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Susan Jackson Remembered for Kindness, Mentoring, Dedication

Memorial service for assistant provost tomorrow at Marsh Chapel

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Patricia Johnson felt happy when she was working late and saw colleague Susan Jackson’s office light on, a typical occurrence given Jackson’s relentless work ethic. No matter how pressed she was, Jackson would invariably be willing to stop and chat. “She was a great listener,” says Johnson, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of classical studies and a friend and colleague of Jackson’s for the last 20 years. “She was extremely well spoken, very kind, an irreplaceable mentor, and kind of intimidating. It still seems impossible to me that she won’t be there as the school year starts.”

Jackson, BU assistant provost for general education implementation and a CAS associate professor of French, died June 30. A memorial service will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, September 6, at 4 p.m., at Marsh Chapel, followed by a reception at the School of Law Barristers Hall.

“Susan was incredibly dedicated to BU, and there are few people who knew or cared more about undergraduate education than she did,” says Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer. “She had enormous impact on the University in mentoring students and staff, developing high-quality and distinctive academic programs, and successfully implementing the BU Hub—our first-ever University-wide general education program and one of our highest priorities. She leaves a rich and lasting legacy and will be deeply missed.”

“Her impact has been immense, and it is gratifying to see how much our colleagues recognize it,” says Ann Cudd, dean of Arts & Sciences and a professor of philosophy, who wrote a poignant obituary of her colleague on the CAS website shortly after her death. Cudd says she heard from many people with stories about Jackson’s helpful guidance, mentoring, and sense of humor. “Susan Jackson’s presence made the college what it is today, and she will not soon be forgotten,” Cudd says.

Jackson began her academic career at Duke University and came to Boston University in 1982 as a lecturer in French. She became an assistant professor in 1985, and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1991. A member of Phi Beta Kappa since her junior year at Wellesley (where she was class valedictorian), she was also the longtime secretary of the Epsilon chapter of Massachusetts, which is housed at BU.

In 1994, Jackson joined the CAS dean’s office as associate dean. She became senior associate dean of undergraduate education in 1998, overseeing academic policy, curriculum, and teaching. Cudd says Jackson’s appreciation for the arts and the sciences was indispensable as she helped faculty design new courses and assisted departments and programs in creating dozens of majors and minors. She became assistant provost for general education implementation in 2016.

Virginia Sapiro, a CAS professor of political science and Arts & Sciences dean from 2007 to 2015, worked closely with Jackson and had offices in the same suite. Sapiro says that as dean she could not have accomplished nearly as much as she did without Jackson’s “invaluable work for both students and faculty.”

“We started most days before most other people were at work by talking about the problems we wanted to solve, the things we wanted to accomplish, and the way we would go about it,” she says. “We often ended up doing the same in the quiet of the end of the day, after most other people had left the building.” But Sapiro also remembers a more playful side of her friend. “I treasured her amazing laugh, her zeal to be of service to faculty and students alike, and her glorious high-heeled red patent leather shoes she wore without fail for CAS Day, the day during Commencement weekend when we had both CAS Class Day and the Graduate School Hooding Ceremony.”

Cudd says Jackson was especially concerned about the welfare of lecturers and women faculty, having personally experienced how each could be mistreated in academia. “She worked to make policies and practices more inclusive and fair for both groups by clarifying promotion criteria and improving family leave policies, among other things,” Cudd says.

Jackson, who was fluent or highly competent in multiple languages, was renowned for her scholarship. Her research centered around the literature and philosophy of 18th-century France, particularly Jean-Jacques Rousseau. She was the author of Rousseau’s Occasional Autobiographies (Ohio State University Press, 1992), as well as articles on Diderot, Laclos, Staël, Voltaire, and Isabelle de Charrière. “Her Rousseau’s Occasional Autobiographies has left a definite mark in her field and beyond, enabling a more complex understanding not only of Rousseau, but of autobiography and its making as well,” says Odile Cazenave, a CAS professor of French and chair of romance studies.

“She could write on anything and make it sound wonderful, something as straightforward as a description of the French program,” says Dorothy Kelly, a CAS professor of French, a member of the team that hired Jackson in 1982. Kelly recalls observing one of Jackson’s fifth semester language classes years later. “She had the students sit in a semicircle, and they were doing a grammatical exercise orally,” she says. “She made it engaging and fun, and the students wanted to answer her questions. I wanted to raise my hand as well because that’s how fantastic she was.”

Even after her responsibilities as assistant provost prevented her from continuing to teach, Jackson “remained an intrinsic part of our graduate program, serving as reader for a number of dissertations, chairing or being part of defenses, mentoring students, and helping them grow into scholars,” says Cazenave.

Gareth McFeely (GRS’15), executive director of Study Abroad, says Jackson made an indelible impression on him in 2003 when he was hired to work in what was then the modern foreign languages and literatures department. “Susan knew that the staff in the department were in at the deep end,” he recalls. There had been turnover in the department, new staff was starting, and their boss was ill.

“Susan swooped over—I still have a vision of her zipping into my office, her green dress flying,” McFeely says. “When I felt like I was floundering, she reassured me that I would be just fine, and made sure I knew how to contact her and her colleagues. She was a real life raft in a storm.” Jackson was later a key mentor, he says, encouraging him as he worked to finish a PhD in African history while balancing the demands of being a new dad. And when he received his degree, she was on hand to help hood him during Commencement ceremonies.

Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a CAS professor of English, was immediately impressed by Jackson’s commitment when she first met her in 2012. “She was so smart, had such extensive knowledge of the University and its people and how best to work with them,” Loizeaux says. “Throughout my experience with her what stands out is her rock-solid dedication to students. She was willing to do a lot and work for what was best for them.”

One of Loizeaux’s favorite memories of her colleague and friend is of her rain boots, duct taped at the toe because they leaked. “She walked to and from BU every day and would devise different routes for herself because she would get bored,” she says. “It was the winter, and I stopped and said, ‘Oh Susan, nice boots,’ and she just smiled. She said, ‘Yeah, I don’t notice them.’

“She worked really hard and took her work seriously, but didn’t take herself too seriously,” says Loizeaux, who will speak at Jackson’s memorial service tomorrow. “She was immensely humble about the work that she did.”

Jackson is survived by her husband, Richard, of Brookline, her son Nathaniel, and her daughter Hannah.

A memorial celebrating the life of Susan Jackson will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, September 6, at 4 p.m., at Marsh Chapel. The service is expected to last about an hour. A reception will follow immediately at the School of Law Barristers Hall, 765 Commonwealth Ave.

Ann Cudd contributed reporting to this story.

4 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Susan Jackson Remembered for Kindness, Mentoring, Dedication

  • Renee Pontbriand on 09.05.2017 at 8:07 am

    It’s still hard to imagine going back to campus knowing Susan is not there to oil the incredibly complex BU/CAS machine. 25 years of working with this exceptional woman was always a pleasure from both a professional but most importantly human level. There are not many like her out there who care but you knew she did. She cared both for the student, the professor, the administrator and the institution. A rare gem! But like anything precious, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” And I am singing this to her now, because you just could do that with her & have a great laugh besides! Oh how we ache… Be well Susan.

  • Amalia Perez-Juez on 09.05.2017 at 9:12 am

    I feel exactly like Renee Pontbriand. Susan was a true mentor, and always made you feel important to her and welcome. It was never too late to meet with her, or she never mentioned how busy she was. SHe would make time for you no matter what. And running into her at CAS was always cheerful and fun. YOu will be truly missed…

  • Stephanie Pasha on 09.05.2017 at 4:43 pm

    I had the privilege of working for Susan in the 1996-2000 years. I learned so much from her, not only about the nuts of bolts of the CAS bulletin, classroom scheduling, curriculum committees, and various department head searches, but more importantly about developing a solid work ethic. She taught me to always try to help to solve a problem. She taught me to never over-promise but to always try to over-deliver. She taught me to laugh at my mistakes. And most of all, she urged me to always remember that this was a business of human beings, so to be be kind, to listen, and to be oh so careful with my words.

    I will cherish our many early mornings, late nights, and weekend work sessions. I can still hear her raucous, infectious laugh. I can still see her racing headlong down the halls of CAS, ever on her way to put out someone else’s fire. And all of those chewed up pens on her desk.

    With love and thanks, Susan, you will be remembered.

  • James McCann on 09.06.2017 at 8:31 am

    Susan was a wonderful colleague. As Amalia says, it was never to late in the day to meet with her. And it was also never too early. I often talked to Susan at 7 or 7:30 am in her office, even on the spur of the moment. She always took time, whatever pressing problems she may have had on other issues. She always sought to solve problems and to communicate with all concerned. I will and do miss her energy and insights. We will miss you Susan and we miss you now.

    Jim McCann, Professor of History

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