Cahill, Festle to be named Distinguished University Professors

The professorship honors senior full professors for their career achievements in teaching, scholarship, leadership and service to Elon.

Ann Cahill, professor of philosophy and director of the National and International Fellowships Office, and Mary Jo Festle, Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of History, are to be honored as Elon University’s seventh and eighth Distinguished University Professors.

The announcement of the honor was made by President Connie Ledoux Book at the final faculty meeting of the 2022-23 academic year. The Distinguished University Professorship is bestowed upon occasion to senior faculty members, honoring their teaching, scholarship, leadership and service to the Elon University community. The board of trustees created the professorship in 2001 and a faculty committee solicits nominations and recommends recipients of the honor to the president.

In its recommendation of Cahill and Festle for the Distinguished University Professorship honor, the nomination committee noted that both are highly respected for their collaborative and selfless leadership styles. The committee pointed to the long-standing commitments of Festle and Cahill have demonstrated to making Elon a more inclusive, diverse and intellectually rigorous institution while using their rank and tenure to advocate on behalf of students, faculty and staff, particularly those from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities.

Both will be invested with the professorships during ceremonies later this year.

Ann Cahill

Cahill, who joined the Elon faculty in 1998, is widely recognized as a prolific and influential teacher, scholar and mentor and as a strong voice on challenging issues that face our society. She has a strong record of service to the university and has supported the academic and personal journeys of countless students — in her classes, as a research mentor, as the director of the Lumen Prize and now as director of the Office of National and International Fellowships.

Professor of Philosophy and Director of National and International Fellowships Office

In 2011, she was the recipient of the Elon University Distinguished Scholar award and she received the Lenssen Prize from the American Association of Philosophy Teachers in 2014 for the best research article on teaching and learning. In 2016, Cahill was awarded a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that supported a rare gathering of more than two dozen educators from universities around the country to interact with top scholars who research questions surrounding sexual violence.

Cahill has published extensively, with her work appearing in premier journals in the field of feminist philosophy, and she has presented at dozens of national and international conferences. She has served as co-editor for multiple anthologies and has authored two books that explore topics central to feminist thinking that had not previously been extensively explored – “Rethinking Rape” (2001) and “Overcoming Objectification: A Carnal Ethics” (2010).

A colleague from another institution notes that the “dramatic and widespread impact of her scholarship” is striking, and “Rethinking Rape” ranks as “one of the all-time top three philosophical books on the topic.” A co-author with Cahill says that “I’ve never met a more astute thinker or more generous teacher whose integrity and intellectual innovation seem to me unparalleled and without limit.”

Within the Elon University community, Cahill stands out as a catalyst within her department and a campus leader. Along with her work leading the Lumen Prize and Office of National and International Fellowships, Cahill has served as chair of the Department of Philosophy, faculty advisor to the Liberal Arts Forum and a leader of the Sexual Assault and Gender Issues Council.

Cahill earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Holy Cross and her doctorate in philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Mary Jo Festle

During her three decades as an Elon faculty member, Festle has been a model for how to successfully integrate teaching, mentoring, scholarship and servant leadership. She arrived at Elon in 1993 and since then has served in leadership roles with multiple high-profile programs including as director of the Honors Program, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and as coordinator of the Women’s, Gender & Sexualities Studies Program.

Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of History

An Elon colleague notes that “as a member of the Elon community, Mary Jo has worked steadfastly to create the conditions for every person to flourish — acting on this fundamental insight about human nature even in costly, self-sacrificial ways.” Another colleague noted that they found her annual reports as a faculty member “a primer in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, as she detailed the implementation of new teaching approaches every semester.”
Festle was the recipient of the Elon College Excellence in Teaching Award in 2004, the Senior Faculty Research Fellowship in 2009, the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2011 and the Maude Sharpe Powell Professorship in 2014.

As a teacher-scholar, she has developed 19 different courses including innovative seminars such as “Race, Gender and Sports in the U.S.” and “History of Gender and Sexuality in the U.S.” Her 2020 book “Transforming History: A Guide to Effective, Inclusive, and Evidence-Based Teaching” has impacted teaching and learning throughout the academy and followed two other books — “Second Wind: Oral Histories of Lung Transplant Survivors” (2012) and “Playing Nice: Politics and Apologies in Women’s Sports” (1996).

Festle has played an integral role in Elon’s continued work toward greater inclusion, with one colleague noting her “strategic, visionary, caring and scholarly leadership” in those efforts. From 2013-16, she served as co-chair of the Presidential LGBTQIA Task Force and the subsequent implementation committees. Colleagues note that Festle has consistently brought her humility and humanity to her work, with a commitment to elevating others, particularly those who have been historically marginalized and overlooked.

Festle earned a bachelor’s degree from Knox College and her master’s degree and doctorate in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The six other Distinguished University Professors are:

  • Maude Sharpe Powell Professor Emeritus of Philosophy John Sullivan (2002)
  • J. Earl Danieley Professor of Sociology Tom Henricks (2003)
  • Maude Sharpe Powell Professor Emeritus of English Russell Gill (2006)
  • Watts-Thompson Professor of Human Service Studies Pamela M. Kiser (2010)
  • Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies Jeffrey Pugh (2017)
  • A.J. Fletcher Professor of Communications David Copeland (2017)