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University Loses HESA, Title IX Pioneer

Jackie Gribbons spent 40 years as one of UVM's first female administrators and a beloved professor

Jackie Gribbons
Jackie Gribbons. (UVM Photo)

Jackie Gribbons paved the way for countless women as one of the original architects of UVM’s nationally ranked Higher Education and Student Affairs program (HESA) and as an implementer of Title IX standards. It may have been her role as the straight-talking but compassionate academic adviser, however, that she will be remembered most by the thousands of students she helped during her groundbreaking 40-year career.

Gribbons, who worked at UVM from 1966 to 2006 as a faculty member and in a variety of administrative roles traditionally occupied by men, passed away on Jan. 10 after a battle with cancer. Memorial services will be held at the annual meetings of ACPA and NASPA. Donations in Gribbons' memory can be made to the UVM Jackie Gribbons Fund that supports graduate student travel to professional conferences. At Gribbons' request, there will not be funeral services.

“Jackie was pioneering in so many ways at the university and nationally,” said Kathy Manning, professor in the HESA program who met Gribbons during her job interview in 1989 and worked with her until Gribbons' retirement. “She recognized early on that our program is professional education and that you can’t just read about it in a book. Her legacy is that she started the campus practicum requirement for all graduate students and established many of the sites they serve in around the state. This is the hallmark of our program, and Jackie started them before national standards were even established. Her claim to fame is now a standard in the field.”

Gribbons, who helped establish Vermont Women in Higher Education, was one of the only female administrators when she arrived on campus in the fall of 1966 as the dean of women. She would be the last person to hold that position after deanships of men and women were merged into the dean of students positions throughout the U.S, but would later serve as assistant to the executive vice president; assistant to the vice president for administration; student grievance coordinator; associate to the senior vice president; and director of staff professional development.

As a charter member of the HESA faculty, she also served as course instructor, faculty adviser and coordinator of the program’s graduate internships. UVM’s HESA program has been ranked among the top five nationally in the graduate preparation of higher education and student affairs administrators. When she retired from her administrative post in 1993, Gribbons continued to teach and advise in the HESA program until 2006.

Susan Jones G‘81, a professor in the HESA program at Ohio State, stayed in touch with Gribbons after graduating and was encouraged by her mentor to get involved in the National Association of Women in Education, of which Gribbons served as president. “When you were with Jackie she made you feel like the most important person in the world,” said Jones from her office in Columbus. “She was very direct and didn’t put up with any nonsense but was very warm. She had very clear ideas about of what our responsibility was to the field and to our students. She opened a lot of doors for us and she expected us to do the same for our students. She accomplished great things in her life and expected us to do the same.”

Title IX Pioneer

Perhaps Gribbons’ most transformative role, however, came in 1971 when she was asked by UVM President Ed Andrews to help lead a task force on women’s athletics. The progressive move put the university well ahead of most athletic programs nationwide since it was commissioned a full year ahead of the passage of Title IX -- the landmark legislation aimed at eliminating sex-based discrimination in education. Gribbons, an avid supporter of UVM athletics, was subsequently named UVM’s first coordinator of Title IX, responsible for bringing the university into compliance with the new law aimed at ensuring equal opportunities in collegiate athletics.

“The discrepancies were appalling, and they were right in front of us, but I wanted to complete the task force so it was on the record and formally pointed out to justify our recommendations,” recalled Gribbons in a recent Vermont Quarterly article. “Even the men had to admit that things weren’t fair and many of them supported our efforts. Bottom line: it was about ethics and fairness.... Title IX was about a lot more than just athletics. It was meant to address the equity and equality of services, benefits, programs and activities in higher education, and that’s pretty broad.”

Former UVM Athletic Director Rick Farnham ’69, G’77 , who was responsible along with Gribbons for making the university Title IX compliant within a year, says Gribbons always had the best interest of all students in mind. “The great thing about Jackie was that she could see both sides of the picture,” said Farnham, who was a student when Gribbons first came to UVM. “She was very diplomatic, never had an axe to grind, and worked with the best interest in mind of both the men’s and women’s programs.”

Mentor to Many

Manning says Gribbons loved advising students and was legendary for her no-nonsense, tough love approach. “None of us can do it the way Jackie did,” says Manning. “She laid it out for the students in a straightforward way with the use of some colorful language. She’d sit students down and say, ‘Listen babe, here’s what it’s all about,’ and proceed to tell them exactly what to expect. She made relationships work with her humor, wisdom and street smarts. They all respected her for being honest and caring about them, and have told her so over the years.”

Many of Gribbons’ former students and colleagues have shared memories on a private Facebook page set up in her honor. There were many references to Gribbons’ insightful guidance, end-of-year celebration at her house, meetings at Waterman Manor and her continued support long after graduation.

“I remember my interview with Jackie back in the spring of 2007,” wrote former student Jason Johnson. “By the end of that interview, Jackie had built me up and restored my confidence that I was making the right decision that it was less an interview and more an empowerment session...I wouldn't be where I am today if she didn't think I could handle it all. When I'm having a tough time or wondering why I'm doing what I do, I think of Jackie and the impact she has had (clearly) on so many people.”

Deborah Hunter, associate professor in HESA, was given the 2007 Jackie M. Gribbons Extraordinary Service Award from the College of Education and Social Services for her superior contributions to the University of Vermont. A longtime friend and colleague of Gribbons, Hunter interviewed Gribbons on the 25th anniversary of the HESA Program.

“Twenty-five years have zoomed -- and, I mean zoomed,” wrote Gribbons, who received an honorary doctorate from UVM in 2007, in response to a question about her career. “I look back on a number of significant things...the good friends and colleagues I have been so fortunate to make...the opportunity I have had to remain in a teaching role...the chance to be with something so worthy from the beginning...a feeling of deep pride in the accomplishment of so many ...and a feeling of deep humility in sometimes knowing that I, too, have made a difference. So, I think of our collective parts and how good we have been for one another...all of us have brought this program to where it is today and our successors will take it to where it will be in the future...what a trip!”

A number of awards have been established in Gribbons' name, including the Jackie M. Gribbons Leadership Award, presented by the Vermont Women in Higher Education; the Jackie Gribbons Practica Supervision Excellence Award, presented by HESA; and the Jackie M. Gribbons Panhellenic Award, presented by Bowling Green State University.

Watch an interview from 2008 with Gribbons.