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Faye Viola
Faye Viola

Perspectives is an ongoing series of Q&A’s with longtime McGovern Medical School faculty and staff, giving readers a glimpse into how the campus has changed over the years and the impact the school has had on their professional lives. This week’s edition of Perspectives features Faye Viola, director of the Office of Faculty Affairs.

What first brought you to McGovern Medical School?
The opportunity to work in a field and environment with which I was familiar and in a warmer climate was appealing to me.  I was working in veterinary medicine administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and after visiting a former roommate in Houston in late February and experiencing the beautiful weather, I moved here six months later.

With my past work experience in medicine at a university, I interviewed for positions at MD Anderson Cancer Center and at the UT Medical School, as it was called then.  When I was offered a position in the Medical School Dean’s Office, I accepted. The chance to work in administration at a new medical school only 5 years old seemed too good to pass up.  Dr. Robert Tuttle was acting dean and about six weeks later, he was named dean.

Sondra Ives, Dr. Tuttle’s assistant, hired me and not only trained me but taught me all the ways to navigate Houston without getting on the clogged freeways. (I didn’t realize that Houston was a boomtown at that time and the freeways were not the fastest way to get around the city.)  Sondra and I worked together in the Dean’s Office for several years before she became the director of the Admissions Office and later the Alumni Office.  We have remained close friends since then.

It wasn’t until the next summer rolled around that I found that I had exchanged long cold Illinois winters for longer hot Houston summers!  I stuck with my plan to remain in Houston and promptly purchased an air-conditioned car to survive the heat and humidity.

How has McGovern Medical School changed throughout your tenure here?
Many changes have occurred during my time here.

The curriculum was a 3-year curriculum with about 60 students in each class, so with 180 total students that is less than we now have with 240 students in each of our 4-year classes.  Also, tuition was $300 a year for Texas residents and $900 for non-residents, which seems unbelievable now.  There were few rules, and money never seemed to be a problem.

Just as the student class size has quadrupled, so has the number of faculty, now numbering nearly 1,600, with a significant increase occurring after Dr. Colasurdo became dean in 2007.  I can recall when we had 400 faculty, and the dean’s staff knew most of their names.  Technology wasn’t as advanced, and we had a lot more contact with the faculty.

In the early 1980’s, electric typewriters and carbon paper were replaced with the Wang computer (a “simple, user-friendly computer”), which was then replaced with the IBM 5520, a big boxy computer with which we could communicate with UT System. We had one printer in the office and it was so noisy, it had to be put in a separate office with a noise absorbing case around it.  With the addition of computers and emails replacing phone calls, offices became quieter work environments.

The Dean’s Office moved from the ground floor of the two-story Freeman Building (where the Medical School Expansion/Research Building stands today) to the current Medical School Building in early 1977, and the academic departments followed, occupying the building in three phases.  This would be the first time all, or most, of the departments were housed together.  The basic science departments moved from the Center Pavilion Hospital on the southeast corner of Holcombe and Braeswood, and the clinical departments moved from the Freeman Building.

Are there any mentors or colleagues who have been instrumental to your development and achievements?
There have been several colleagues who have been mentors during my early years at Illinois and while here.  In addition to Sondra Ives (mentioned above), others are the Medical School deans; Drs. Henry Strobel and Anna Steinberger, associate and assistant deans for Faculty Affairs, respectively, who started the new Faculty Affairs Office in 1995; and more recently, Dr. Nancy McNiel; and currently, Dr. Kevin Morano, associate dean for Faculty Affairs, have been colleagues and positive role models.

Do you have any particular accomplishments, awards, or recognition that stand out and what makes them special?
Recognition by my peers by being asked to serve on several employee award committees in addition to be chosen for an award has been an honor.  Also, the opportunity to know and work with all of the Medical School deans has been a privilege, including Dr. John Ribble’s longest tenure as dean.   I was not here for Dean Smythe’s founding deanship, but I was around when he was named dean pro tem in 1995, and I was glad to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Barbara Stoll, our first woman dean.

What have you most enjoyed about your time at McGovern Medical School?
I only knew two people in Houston when I moved here, so I have met most of my friends while working at the Medical School.

In addition to all of the work our Faculty Affairs office does to assist the faculty and departments, the opportunity to help faculty solve problems and to produce the best possible promotion packet has been the most rewarding.  When the promoted faculty are honored at the fall dinner, it’s a celebration at the end of another year and time to start the next year with new faculty candidates.

I’ve had a wonderful career here at UT/McGovern—it’s a great place to work!