Through his stellar service to the Department of Anthropology, his indefatigable dedication to collegewide faculty governance, and his commitment to enhancing the student experience through sage advice and wise counsel, Michael Billig embodied the spirit of distinguished service in every way. He took mentorship seriously, and it showed in the tremendous contribution he made to the college over his lifetime. His service was quite simply his most remarkable corpus of work.
Michael’s impressive record of service reflects the ideal of increased dedication to leadership as one rises through the ranks. From the moment of his arrival on campus in 1986, Michael eagerly served on numerous shared governance and program committees, including as Chair of Anthropology several times, Chair of Asian Studies, a member of the Committee on Campus Life, the Student Conduct Committee, the Foundations Oversight Group, and the Summer Working Group on Governance and Handbook Reform.
On the basis of his exceptional leadership in these roles, Michael was eagerly sought after for elected positions of some significance. He was elected to serve on the Professional Standards Committee, labored mightily on the Teaching Evaluation Taskforce, and served on a Presidential Search Committee. Michael was appointed to serve as Associate Dean of the College in 2011, where he was instrumental in establishing and shaping the Office of College Grants, an initiative that has helped support the research trajectories of countless faculty. Michael’s last major contribution was as Chair of Faculty Council. In that role, Michael pioneered the re-engineering of faculty evaluation and the formalization of the Teaching Professor position, all the while navigating the turbulent upheaval of an unforeseen pandemic.
Mentorship was Michael’s joie de vivre. Michael sought to promote in all of us a sense of self-confidence in our own unique abilities as teachers and scholars. During his career at F&M, Michael became known as the de facto faculty advocate. Colleagues turned to him to read tenure portfolios and help navigate the tenure reconsideration process, a time-consuming labor of principle for him.
Michael was also sought out by students for counsel and advice beyond their coursework. He helped a number of struggling students realize their potential both in college and beyond. All of that began with his remarkable commitment to get students to realize in themselves what he saw in them, their unique and individual capability.
In describing his impact on her life, one alumna eloquently captured the influence of Michael's mentorship on so many of us: “He gave me a confidence in myself that I didn't know I had. He saw something in me, in all of us, and patiently helped us dig, explore, and uncover that piece unique to us all and taught us how to shine it, polish it, and show it to the world.”