Traveling leisurely with their dog from Boston to Austin, Jo Ann Hackett and her husband, John Huehnergard, left behind their combined 46 years of service at Harvard University to embark on a new life at The University of Texas at Austin.
“It was really easy,” said Hackett, who will be a professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. “We were afraid it wouldn’t be, but almost immediately after we left everything behind, we were just looking forward.
“Some people wonder, am I ever going to leave Harvard and that beautiful house, and we didn’t feel that way at the least.”
Hackett and Huehnergard, who will also be a professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies in the College of Liberal Arts, arrived in Austin Aug. 1.
Both received doctor’s degrees from Harvard and each went on to teach there for more than 20 years. Most recently, Hackett was a professor of biblical Hebrew and northwest semitic epigraphy and Huehnergard a professor of semitic philology. Huehnergard had also been a former chair of Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
“We have spent most of our adult lives at Harvard, so this was a big change,” Hackett said. “And to have someone who is just as excited as you makes all the difference in the world. (John) is as happy as a clam.”
At UT, the couple hopes to expand the Hebrew studies curriculum to include coursework in ancient Hebrew as well as semitic epigraphy and philology, complementing the existing modern Hebrew studies program.
“The fact that (John and I) are in the same field means that, all of a sudden, The University of Texas at Austin is the place to go and study this sort of thing, this ancient linguistics thing,” Hackett said. “It had gotten hard at Harvard. They were less and less interested. We were just sort of serving out our time.”
But for Hackett, who proudly proclaims her age of 60, the feeling of serving out time is a thing of the past and she’s excited to ramp her life back up again.
“At this point in my life I should be looking to coast, but I have this whole new lease on life,” she said. “People at home, who have known me for years, would say, ‘I have never seen you look this good.’ I’m back where I was when I started, and I’m ready to rev up again.”
This happy Harvard couple is just one of many examples of partners traveling halfway across the Unites States to start a new life at UT.
Jennifer Johnson-Hanks and her husband, William Hanks, ventured from the University of California at Berkeley to start again at The University of Texas at Austin.
“I had spent nine years in the Demography Department (at Berkeley), so I’m excited to go back to my roots, so to speak,” said Johnson-Hanks, who will be a professor in the Anthropology Department in the College of Liberal Arts, as well as a faculty associate in the Population Research Center.
Hanks will be a professor of anthropology and linguistics, as well as the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S.-Mexico Relations.
While at Berkeley, Hanks was the Berkeley Distinguished Chair of Linguistic Anthropology, with his primary appointment in anthropology. He also chaired the Berkeley Anthropology Department for nine semesters. Johnson-Hanks’ appointment was as associate professor in the departments of Demography and Sociology.
“At first, we thought, well, we are perfectly happy where we are, there is no reason to move, but then there was that excitement in the Anthropology Department here that we couldn’t pass up,” Johnson-Hanks said.
“There are a lot of universities out there who say they want to be the finest, but here, the chair of our department and everybody else shares a sense of intellectual direction and excitement, and that is rare and that is enticing.”