Inside Iowa State
Aug. 29, 1997
Hill hits campus running
by Steve Sullivan
It was his first day on the job and Iowa State's new vice president for student affairs found himself facing his profession's hardest situation: the death of a student.
An Iowa State student from Japan had died at a Des Moines hospital from injuries sustained in a fall from a Friley Hall window. The death later was ruled a suicide.
"In this business, there is a point when you just do what you've been trained to do and know to do. The 'first day' concept wasn't there," said Thomas Hill, who came to Iowa State from the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he had been dean for student services since 1993. "Watching the various staff members deal with the situation was very encouraging and reassuring to me. There are quality people here providing quality service for this university."
Of course, that first day was just the beginning. A lot of other challenges await Hill, including Veishea, proposed renovations to the residence halls, expansion of residential learning teams, campus diversity issues and finding a permanent director for the Student Health Center.
"From top to bottom, we are in relatively good shape. (Former vice president) Tom Thielen and (interim vice president) Dan Robinson did a great job putting things together and keeping them going and moving ahead," Hill said. "Iowa State enjoys a great reputation in student affairs."
Hill had no choice but to hit campus running, but that's not too hard for a former track star who has gained a reputation professionally for his energy level. At Florida, colleagues joked about him getting speeding tickets for his walking pace.
Hill already is involved deeply in the Veishea issue. He is meeting with student leaders from Veishea, Government of the Student Body, Inter-Fraternity Council, Panhellenic Society and the Inter-Residence Hall Association. He has been delivering the word that President Martin Jischke expects all students to get on board the effort to make Veishea a safe and, most importantly, an alcohol-free event.
"I think it's been a good event and has served the university well. But, like anything, there's always the chance that something that wasn't anticipated -- something disruptive and unfortunate -- is going to happen," Hill said. "We need to step back and take a broad look and decide what Veishea is supposed to be all about. We're going to have to make some really hard calls."
Hill knew what he was getting into with Veishea. He got an earful about Iowa State's 75-year-old tradition during his interview process.
"I constantly was told that you've never seen anything like it and that there's nothing in higher education in America that compares to Veishea," he said.
Hill may have had some near-Veishea experiences. He grew up in New Orleans and has been through a Mardi Gras or two.
He has spent much of his professional and personal life in the south. A former track standout at Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, Hill was a bronze medalist in the high hurdles at the 1972 Olympics.
Much of his early career focused on student athletes. He served as assistant athletic director for student life at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and at Tulane University, New Orleans; coordinator of University College at Arkansas State; and assistant academic adviser in the athletic department at the University of Florida.
"While working with student athletes, I was doing student affairs type work -- dealing with students and their needs, academic support, discipline, housing and those kinds of things," Hill said. "The only difference now is that instead of focusing on a limited and, in many respects, homogeneous population, you are expanding your audience to the entire campus."
Hill said his first priority in addressing diversity and campus climate issues is to get a sense of the different perspectives on campus as well as the university's overall diversity efforts.
"I think the students have raised some very interesting points. I might not approach an issue exactly the way someone else does, which may cause problems," he said. "But just because we don't see eye to eye on an issue doesn't mean there is no commitment.
"With most student groups, you pay attention to their needs, and everybody's needs are not the same. Minority students, just like student athletes, just like members of the band, just like other groups, have particular needs," said Hill during a recent Talk of Iowa radio show.
Landing a vice presidency was a career goal for Hill, who found his first contacts with Iowa State encouraging enough to pursue the position here.
"I like people. I like talking to people, interacting with people. The initial conversations I had with (Provost) John Kozak and then President Jischke heightened my interest in the position," Hill said "Then, I visited campus and met the students, who were fantastic. They have a lot of energy, a lot of excitement."
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