15 July 2020Share
Professor Margot Hillel OAM will retire as Chair, Academic Board in August, after a long and eminent career in leadership positions at Australian Catholic University.
Professor Hillel has been at ACU since it was established as a university, and before that at a previous incarnation at Christ Campus of the Institute of Catholic Education (ICE). She serves on the University Senate, and has held a range of positions including Associate Dean (Research) and Head, School of Arts and Sciences (Victoria).
A leading researcher in children’s literature, Professor Hillel has had a prominent career as a research and teaching academic. Her services to children’s literature were honoured through a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) and she continues to serve as Chair of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, as a literary judge, and as a mentor.
Her distinction as a teaching academic was acknowledged when she was awarded ACU’s inaugural Excellence in Teaching Award in 1993.
As Chair of Academic Board, Professor Hillel has been responsible for improving governance and quality control across the university’s courses and maintaining ACU quality during a period of considerable growth.
Her colleagues describe her as an inspiring and wise leader who combines incisive intellectual power with strong people skills.
Looking back on her career, Professor Hillel said she had enjoyed all stages of her working life as a teaching academic, a researcher, and a university administrator.
As Chair of Academic Board, she led the university’s re-registration with the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA), a process which required a rigorous documentation of ACU’s teaching and learning. “I loved being part of that and I was thrilled we were re-registered for seven years,” she said.
She is pleased with the increased awareness of the quality and compliance agenda across the university and with the increased scrutiny of courses.
She has particularly enjoyed the rewarding role of mentoring other academics and the opportunity to reward the hard work of many colleagues through her role as chair of the promotions committees.
Among the highlights of her career she counts the establishment of ACU Historical Children’s Book Collection, which combines the original Culican Collection from Institute of Catholic Education with a generous donation of historical books from two former students of Professor Hillel, John and Grace Nolan. “It’s an enormously valuable resource for research and I’m delighted that it’s been catalogued and can be used by scholars.”
She also relished being part of the committee that renovated historic Cathedral Hall on the St Patrick’s Campus and created its centenary celebrations.
Being part of ACU’s commitment to community engagement has been very satisfying for Professor Hillel. She recalled with pleasure watching a group of schoolboys from Darwin sitting cross-legged in the university foyer creating artwork, some of which remains in the university collection.
She has been a key force in the ACU Poetry Prize since its inception, choosing the theme, participating in judging and editing the chapbook.
She is also proud of establishing the children’s art Christmas card competition, which ran for several years. Sales of cards made from the winning art works supported the Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre.
In a long career beginning at a small teachers’ college and ending as a senior executive in a university with almost 35,000 students, Professor Hillel has seen considerable change but also efforts to maintain core values.
“Christ Campus looked a bit like a secondary school and it had that feeling about it. It was a great change combining the Melbourne campuses and then becoming a university. Moving into the city really changed the physical presence of the university and, of course, the huge increase in the number of students is enormously significant. But I think it’s still a caring place to work and students still feel valued.”
Professor Hillel has seen changes in her academic field too. “Children’s literature is taken more seriously. It’s regarded as an important historical source and there’s an increasing understanding that children’s books reflect the values of the societies in which they are written.”
She does not share the oft-expressed concern that children don’t read any more. “Children’s books are still the highest-selling books in Australia. There’s always been competition for children’s time and there is probably more now, but reading is still important. This period of COVID isolation has made it clear how important reading can be.”
Her commitment to the social and personal impact of reading prompted her most recent innovation: the establishment of the ACU Book of the Year program. The Book of the Year is selected for its potential for social impact and community-building, and is provided free to all first-year students at the university.
Professor Hillel said she would miss being at the centre of academic governance and would miss the people with whom she has worked. Her colleagues will miss her too.
The Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven said, “Margot has made a significant contribution to the academic and cultural life of the university. Margot has further contributed to the university’s strategic direction through her role on the university’s Senate. She has actively participated in our graduations, often attending back-to-back graduations and standing in when colleagues have been unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. Margot actively supports the work of colleagues and is a mentor and friend to many. She will be missed, and I wish her all the best with her endeavours post ACU.”
Deputy Provost Professor Meg Stuart said working with Professor Hillel had been inspiring. “She has great attention to detail; she can manage multiple and sometimes competing agendas and yet she still finds time to encourage and support colleagues.
“Her enthusiasm for excellent student experiences and meaningful student engagement has been the driver for the ACU Book of the Year initiative, a landscape changer for ACU and one of many of Margot’s enduring legacies. She will be long and much missed in her role as Chair of Academic Board.”
ACU Vice President Father Anthony Casamento said, “Apart from her contributions to academia, particularly in children’s literature, Margot has brought great wisdom, leadership and insight into the academic governance of the university. She has ensured that ACU is well-placed to meet the challenges of an ever-changing landscape in higher education governance.”
Denise Howard has worked as Professor Hillel’s Executive Assistance since 2012. She said Professor Hillel manages a very busy workload and a calendar that is often back to back for days but always has time to support her colleagues.
“Margot is an easy person to work with as she is efficient in her time, has excellent leadership capabilities, is a good communicator and a decisive leader. Besides her strong working skills, she also has excellent people skills and great social and emotional intelligence.”
She noted Professor Hillel’s strong social conscience and many commitments to charities and associations.
Indeed, retirement already looks busy for Professor Hillel who will continue to as Chair, National Board, Children’s Book Council of Australia and as a board member for Cambodian Kids Can and Impact for Women.
She also judges a number of literature awards, including as Chair, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Young Adult and Children’s Panels and as a judge of the Young Australian Writers’ Awards.
She will also continue to pursue her research interests in children’s literature and to support young writers and academics as an editor and mentor.