Administrative Spotlight: Michael LeMahieu
Professors are some of the busiest people on Clemson’s campus, whether they are teaching, conducting research or pursuing other scholarly endeavors. Throughout his time at Clemson, Michael LeMahieu, the current associate dean of undergraduate and graduate studies, has found the time to pursue all of those things, giving him special insight into the opportunities of English majors.
Before becoming associate dean, LeMahieu was an English professor for 17 years. When asked why he wanted to be a professor, he said, “Something about the energy of the students, the talent across all the different fields and disciplines, the ideas, I kind of, without realizing it consciously, I felt most at home and worked best in a college environment.”
As an English professor, LeMahieu’s interests started with philosophy in literature, particularly regarding the philosophy of language and the philosopher Wittgenstein.
In 2011 he taught an honors seminar, where he developed a new research interest. He realized it was the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the 50th anniversary of key moments in the Civil Rights Movement and the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Because of these important historical milestones, he called the seminar “1861, 1961, 2001.” Through this course, LeMahieu became interested in Civil War remembrance, and particularly the 100th anniversary of the Civil War during the Civil Rights Movement. This led to his book “Post-54.”
The title “Post-54” refers to the year the Supreme Court decided the Brown v. Board of Education case. The book looks at how literature represents the Civil War after the court’s decision, a moment in history considered to kick off the height of the Civil Rights Movement. According to LeMahieu, many longstanding symbols of the Civil War emerged during the post-54 era, such as flying Confederate flags, naming schools after Confederate generals and calling the Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression.”
When asked about writing “Post-54,” LeMahieu said, “What’s most gratifying about it for me is the things you discover that you weren’t even looking for, so the book that I ended up writing is much different than the one I initially conceived of … That sense of surprise and discovery has been the most gratifying for me.”
However, writing a book does not come without challenges. When asked about his difficulties writing “Post-54,” he mentioned finding time to work. He said, “The longer you’re in the profession, and particularly the longer you’re at the same university, you get pulled in multiple different directions. I enjoy getting pulled in almost all of those directions, but to write a book you have to find consistent periods of time.”
LeMahieu also finds time to edit numerous texts, one of which is a result of his research for “Post-54.” While researching for the textbook chapter of “Post-54,” he found a quote from “Black Carolinians” by I. A. Newby. He was surprised by how modern it sounded even though it was published in 1973, inspiring him to propose a 50th-anniversary edition, which he hopes to edit in the coming year.
When asked how his current position of associate dean of undergraduate and graduate studies compares to his experience as a professor, he said, “Part of what I love about being associate dean is it puts me in connection with people from across the entire university. It gives you a different perspective on all the work that goes into running a university but also the dozens or hundreds of really brilliant people it takes to make up a faculty and a staff.”
Since he has years of experience in Clemson’s English Department, Unbound asked LeMahieu what he would like to tell Clemson English majors. He answered, “One of the great things about the English major at Clemson is that, on the one hand, you have a good degree of flexibility. On the other hand, there are possible connections to so many areas of interest, so being an English major at Clemson allows you to become involved with any number of activities, intellectual pursuits and creative endeavors. What I would say to Clemson students is pursue your interests in as many ways as possible, and if you’re questioning whether it’s possible, it likely is. You just need to reach out and talk to someone.”
While you may not see LeMahieu in the classroom, you see and benefit from his work at Clemson. As an author, former professor and associate dean, LeMahieu’s impact on campus continues as he finishes “Post-54” and establishes a new program to encourage students to volunteer in the Clemson community.
By: Alli Jennings