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Release Date: 
Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Get to Know HFC: Dr. Mike Hill on language, writing, rebellion, The Walking Dead, and Buffy

A photo of Dr. Mike Hill.

By his own admission, Dr. Mike Hill isn’t your typical English professor.

“I design almost every course around a theme to give us something interesting to focus on while we work on academic ideas and methods,” said Hill, of Redford, who is married and has three children. “I try to incorporate pop culture as frequently as I incorporate theory, because rapper Lil Nas X can be as instructive as Aristotle.”

The same thing with The Walking Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He has found that using these pop culture icons in his classes to be just as effective as the works of Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century philosopher/author/historian who is considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy.

“Themes allow us to take the vast world of knowledge, experience, and practice behind any given course and focus it onto a particular topic. So, if we are learning about the history of humanities, a theme of apocalyptic humanities allows us to look at apocalyptic texts throughout the history of human creation in order to understand how and why humans create,” said Hill. “A theme of protest music in a composition course allows us to focus our readings, writings, and analysis on the object of protest music while exploring how we use rhetoric, voice, and argumentation to write. My themes are often responsive to current events: Black Lives Matter, women’s voices in society, educational freedom, et al. I always try to incorporate enjoyable and fulfilling texts. Some of my go-to text sources are video games, music, advertisements, comic books, and Buffy.”

A lifelong fascination with language, rhetoric, and rebellion

From an early age, Hill knew he was going to work in language, writing, literature, and persuasion in some capacity.

“Rhetoric and language have fascinated me my entire life,” said Hill. “This is probably a result of some chemical being spilled on me while reading (P.D. Eastman’s 1961 children’s book) Go, Dog. Go! as a 4-year-old – or something like that. I started out undergrad planning on teaching high school, but after two pre-ed courses, I realized I would never be able to follow the rules in K-12.”

Rules have always been a challenge of sorts for Hill, who added, tongue-in-cheek: “That’s probably due to my planet of origin exploding after a fascist government led us to destruction.”

Hill continued: “Anyway, teaching English allows me to explore language, writing, and rebellion in really interesting ways. Philosophy also plays a role here, by the way. I was a philosophy minor in undergrad and then ended up getting a Ph.D. in the philosophy of education. My fascination with philosophy was always rooted in argumentation – probably due to the time that the ghosts of Socrates, John Dewey, and Hannah Arendt infused me with their powers, so that I could argue against Reaganites infused with the powers of Hobbes. So, being an English teacher allows me to teach about language, writing, rebellion, and argumentation... which is pretty much all I could want in life.”

A three-state educational odyssey

A native of Alabama, Hill’s family moved to Michigan when he was 6 months old. An alumnus of Lakeview High School, Hill began his education at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek.

Hill transferred to Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. There, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in philosophy, and his master’s degree in English. He earned his Ph.D. in the social foundations of education with a concentration in philosophy from the University of Toledo. In addition, he completed doctoral work in Modernist American Literature and composition/rhetoric at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Hill has been a professor for more than 25 years. He began at Wayne State, where he taught for five years. He then served as a visiting professor at UToledo for five years. He also taught part-time at Monroe County Community College and Owens Community College in Toledo before coming to HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) in 2006. HFC offered Hill the opportunity for a meaningful career in higher education.

During his time at HFC, Hill co-founded the Writing Center, where he was the original director; co-directed the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI); chaired multiple committees; and designed various classes. For the last nine years, Hill has served in various positions on the Executive Board of Local 1650.

Union provides freedom to create educational setting at HFC

“I love our union (Local 1650). We have a contract that has been crafted over 40 years through multiple battles, discussions, and agreements. This contract has allowed us to create teaching conditions that are fairly unique in higher education,” he explained. “Our teaching conditions privilege the professional in the classroom and honor the expertise of the teacher by providing support and protection through the language of the contract. These conditions allow the faculty at this College – both full-time and part-time – the freedom to create an educational setting that is foundational, fruitful, and flexible for thousands of students every semester.”

Hill continued: “Here’s the thing: The role of the professor in most colleges and universities is rarefied and, often, beyond repute. Here at HFC, professors are important, but I don’t think that we see ourselves as being more important than any other person on this campus. The union position is generally a practical one. Our job matters; we will fight for our job so we can do it well. Our fight for our jobs has dual goals of protecting our work and also protecting the College and the members of our larger community.”

One of Hill’s mentors was the late John McDonald, who passed away on Dec. 30, 2021. An emeritus HFC faculty member, McDonald worked at HFC for nearly 53 years. For 43 years, he was president of Local 1650. Hill wrote a tribute to McDonald on the HFC remembrances webpage and in the Dearborn Press & Guide.

“Most of my values about working in higher education were learned from John,” said Hill. “He was one of my greatest mentors and, frankly, he is the one who made the current condition of teaching at HFC possible. John is a person we need to thank as we think about the strength and quality of teaching at HFC.”

HFC has a direct, immediate impact on students

Hill would rather teach at a community college than a 4-year university.

“I love teaching at the community college level. While a part of me longs for time to research, think, write, and create – luxuries that are afforded professors at research universities but are largely beyond the mission of the community college – my work here is far more important,” he explained. “I mean, sure, if I were at a university, I may have written a successful, influential book on avant garde poetry and nationalism. But that book would probably only have been bought and actually read by 200 people. I might have been able to guide four grad students a year through important projects. And I might have been able to teach 25 undergrads every semester in seminars that speak directly to my interests. All of those things would have been great.

“But at HFC, I teach more than 200 students a year, I mentor colleagues, influence College policy and administrators, and serve my union. I create and guide curriculum, and I serve both Dearborn and our larger democracy by helping to educate citizens. Working at a community college has a direct and immediate impact on the individual student, on the society around the College, and on the culture of the College itself. That immediacy appeals to me as someone who is fascinated by language, rhetoric, and argumentation.”

Unique teaching philosophy

Hill attempts to design his classes by inviting students into their own processes of writing and learning.

“I have super high expectations for participation, while my standards of academic work are supportive and not rigid. That is, I expect students to do everything and to learn how they do as they do, but I don’t take off points if they don’t do as I would do,” he explained. “This way of teaching confuses some students at first. They are used to strict standards and point-based grading, but my approach ultimately shows that learning can be transformative and powerful when a student allows herself to be engaged.”

The classes Hill normally teaches are:

  • Introduction to College Writing
  • College Writing and Research
  • Introduction to Humanities
  • Introduction to Philosophy

Hill used to teach ENG 093, which has since been replaced by ENG 090A: Academic Literacies, a course he helped design. ENG 090A, which will be offered for the first time in the Winter 2022 Semester, helps students develop their academic literacies in conjunction with college-level reading and writing in other courses.

Other classes Hill has taught at HFC include:

  • American Literature I
  • American Literature II
  • American Biography
  • Women’s Literature
  • Children’s Literature

The communities we form and the communities we support

Hill is a firm believer that every student at HFC belongs in the classroom and that every student needs support in the classroom.

“For me, working with students and helping them find out about why their voices are interesting, meaningful, and powerful is the best part of my job,” he said. “While I can get frustrated by students who don’t respect other students or cultures, I am willing to work with students to help them find their place on this campus. Everyone belongs at HFC and in my classes because everyone is the community. Teaching at HFC is truly a practice of the role of a community college. My work and the work of my teaching and non-teaching colleagues is ultimately about the communities we form and the communities we support.”

More from Mike Hill

Dr. Hill created the video below during the height of the pandemic, to talk about why students should consider enrolling in his classes. He also notes that the pandemic should not stop anyone from achieving their life goals. It's worth a listen.