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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Theatre and Dance

Professor Jim Hunter Steps Down As Department Chair After Ten Years

At the end of June, 2014, Professor Jim Hunter will officially step down as Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance after an impressive - and highly productive - ten years in the position.

Professor Hunter

He will be succeeded by Associate Professor Lisa Martin-Stuart, who has served as Associate Chair since 2010. Associate Professor Robert Richmond will take over the office of Associate Chair.

Professor Hunter came to the university in 1995 as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Design. He had been teaching theatrical design at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania for four years when Dennis Mauldin, then head of the design program at USC, called with the opportunity to come down south.

“I had designed about sixty equity shows with Dennis at the Flat Rock Playhouse,” says Hunter. “I’d never worked in Columbia, but I was familiar with it. I was born here, my grandfather was the general director of the YMCA and a minister, and my mom and dad are from here. My father was an alum of Carolina.”

Hunter says he was told with certainty that the position would last no longer than a year, standard practice for visiting professorships. That was nineteen years ago.

“When the dean told me that, my goal became to prove them wrong,” he says. “I was going to become indispensable.”

That determination led to Hunter being rehired in a tenure track position the following year, setting him on an upward trajectory that would see him assume the office of Chair/Theatre SC Artistic Director in 2004.

“My father taught me that job security was finding out what your boss doesn’t like to do and then doing that really well for him or her,” he explains. One of the first needed improvements to catch his attention was the theatre’s lab program. The program, not to be confused with the Lab Theatre, assigns theatre majors to various crew positions for department productions.

“One of the things I thought it needed was a syllabus with outcomes,” he says. “The students weren’t just there for busy work. There should be specific learning outcomes for whatever they did. So I wrote a syllabus, announced that I wanted to take it over, and I became the person to staff the shows and make sure people were trained.”

Soon after, he stepped into administrative roles, first serving as Director of Undergraduate Studies (’96-’99), then Director of Graduate Studies (’99-’04) and Associate Chair (’02-’04). He says taking on those leadership roles was a natural progression.

“I’ve always had an administrative bent,” he admits. “Production managing, things like that. And I felt that I would be a department chair eventually. I think I even told [then Technical Director) Walter O’Rourke that the first month I was here.”

Major achievements under Hunter’s leadership include the development of the Booker T. Washington building into a space for acting studios and the creation of the Lab Theatre, a black box performance space dedicated to giving more artistic and technical opportunities to undergraduates in the theatre program. Additionally, Hunter oversaw a massive increase in the number of professional directors, choreographers and performers afforded to the department’s productions, as well as approximately 500% percent growth in faculty and student travel opportunities. The dance program also saw significant accomplishments during his tenure, including the establishment of the dance BA track and the construction of new, state-of-the-art studios.

Professor Hunter with MFA Design students (from left) Brad Cozby, Heather Abraham Hawfield and Marc Hurst at the Rinker Playhouse, home of Florida Stage, in 2011.

Hunter humbly chalks up the accomplishments to following a simple philosophy — one encouraged by a longtime friend and colleague.

“An important mentor was Mark Heckler, who was then a Provost at the University of Colorado Denver and is now the president of Valparaiso University. He told me something that has propelled a lot of the decisions I’ve made the rest of my career. He said, ‘Jim, being an administrator is a serious intrusion on other people’s lives. It’s their job, their ambitions, their feeling of worth. You’re there to help with all those things, not to hinder them.’ And that’s led me to this whole philosophy of ‘servant leadership,’ where leaders serve others. I’ve always tried to do that with whatever resources I’ve had.”

About incoming Department Chair Lisa Martin-Stuart, Hunter is enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“She’ll be great at it, and we’re really fortunate she’s here to do it,” he says. “You know, when you do something for ten years, it seems you get 85% of the things you want done, and then that last 15% you’re just not able to get to, for whatever reason. She’s going to have her 85%, and I’m looking forward to that. I don’t know what it is quite yet, but I think she’ll be able to rebuild some foundational things — some of it facilities, some curriculum. A lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of years that she’s going to have a drive for.”

As someone who has let a passion for service guide his career, Hunter admits that there is one thing he won’t miss once he moves out of the Chair’s office.

“I’m really motivated by helping people,” he explains. “People always say, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, Jim,’ and it’s never really a bother. That said, I have not been on a vacation when the phone has not rung and there hasn’t been a crisis. I literally have negotiated the resignation of a faculty member while sitting on a balcony overlooking the ocean.”

“Those kinds of things? I love helping people, but… a weight is lifted.”