When Dr. Vickie Johnson rings in Freed-Hardeman University’s new school year Aug. 10, as master of the bell, she will also be signaling the end of her own 40-year career at the university.
To allow for social distancing, FHU’s Tolling of the Bell will be conducted twice, at 10:30am and at 11:20am in Loyd Auditorium. Johnson will toll the bell 15 times, once for each decade of Freed-Hardeman’s existence. The ceremony concludes FHU’s 150th year and announces the beginning of a new year.
Retiring as associate vice president of academics, Johnson began her time at FHU as a freshman in 1972. She was a member of the college’s “Spirit of ‘76” class, the first graduates to receive baccalaureate degrees. When she joined the faculty in 1979, it was the fulfillment of a dream, she said. She counts working with two of her mentors, Wynelle Hiten and Dr. J. Walker Whittle, as highlights of her teaching career. She never dreamt of or aspired to, decades later, retire as the highest-ranking female in FHU’s administration.
She came to teach business education, which she did, including typewriting, shorthand, and office management. As technology advanced, shorthand was no longer taught and typewriting eventually became business computer applications. Over the years, she also taught business communication, records management and office management.
Business communication, a junior-level writing class, was her favorite. She taught it for 29 years to sometimes reluctant students. “Students didn’t look forward to it,” she said, “because they didn’t like to write. Yet, it was usually listed as one of their top three courses, no matter what their major was, for preparing them for their job.”
“It was my favorite because I could see improvement in their skills. They did not care for the course, thought I was too strict, and often didn’t practice what they had been taught,” Johnson said, “but many of those same students have since told me how helpful it has been in their jobs.”
In 1992, Johnson made her first foray into administration when she became the assistant dean of the School of Business. She served in that position until 2009 when she began a 10-year stint as the associate vice president of academics. Although she says she never really thought about it, that appointment by FHU President Joe Wiley made her FHU’s highest ranking female administrator.
The role of women at FHU has changed significantly since Johnson’s days as a student. For many years, the only woman in an academic leadership position was Daphne Kennedy who chaired a department. Today, three of the five college deans are female. Johnson credits Wiley with increasing the number of women in administration.
The difference in teaching and administration, Johnson said, “are night and day.” Teaching allows for social and intellectual interaction with students. “You can really get to know the students,” she said. “Some of my students became good friends and remain so to this day.” Johnson considers grading papers the greatest negative. “There was a lot of grading, particularly with Business Communication,” she said.
Working in administration has involved a great deal of sitting behind a desk and making decisions, and attending a lot of meetings, Johnson said. “My contact with students has occurred a lot less frequently, and the contact has mainly been when an academic issue with the student arose. I have not been able to know the students as well as I would have liked.” Administration did have its positives, according to Johnson. “Some of the decisions I have made helped students turn their academic lives around and to become better students,” she said.
Now, as one chapter closes and another begins, Johnson looks forward to spending more time with family; making a dent in that stack of books she has bought, but not read; traveling, particularly to parts of the United States she has not seen; caring for Heidi, her miniature dachshund; and cheering for the Vols.
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