Longtime School of Education professor James McMillan to retire

James McMillan.
James McMillan, who came to VCU in 1979, played a leading role in shaping the School of Education’s “standards of excellence in teaching, advising and mentoring.” (File photo)

After more than four decades, James H. McMillan, Ph.D., the longest-serving faculty member in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education’s history, is retiring this month.

McMillan, a Distinguished Career Professor in the Department of Foundations of Education, joined VCU’s faculty in 1979.  He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in educational psychology, research and measurement, and served as department chair, as the school’s interim associate dean of academic affairs, and as the longtime executive director of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium, a partnership between VCU and Richmond area school divisions.

“My time as a professor has been filled with opportunity and challenge,” McMillan said. “I have been fortunate to have had freedom and support to pursue my teaching and research, balancing the pressures of promotion, recognition and national prominence with the more important role as teacher and mentor. As the years have accumulated, I think I finally exorcised most of my imposter syndrome! I never thought I’d be a professor, let alone for more than 40 years; looking back I’m content with the positive impacts I’ve been responsible for, even as I regret not doing more.”

School of Education Dean Andrew P. Daire, Ph.D., said, “there is no questioning” McMillan’s contributions to the school, the university and his field.

“He leaves behind a legacy of dedication and outstanding contributions to the School of Education, VCU and in the field of research methodology. I am humbled by Dr. McMillan’s contributions and impact that have meaningfully strengthened our school,” Daire said.

A person standing in a driveway points to a car passing by.
A surprise caravan of more than 30 cars drives past James McMillan, Ph.D.,'s house on May 12 to celebrate his retirement from the School of Education after 41 years. (Courtesy photo)

Maike Philipsen, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Foundations of Education, said McMillan has been an instrumental part of the school throughout the decades.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the School of Education would not be what it is today without Dr. Jim McMillan,” she said. “He has played a leading role in shaping its infrastructure and culture, advancing its scholarly reputation, and creating its standards of excellence in teaching, advising and mentoring our students.”

Looking back on his time at VCU, McMillan said he is thankful for the opportunities to have an impact on students and on his field, and is thankful for the support to be able to do it.

During his career, he led the development of a doctoral program in research and evaluation at VCU, actively participated in national professional associations, and authored numerous professional books, journal articles and presentations. He has established a national and international reputation for contributions in classroom assessment.

“I have been blessed to have had great deans and faculty colleagues,” he said. “Over the years they have lifted me during struggles and when I messed up, more than they know, and provided resources and encouragement that facilitated progress toward my professional and personal goals. So my main reflection is about people — those who have touched me and those I have touched. I am very grateful to have been able to make some contributions to what makes VCU special — a commitment to caring, to compassion, to trusting and authentic relationships, and to service to those less privileged.”

A passenger truck with two signs and a bird wearing star glasses hanging on its side.
McMillan's colleagues and former students celebrated the retiring professor with signs such as "The Legend has Retired" and "Thank you Jim! Because of you, I am a researcher!" (Courtesy photo)

Reflecting on the educators he helped prepare, McMillan said he hopes they learned to “appreciate the subtle, uncertain nature of psychology and research methods as applied to education and other fields, and gained some dispositions that will serve them well in many situations — to listen, to question, to embrace challenge, to learn from mistakes, to appreciate the viewpoints of others, and to strive for excellence that translates into making others’ lives better.”

One of his proudest moments at VCU, he said, is that as chair he successfully nominated office manager Patricia Pleasants for VCU’s Dorris Douglas Budd Award. “Staff are underappreciated,” he said. “It was very gratifying to see her accept the award.”

As he transitions to retirement, McMillan said he is reminded of the core values of higher education:

“Recognition of a long-standing faculty member is really a celebration of the institution and the profound influence we can have if we value each other every day, no matter our station, background or circumstances, and keep our focus on our most important mission — teaching,” he said.

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