Sitting in her Coates Administration Building office late one May afternoon, as her long and distinguished career at EKU neared its end, Dr. Janna Vice, ’73’74, held her thumb and index finger about an inch apart and began to speak.
“My contribution to the University,” she said, “has been this much.”
Moving that thumb and finger to where they almost touched, she continued, “But without other people, it would be this small.”
It was vintage Vice, always self-effacing and quick to credit others. But ask former colleagues or students about how much she impacted their lives and Eastern these past 40 years – the last seven as provost – and you would likely get arms outstretched, and maybe even the glimmer of a tear from a brawny student-athlete or two. Since she announced in February her plans to retire, the tributes have been touching.
There’s a reason why Bobby Collins, ’91, former basketball standout and now head men’s basketball coach at Maryland-Eastern Shore, has called Vice and her husband, Wayne,’73, on major holidays for the past 25 years, most notably Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. And he’s far from alone.
“The Vices,” he said, “have everything to do with my success, and I love them from the bottom of my heart.”
For many years, the Vices hosted her classes and entire sports teams – Janna chaired the University Athletics Committee 1994-2004 – at their family farm. Never underestimate the value of a home-cooked meal in the life of any student.
Then there’s the case of Rick Prewitt, ’92, whose first attempt at an EKU degree in the mid-1980s was quickly derailed by personal issues and the death of a grandfather, which “put my life in a tailspin.”
When he returned to campus a changed man a few years later, “surprised they let me back in,” Prewitt was still unsure of himself “and everything that comes with trying to rebuild your life.”
Then, in his first semester back, he walked into a class taught by Vice. He remembers Vice going around the room and asking all the students their names and then going back around and repeating them. To his great surprise, she remembered his name the next time he came to class.
“You don’t know what that meant to a young student who was wanting to be a part of something that they were so scared to be a part of,” recalled Prewitt, who went on to work in Community Education and Outreach and then Accounting at Eastern. “She made me feel like she wanted me there. That is what I always loved about her – that she loved her students. I am sure God put us in that classroom for a purpose.”
Julie Curry, ’11’16, now business operations manager with the Office of e-Campus Learning at EKU, tells a similar story, recalling her struggles as a student after the birth of her first child. “She encouraged me, she inspired me. She told me I could do it all. She believed in my ability. If she believed I could do it, it must be possible.”
When she earned her master’s degree, Curry was pregnant with her second child as she met Vice crossing the commencement stage. “She was genuinely proud of me, and that meant so much to me.”
Growing up as an only child on a 30-acre farm in a bend of the Cumberland River in rural Whitley County, Kentucky, Vice focused intently on a three-part mission that captured the hopes of her father, Roy Partin: make straight A’s, become high school valedictorian and earn a college scholarship.
Her mother, Opal, was a local schoolteacher, so young Vice spent much of her time with her father out on the farm, where she assisted with typical chores and remembers bending the tractor’s tie rod her first time at the wheel. She never gave much thought to becoming a teacher. “My vision,” she recalled, “was to be a business executive.”
That’s when a series of inspirational teachers caused Vice to think more deeply about her future. One of the first was William Reed Bryant, father of Lexington TV personality Bill Bryant, ’85, at Whitley County High School. “All my teachers were good, but he was visionary. I felt very challenged to excel.”
Vice did become valedictorian, earned a scholarship to EKU and arrived in 1969 with her high school sweetheart/future husband, knowing no one except a few high school classmates. Well, there was Wayne’s aunt, Dr. Wanda Vice, whose education course led Vice to major in business education and caused Vice to “fall in love with teaching.”
Other faculty members mentored Vice at every future step in her studies and career:
· Dr. Jack Dyer, who “set the bar for excellent college teaching.”
· Dr. Emogene Hogg Hartman, who “pushed me to do better than I thought I was capable of doing.”
· Dr. Myrena Jennings, ’65’66, later an office mate, from whom Vice “learned how to mentor and coach students by overhearing” Jennings work with students.
· Dr. Al Patrick, department chair; Deans Dr. Howard Thompson and Dr. Bob Rogow, the latter of whom hired Vice as an associate dean, beginning her long career in administration; and former Provost Dr. Rodney Piercy, who selected Vice as associate provost.
· And “two very special presidents,” Dr. Doug Whitlock, ’65’66, and Dr. Michael Benson, “who gave me the privilege to serve as their chief academic officer” since 2009. Whitlock said his decision to name Vice provost was “one of the very best decisions I made in my time as president.”
Then there was longtime Eastern football coach and fellow Corbin-area native Roy Kidd, ’55’61, who, according to Vice, “seemed to care more about excellence than greatness but, because he pursued excellence, became a legend of greatness. I always thought, ‘What if each of us took our job that seriously?’”
As teacher and administrator, Vice reflected all those formative influences.
“I wanted students to learn that they could do better than they thought they could,” she said, “because I had experienced that. I always made a decision before I met my class for the first time that I was going to love that class. Caring about people is a decision.”
Vice remembers the reputational hit Eastern took in 1986 when Playboy magazine named it one of the top party schools in the nation. She took the news hard, and she took it as a personal challenge to do her part to ensure the campus was known most of all for the quality of its programs and services.
“No senior wants that (party school) reputation,” she said. “I personally made the commitment that I was going to expect the best from our students, and I was going to give them my best. I never aspired for accolades or promotions, but I did aspire to do the best job I could. I wanted our students to be prepared to go into any profession and be proud of their Eastern education. That was so important to me.”
She also took it personally when EKU’s retention and graduation rates dipped to unsatisfactory levels, before beginning a steady and significant climb. “Eastern is better than that,” she remembers thinking at the time.
But she didn’t take it personally when, years later, the University was among only three institutions nationally to receive the 2014 Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes, presented by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. That honor, she said, reflected the vision and hard work of EKU’s entire academic community.
Dr. David Coleman, director of EKU Honors, said Vice was “at the center” of the University’s successful efforts to improve retention and graduation rates, “but she has shown that we do so most effectively by enhancing, rather than compromising, our emphasis on academic quality. This is her greatest legacy.”
Colleagues have also long marveled at Vice’s calmness in the face of difficulty or even strife. Whitlock cited her “skill at gently bringing a conversation back on track.” Benson said he has “never met a more pleasant, agreeable person,” quickly adding that “when it comes to making a tough decision, Janna will step up and do it.”
Vice, who remains on the job in Fall 2016 until her successor is named, said her faith gives her “a peace that passes all understanding,” and countless students, colleagues and friends have experienced it in action, whether they saw it in an approving nod, felt it in a timely hug or tasted it in a homemade casserole.
What Others Are Saying about Dr. Vice
“During the 15 years that she and I shared an office, I have seen her be firm with students but never unkind. I have seen her firmly express an opinion but never be argumentative. Her approach is not to place blame but to move forward.”
Dr. Myrena Jennings
College of Business & Technology
“I was very impressed that she would take time to memorize every name. I had never had a teacher do that before. I realized early on that Dr. Vice cared deeply about connecting with her students.”
Dr. Jim Stepp, ’82
Executive Vice President
Alice Lloyd College
“The Vices have the most genuine spirit you could ever have. Their love for EKU is phenomenal and pure.”
Head Men’s Basketball Coach