Posted: November 19, 2007
When professor Penny Gill welcomed students to campus during this fall's opening convocation, little did she know she would soon be practicing her own advice to the audience to be open to alternate journeys along the path to success.
"I am a believer in Plan B," she said at the time. "I watch for hints from the universe that an unexpected opportunity or invitation might be just what I would enjoy.… Your work should reflect your deepest values, and it should keep you growing and developing, year after year."
Gill, the Mary Lyon Professor of Humanities and professor of politics, has found such an invitation: She has been appointed to a three-year term as dean of the College, a position she believes will allow her to do what she does best in new ways.
"I was born to teach, and I've been in the classroom for a very long time--and I see this as an enormous opportunity to teach. It will be exciting to figure out what the teaching moments are," she said. "I'm thrilled to receive such an honor at a time when the College is so well administered and led."
Gill, in fact, sees the dean's position as having two major functions: to teach and to serve. The "servant side" involves working daily with faculty, staff, and students--listening, solving problems and resolving conflicts, assuring adequate resources, and engaging all in planning for the future.
"All these people and activities must be well represented in the larger venues of College policy making," said Gill, noting she expects to partner regularly in her efforts with dean of faculty Donal O'Shea. (Gill served as acting dean of faculty when O'Shea took a sabbatical during the 2004-2005 academic year.)
"There are lots of arenas where we can put our relationship to good use," she added. "Faculty legislation charges both the dean of faculty and the dean of the College with responsibility for implementing College educational policies and providing oversight of the curriculum. …The shared goal, of course, is that every aspect of College life be held up to the standard of how it contributes to student learning."
Gill said her "number one dream" is for Mount Holyoke to become "more self-aware and articulate" about itself.
"We have a truly extraordinary opportunity now to consciously create something new, paradoxically something we also already are: a global women's college. I think the dean could help us all to think more deeply about what our students need to learn, and how they can best learn it, so they can take their rightful places at the tables where solutions to the world's most pressing problems will be found," she explained.
In announcing Gill's appointment, President Joanne V. Creighton predicted she will bring "great wisdom, experience, vision, and energy to this position." Assistant professor of psychology and education Lenore Carlisle, chair of the search committee, cited Gill's extensive experience with and knowledge of Mount Holyoke and its students as a factor in her selection.
"She has a good sense of the challenges students face in finding a balance between the curricular and cocurricular," Carlisle said. "She was very well versed on every perplexing or challenging issue we raised, from diversity to grade inflation.… She was very compelling.
"She's lived through a lot of changes and administrations--and she's quite remarkable in her ability to be on top of so many things. With her insight I believe she'll have news ways of facing challenges."
Gill will replace current dean Lee Bowie, who will work with her to effect a smooth transition before taking a yearlong sabbatical leave; he will then return to his professorship in the philosophy department.
"Penny cares deeply about students--not just 'the students,' but about particular individual students who are lucky enough to cross her path," Bowie said. "The job is a wonderful job--one that will draw out her best and give back with interest."
Gill, who graduated from Northwestern University and earned her Ph.D. and M. Phil. at Yale University, has been teaching European politics and comparative politics at Mount Holyoke since 1971. Following her graduate studies at Yale in the 1960s, she went to Norway on a Fulbright Fellowship to research the Norwegian Labor Movement, and she has made frequent trips to Britain, Scandinavia, and the continent since. She teaches courses on globalization, the European Union, European politics, and political theory, as well as cross-disciplinary topics. Her recent research has focused on the European Union, its relationship to the larger processes of globalization, and the processes of state formation in Brussels.