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Jefferson winner Reed: Distinguished mentor to students, faculty for 36 years

There are probably a dozen places Associate English professor Ann Reed would rather be on Feb. 3 than William & Mary Hall, starting with the family beach house in Rhode Island. Large crowds and individual honors have never appealed to her.

But the Jefferson Award, given annually to a member of the College for significant service through his or her personal activities, influence and leadership, carries command-performance status. One suspects that Reed, director of the Linguistics department and 2012 recipient, will be on hand as much to respect the faculty members who supported her as any personal agenda.

And oh how her supporters made their feelings known.

“I cannot think, quite frankly, of another colleague in Arts and Sciences who has played such a major role in shaping the individual lives of students and in affecting and changing the daily workings of the College over the past three-and-a-half decades – and with such grace, modesty, integrity and selfless labor year in and year out,” wrote English Department chairperson Susan Donaldson.

“Dr. Reed has mentored and supported generations of faculty -- in the Linguistics program, in the English Department, and across campus,” wrote Chancellor professor of Geology Heather MacDonald. “She has led by example and been a model of how to work with students, how to build a program that values and supports students, and how to contribute to the College in service and governance.”

“It was she who had the job of shaping the Linguistics program, now one of the most highly thought-of undergraduate Linguistics programs in the country, and a remarkably strong one for a university of William & Mary’s size,” wrote Kathleen Bragdon, professor and chair, department of Anthropology. “This strength is largely due to Ann’s oversight and maintenance.”

“For almost four decades, Ann has been one of the brightest stars in that constellation of College faculty who have given William & Mary a national reputation as a medium-size public university whose faculty give the kind of individual attention and instruction to students that is more typical of the smallest private schools,” wrote Talbot Taylor, Cooley professor of English and Linguistics.

“She is a challenging, inspirational instructor. . . setting high classroom and research goals and giving them a clear view of the rewards to be gained in scholarship.”

Reed, who started at the College in 1976, is the first English professor since Jack Willis in 1997 to win the Jefferson, and only the fourth from that department in the 49-year history of the award.

But ask her about herself – what makes her the idol and role model of so many – and she quickly steers the conversation to the job her colleagues have done in helping build Linguistics and to the students who “buoy (her) along in that their interest carries (her).”

She even discusses her strengths as a teacher in the most self-deprecating fashion. She couldn’t sleep one night and Googled herself, only to uncover a website where students can evaluate their professors.

“One of them said, ‘She’s very old, but quite passionate about Linguistics, which comes through,’ ” Reed recalled, feigning horror. “I spent the next two days walking around the house saying to my kids, ‘Very old? How old is very old?’

“They told me, ‘Mom, you’re 50 years older than that student; of course she thinks you’re very old.’ So at that point I decided to focus on the second part, the part about my enthusiasm coming through.”

In addition to all of the committees on which she has served -- the Ad-Hoc Leave Policy Committee; the Faculty Affairs Committee in Arts and Sciences; the Faculty Assembly committee, the Faculty Handbook Committee; the Faculty Housing Committee; the Educational Policy Committee, the Writing Committee, the Committee on Nominations, among others – Reed holds the distinction of being the first woman chairperson of the English Department.

As such, she led the drive to reduce class size from 40 students per class to 30 per class. She started an internal junior-leave program for tenure-track faculty, giving them a one-semester leave so that they could pursue their publishing requirement.

“We did some really good things while I was chair,” Reed understates.

She played a major role in establishing the Williamsburg Child Care Center, which started in 1981 and really got underway in earnest in 1992, thanks to a $400,000 grant made in 1990 by Sarah Ives Gore ‘56.

“It is characteristic of Ann to expend a huge mount of time and energy on this kind of labor-intensive project,” Donaldson said, “and to do so behind the scenes, with little acknowledgement or fanfare.”

Reed is retiring at the end of this academic year. She declined to say what career accomplishment she’s most proud of. Others had no such qualms.

Said Talbot Tyler: “Ann Reed has been a scientist working in the humanities, a woman working in what initially was a wholly male discipline and an overwhelmingly male faculty, a quiet inspiration to students in a world that more often harasses, batters and shouts at them, and an example to the whole W&M community of intellectual commitment, professional dignity, personal compassion, and scientific optimism.”