Connie Eble knows why she was chosen for the 2018 Jefferson Award.
“Longevity and institutional memory,” Eble said mischievously. Then, she matter-of-factly said, “I show up.”
A professor in the English and comparative literature department, Eble joined Carolina’s faculty in 1971. She is in her last semester of teaching and will retire fully in January 2019. “I’m thrilled to be named with Sue Estroff and join other award winners like Elizabeth Gibson, Alice Ammerman, Joy Kasson and George Lensing,” Eble said. She added that, because Thomas Jefferson’s reputation has suffered, she instead focuses on his contributions to public education such as founding the University of Virginia.
Eble came to Carolina as a graduate student in 1964 and earned a master’s degree in linguistics. She began work on her doctorate here then worked as an instructor at University of New Orleans and University of Kentucky before finishing her dissertation in 1970. She returned to Carolina as an assistant professor.
She became the first woman to attain tenure in the English Department and moved into a position as the department’s linguist, specializing in the history, structure and current use of the English language.
But her service to Carolina constitutes exceedingly more.
A nominator described Eble as “a true citizen of the University,” who recognizes the achievements of others, encourages participation in faculty governance and public outreach and is collaborative and supportive.
That assessment is fair, Eble said. “I think I am the consummate team player. I’m not the leader; I’m a follower. And I’ll work with people. I’ve worked with many different committees over the years, and I’ve enjoyed service so much and getting to know people from other parts of the University.” Those people included faculty, whom Eble called “absolute giants of the University,” with a willingness to make Carolina an excellent public university accessible to everyone.
Her work on almost 40 University and 20 departmental committees includes the founding of the Arts and Sciences Foundation, the creation of the academic support program for student-athletes and recommendations on honorary degree recipients. She also served as editor of American Speech for 10 years and as president of four professional associations.
In 2016, Eble won the Mary Turner Lane Award, which recognizes a woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the lives of women at Carolina.
‘I show up’
“I go where I’m invited. If someone asks me to come to a meeting and I say, ‘yes,’ I go. I’m a team player and I’m dependable. I show up,” she said.
Her service includes years as a mainstay of teaching. Her favorite courses include Old English, which she taught for more than 10 years. “In terms of scholarship, it was perhaps the most demanding. It was a graduate course, pretty obscure and something I had written my dissertation on.” For undergraduates, she’s enjoyed teaching composition and is finishing her time with two more favorites, history of the English language (“I love that course!”) and grammar.
Teaching undergraduates led to four decades of collecting and analyzing college-student slang. During a class-time exercise, students fill out index cards with a slang word or phrase, a definition and an example of its use. Alphabetized cards from 1974 on fill shoeboxes with handwritten labels such as “Sketchy to Stank” or “Loserdom to Noob” stacked in her office. The boxes have some space for the last collection in October 2018. Her 1996 book, Slang and Sociability: In-Group Language Among College Students, is the foundational work on college slang.
As retirement nears, Eble’s to-do list includes reading, learning to play the piano, volunteering and traveling. She will keep her hand in research, having been dubbed the “Godmother of New Orleans linguistics” and is helping young scholars in that field. She will also remain active in her faith, which she said, as a practicing Catholic, will sustain her. “I still love grace, and it is important that I go to church and pray.”
Curious, sociable, dependable
Curious, sociable and able to work with, educate and entertain others, Eble’s traits may stem from her time being reared in New Orleans by parents with different gifts. Her mother, who died young from cancer, was an elementary school teacher with a love for singing and performing. Her father worked in a steel factory for more than 30 years. “He was a wonderful storyteller, who somehow or another at dinner could make his job sound like the most interesting place in the world,” Eble said. “He always came home with stories and was always around friends doing something.”
Then, there’s her dependability, which Eble attributes to being the oldest of four siblings and the oldest of 23 grandchildren. “There’s something true about the oldest taking responsibility or being dependable.”
Maybe that’s why Eble chose to “show up.”
The Thomas Jefferson Award was established in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation. It is presented annually to “that member of the academic community who through personal influence and performance of duty in teaching, writing, and scholarship has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson.”
By Scott Jared, University Gazette