Dr. James L. Hill, senior vice president of The University of Texas at Austin and life-long educator, who helped the university make significant progress in the recruitment of students from underrepresented communities and build strong relationships with the East Austin community, died September 2. He was 84.
Hill became the university’s first African American vice president, serving under four presidents. President Robert Berdahl appointed him to associate vice president for administration and public affairs in 1993. He went on to become vice president for community and school relations in 2000, a position he retired from in 2007, after which he remained a special assistant to the president until his passing.
Hill’s association with the university began in 1959 when he became a graduate student in the College of Education. He would later enjoy years of active participation in the Texas Exes with the goal of increasing the number of African American students on campus. In a 2007 UT Oral History Project interview Hill recounted his time as a guidance counselor when he personally would travel with current students to Dallas and Houston to meet with principals, counselors and prospective students to dispel the notion that the university was an unwelcoming place. When Hill graduated from Anderson High School in Austin as salutatorian, he could not attend the university. It was not yet integrated. Instead, he graduated in 1953 from Huston-Tillotson College in East Austin. There he built relationships that would prove beneficial to the university during his tenure.
Throughout his university career, Hill became an exemplary role model for students, faculty members and administrators, especially African Americans. He was active on the Martin Luther King Jr. Statue committee, the Barbara Jordan Historical Essay Competition, Affirmative Action working committees, and the Austin Entrepreneurial Project. He was also a strong supporter of the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA), formerly known as the African American Staff Advocating Progress (AASAP).
Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, now oversees much of Hill’s former portfolio, including the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the University Interscholastic League, Neighborhood Longhorns, University Outreach programs, and Pre-college Youth Development.
“Dr. James Hill’s contributions to the university cannot be understated,” Vincent said. “His relationship skills and understanding of the Austin community improved our campus and allowed it to become a more inclusive and diverse environment. That is reflective of how far we have come today and is evident when you walk through campus and see commemorations like the MLK statue. He had a big part in getting us here.”
Dr. Wanda Nelson, special assistant to Vincent, worked under Hill in the University Outreach programs starting in 1995. She remembers his calm demeanor.
“He was a gentleman and he helped us develop a positive relationship with Huston-Tillotson University,” she said. “He knew so many people. He provided a lot of opportunities for networking.”
Hill’s distinguished career included many honors such as the Heman Sweatt Legacy Award from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and The University of Texas at Austin, the Whitney Young Urban League Award given by the Austin Urban League and the National Forum of Black Public Administrators Marks of Excellence Award. However, a recognition that held special meaning for him was the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Black Faculty and Staff Association in 2006. The group also recognized Hill’s dedication and service to the university community in 2001 with the Dr. James L. Hill Education Scholarship, now endowed and administered through the Texas Exes.
Prior to joining the university administration, Hill was a high school counselor, mathematics teacher and band director with the Abilene Independent School District. He also served as deputy commissioner with the Texas Education Agency and as director of the southwest field office for the Educational Testing Service.
He received his master’s degree in educational psychology and doctorate in educational administration from The University of Texas at Austin in 1978.
Hill is survived by his loving wife of 62 years, Geraldine; daughter Jacqueline Howard and her husband Charles of Pasadena, Calif.; granddaughter Pamela Tyus and her husband David of West Covina, Calif., and grandson Charles Howard and his wife Dionne of Northridge, Calif.; three great-great sons Christopher James Howard, Anthony Tyus and Miles Lawrence Howard; sisters Irene Thompson and Wray Hardin; brother Doxy Hill; and many nieces, nephews and loved ones.
Funeral services were held Saturday, Sept. 8, at at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin. Contributions honoring Dr. Hill can be made to the James L. Hill Scholarship Fund at The University of Texas at Austin or Huston-Tillotson University.