers, and writers in both core-level and advanced courses.
As Jane would be the first to mention, she did not achieve these successes single-handedly, but worked closely with a range of collaborators throughout the West Georgia community. The pivotal role that Jane played as a creative thinker, a clear communicator, and a source of strength and motivation for our programs should not be underestimated. Simply put, Jane championed our department and its students at every opportunity, and hers will be a lasting and much appreciated legacy. As one department member noted, “The main purpose of a leader is to inspire those who follow, and Jane has a whole host of faculty, staff, and students who believe in her because of the way she inspired our work and creativity.”
Back in the Classroom Again
Students, staff, and faculty will miss Jane as their department chair, but the return to her regular teaching load means the reinstatement of a remarkable educator. A graduate of Clemson University (where she earned her B.A. and M.A.) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (which granted her Ph.D.), Jane arrived at West Georgia in 1992. Since that time, she has taught dozens of classes and directed nearly fifty independent studies, honors projects, and masters-degree theses. (Many of the students whom she mentored, in fact, have gone on to teach in our department: the list includes present professors, lecturers, and instructors Stacy Boyd, Angela Insenga, Bonnie Adams, Brandy James, Lori Lipoma, Mitzi McFarland, Stacey Morin, John Sturgis, Patricia Burgey, Josh Grant, Stephanie Henderson-Hollenbeck, Christina Hogan, Jane McClain, Jason Kesler, Tricia Burgey, Dorothy Byrom, Mandi Campbell, Amy Ellison, Jackie Hartley, Jade Kierbow, Marian Muldrow, and Crystal Shelnutt. Invaluable staff members Shelley Decker, Susan Holland, and Denise Slavinski are also former students whom Jane encouraged to share their talents with the department.)
No matter how busy she became with administrative matters as chair, Jane always found time to meet with students to discuss their creative and critical writing projects, their futures as graduate students and successful professionals, and most of all their understanding and appreciation of literature. In 2006, the Faculty First-Year Student Advocate Award and the Robert Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching English both went to Jane—clear signs of the importance she places on teaching and student achievement, and powerful indicators of honors to come.
Jane has been more than an inspiring teacher, however. She has also devoted her energy, passion, and intellect to support others in the craft. During her time as chair, Jane showed a restless commitment to expanding the English Education component of our department, and those West Georgia students aspiring to a career in secondary education owe a great deal to her efforts. Jane’s focus in this area makes sense given that she herself worked in her home state of South Carolina for five years as a high-school English teacher. (In 1975, incidentally, she was nominated for Outstanding Secondary Educator in America.)
That same drive to enrich high-school English instruction extends into Jane’s thinking about teaching introductory writing and literature courses at the college level. And again, her own classroom experiences provide the practical background for her larger theories about quality education. Before securing her tenure-track
appointment at West Georgia, Jane served in the first-year programs of Clemson University (1976-79), the University of Illinois (1979-81), Tri-County Technical College (1981-82), the University of Georgia (1983-85), and Kennesaw State College (1985-86), teaching freshman composition, developmental English, and literature surveys. Clearly, Jane’s rich experiences across the educational spectrum reveal her to be a consummate professional in our discipline and a great source of wisdom in our department for years to come.
Publish or Perish? Not a Problem . . .
In addition to her successes in the classroom, Jane’s publication record is astounding. It includes two full-length books, four edited collections, and more than seventy-five articles, interviews, and reviews focusing on a wide range of postmodern writers including Ann Beattie and David Bottoms, Louise Erdrich and John Irving. Jane’s book on Gail Godwin almost single-handedly vaulted this writer into a prominent position in American literary history; her essays on poet James Dickey continue to be regarded as some of the most influential and provocative in the field; and her film criticism—rooted in the complexities of cross-genre intertextualities—have shaped post-war perspectives on the relationships between literature and cinema. Also a writer of fiction and poetry, Jane has published creative work in respected venues such as Cream City Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, South Carolina Review, Kansas Quarterly, and Quarterly West. In addition, Jane has delivered over fifty conference papers during her career (five of them, remarkably enough, while department chair). She has also given more than seventy-five talks and readings, and earned numerous honors for her research and creative projects.
A Time for Reflection . . . and Celebration
Jane’s tenure has witnessed enormous growth in the productivity of faculty and students, the creation of two minors and the collaborative revitalizing of a third, the beneficial reorganization of administrative duties across the board in our program, and many other significant achievements. To welcome her back into the faculty and to her role as full-time teacher-scholar—one intensely devoted to her students and colleagues—is cause not for mourning but for celebration. So stop by her office or drop her a line. We haven’t so much lost a chair as we have gained back a beloved and talented colleague.