Dr. Lena Hill, dean of Washington and Lee University’s (W&L) College of Arts and Sciences since July 2018, has been selected as the school’s new provost, effective July 1, 2021.
“I enjoy my work as a dean,” Hill said. “But I thought that it would be interesting to be able to serve in a different capacity. I realize that, in moving into the role of provost, I would have the opportunity to seamlessly support initiatives from the role of the chief academic officer.”
Hill, who is also a professor of English and Africana studies at the liberal arts university, will oversee W&L’s academic schools – the College, the Williams School and the law school – as well as a number of other offices on campus.
As dean of the College, Hill has been responsible for approximately 200 faculty. As provost, that number goes up to around 275.
This year, under her leadership, the College’s tenured and tenure-track underrepresented faculty – African American, Latinx, Native American, Alaskan, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders – increased to 10.3%, hitting double-digit percentages for the first time. It was a feat accomplished through some specific initiatives, Hill said.
“We have instituted a more rigorous and thoughtful recruitment and retention strategy in collaboration with my colleagues in Human Resources,” Hill said. “I led a college-wide opportunity hire, which is something that we really weren’t doing in terms of allowing every department and program the opportunity to apply for to recruit an opportunity hire from an underrepresented group.”
The College also joined the Gettysburg College Consortium for Faculty Diversity – for which Hill is on the steering committee – and has implemented implicit bias training for faculty search committees.
“And then this fall, I’ve asked every department and program to develop diversity and inclusion initiatives, really to ensure that this work is shared across the institution,” Hill said.
Hill finds her work on diversity and inclusion to be gratifying.
“I would say I’m most proud of building relationships in a relatively short period of time that have allowed us to collaboratively make progress in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Hill said. “In higher ed, things don’t happen quickly. I came from the outside and was able to form relationships. You have to have trust to move forward and to make progress, especially around this issue.”
W&L President Dr. William C. Dudley said that Hill has made a mark at the university.
“In her tenure as dean, Lena has demonstrated impressive administrative and leadership skills, as well as her deep appreciation of the liberal arts,” he said. “As an accomplished scholar and dedicated teacher, she is deeply invested in our faculty and students. I am looking forward to partnering with her as we work to bring W&L’s ambitious strategic plan to fruition.”
Work regarding diversity matters isn’t new for Hill. Before coming to W&L, she taught English and African American studies at the University of Iowa, later working as interim chief diversity officer and associate vice president there – a cumulative 12 years at the school.
Regarding retention, Hill created a university-wide mentoring program for faculty and a professionals of color group at the school. She’s been personally involved in building campus relationships too, hosting events at her own home for new faculty and faculty of color to help people connect and feel like they belong.
“When you are dealing with really small numbers – which we are, we’re a small institution – then if you have a retirement and maybe one person is recruited away, then you find your numbers taking a hit,” Hill said. “We use the numbers to chart things, but I’m very interested in the experience my faculty are having.
“Recruitment doesn’t matter if you don’t work to make sure that the faculty who join us – that goes beyond diverse faculty, all faculty who join us – feel like they’re well supported and can be successful here.”
As provost, Hill said she will remain focused on diversity and inclusion in academia but can now do so on a larger scale.
She also intends to continue strengthening interdisciplinary work and supporting the unique aspects of W&L, such as its new legal clinic, The Civil Rights and Racial Justice Clinic, and how its stature as a top liberal arts school in the South positions W&L to better study the history of race relations.
But as she moves up in the university ladder, Hill wants to remain grounded and maintain the relationships she’s forged as dean.
“Even though I’ve had some success in building those relationships and moving us forward in those areas, it’s been a difficult time with all that’s going on in terms of racial justice across our country, the coronavirus,” Hill said. “And I think our faculty has faced, like everywhere, feelings of uncertainty. And so, I’d like to do more to ensure that faculty feel heard, engaged and supported.
“I guess I just want to make sure that as I move into this new role, that the open door and my ability to form those relationships continues and deepens, because anyone who goes into academic leadership discovers that, after spending your entire professional life as a faculty member, you occupy this strange space of distance from those with whom you have the most in common. And I want to fight against that distance.”
Hill holds a bachelor of arts from Howard University and a Ph.D. in English from Yale University. Her work has primarily been centered on African American literature, having written the 2014 book Visualizing Blackness and the Creation of the African American Literary Tradition.