CONWAY, Ark. (June
22, 2020) — Dr. Alex Vernon, professor of English at Hendrix College,
has been selected to hold the M.E. and Ima Graves Peace Distinguished Professorship.
Vernon is the
third faculty member to hold this professorship. Established in 1982, the M.E.
and Ima Graves Peace Professorship was first held by English professor Dr. Ashby
Bland Crowder from 1982 to 2008, then by politics professor Dr. W. Jay Barth ’87
from 2008 to 2020.
Because of the
current pandemic, Vernon learned of his newest honor over the phone rather than
in person. Provost Terri Bonebright delivered the news on a Monday.
“When Terri told
me, I broke into tears, because the Friday night before, my mother had died,”
Vernon said. “I told the provost how nice it was to get good news. It was a
very short phone call because I had to compose myself.”
Currently on a
year-long research leave made possible by a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, Vernon will use some of the
professorship’s funding in connection with his NEH project: a biography of
novelist Tim O’Brien, author of The
Things They Carried. The professorship would support research-related travel
(as the pandemic permits), along with obtaining primary source material and records,
and participating in conferences.
All of which,
ultimately, serve to enhance the educational experience for Hendrix students. Vernon
recently taught a course on “Imagined Vietnam” and led an Oxford-style tutorial
on O’Brien’s writings for a small group of Murphy Scholars in Literature and Language.
“Every time I
step into a classroom and talk about books and ideas with students, it keeps me
engaged, keeps me on my toes. The teaching-and-scholarship dynamic is really
alive for me,” Vernon says. “The teaching really helps me think about my
scholarship, and my scholarship enlivens my teaching in how I engage with
Vernon earned his
M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina. He teaches a variety of
courses in 20th Century American literature and writing, such as
American Literature and the Environment and the Faulkner-Wideman Seminar. He has
used two previous Odyssey professorships to take student groups abroad to study
and perform service work in Vietnam, and to study the Spanish Civil War. Off campus, Vernon directed a two-year
NEH “Dialogues on the Experience of War” program for central Arkansas veterans as
well as the general public.
Vernon takes joy
in sharing the same professorship as his predecessors Crowder and Barth, citing
their teaching, their scholarship, and their friendship.
“I think we have
an immensely talented faculty. Every day I am in awe of something a colleague
has done, whether that’s inside or outside of the classroom,” Vernon says. “I’m
a good teacher, but at Hendrix I feel like an average teacher on my best days.
I’m amazed by my colleagues. Many of them are eminently qualified for a
distinguished professorship. My oldest daughter likes to say she can’t imagine
me being anything but a professor, and I tell her that I think she means a
professor at Hendrix, because there’s something about this place that just fits
me and my career.”
nominated Vernon for the professorship wrote about his work both inside and
outside the classroom, including his published works—books, journal articles,
and commentaries appearing in national news outlets; his pedagogical innovation
and attention to engaging students in a communal learning experience; and his service
in administrative and leadership roles on campus.
to Hendrix shows him to be committed to our college’s values, reflected in our statement of purpose,
which he played a prominent role in authoring. The first goal in that statement
is to ‘cultivate empathy.’ I must note that Alex has been instrumental in that
regard on campus,” one colleague wrote. “Hendrix is often likened to a bubble,
but Alex brings a rare perspective on this campus of someone who served in the
military…. He may teach about war, but it is clear that his objective is to
bring about peace.”
honors M.E. Peace, who attended Hendrix during the 1913-1914 academic year and
went on to become a successful business owner in Magnolia, Arkansas, and his
wife Ima Graves Peace, a longtime friend of the College.
Vernon joins five
continuing holders of distinguished professorships at Hendrix: Dr. Peg
Falls-Corbitt, the Virginia A. McCormick Pittman Professor of Philosophy; Dr.
John Krebs, the Willis H. Holmes Distinguished Professor of Music; Dr. Matt
Moran, the Elbert L. Fausett Distinguished Professor of Biology; Dr. Lyle
Rupert, the C. Louis and Charlotte Cabe Distinguished Professor of Economics
and Business; and Dr. Lawrence Schmidt, the Harold and Lucy Cabe Distinguished
Professor of Philosophy.
A private liberal
arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns
recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is
featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change
the Way You Think About Colleges.
Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix
as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876,
Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To
learn more, visit www.hendrix.edu.