The secret lives of our profs

Lauren Mimms

Randall McNeill, associate professor and chair of the classics department, is finishing up his 10th year at Lawrence. He was honored with Lawrence’s Young Teacher Award in 2003. Following this term, McNeill will be on sabbatical for a year to work on a book project as part of the Defining Wisdom grant he received earlier this year.
McNeill primarily grew up in Chicago, so he is familiar with the Midwest. His father, also an academic, spent a year at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Wassenaar. Moving to Europe for a year left quite an impression on the 13-year-old McNeill.
“Being in the Netherlands meant that when I had breaks from school, we could just hop in the car and go somewhere in Europe. I think it was one of our first trips, to Northern Italy, which inspired my interest in classics,” he recalled.
McNeill attended Harvard University for his undergraduate degree. “At Harvard, instead of dorms, we lived in houses that each had a different reputation,” he said, admitting that he chose the stereotypically “nerdy” house, Lowell, one of the 12 undergraduate residence halls on campus.
After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard, McNeill earned his doctorate from Yale University, where he lectured for a year before coming to Lawrence. Said McNeill, “At Lawrence, I could teach about wider interests, while at large universities, I would be hired to teach one specific subject, like Roman satire.”
McNeill is very enthusiastic about his decision to come to Lawrence, expressing how much he enjoys teaching LU students. “I am endlessly impressed by what students here do. It’s really exciting to watch students find new subjects they really enjoy and to be involved in helping move them forward. Students here are also very hardworking and seem to be generally excited about learning,” he said.
Professor McNeill will be working on two projects with the Defining Wisdom grant while on sabbatical next year. The Defining Wisdom project aims at coming to conclusions about “the big questions,” like “what is wisdom?” and “what is justice?” Professor McNeill is “excited to have conversations with other people outside [his] own discipline about their views on these topics. He will be traveling to various universities over the next year to contribute to his research and meet with other professors in the program.
The first of McNeill’s endeavors is a personal project concerning the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus who lived in the first century B.C. McNeill is most interested in how Catullus presented himself and “what makes him unique to other poets.” He will be examining Catullus’ breaking down of language, specifically lies, ambiguity and the use of silence in unexpected places.
His second project with the Defining Wisdom grant will look at four figures in Greek and Roman poetry that are examples of what happens when individual desires come into conflict with what is expected of people.
“I’m interested in using them to try to figure out what the popular Greek and Roman conceptions of this conflict were,” said McNeill. “Where does wisdom come in? Where is the balance, and how do we find it?”
When he has “copious spare time,” Professor McNeill enjoys classic movies from the 1930s to ’60s as well as listening to music. His favorite movie, for sentimental reasons, is the original 1977 Star Wars film. “I saw it when I was seven and watched it endlessly,” Professor McNeill recalled.
When it comes to music, he himself is a drummer, and likes bands with horn selections. He is in a local bagpipe band here, which he joined to have an opportunity to keep playing.
McNeill’s “alternative universe dream job” is to do voice-overs for television commercials. Though he may still be able to fulfill that dream, for now he enjoys his work at Lawrence. “Teaching here is rewarding and fun; you don’t get that at many colleges and that’s what makes this place special.