As mentioned in a previous post, James Madison University was ranked third on the list of highest rated universities of 2016-2017 on With an overall quality rating of 4.5 out of five, and an average professor rating of 3.81, there’s no doubt that we have some pretty incredible educators here at JMU. We decided to interview a few of our best-ranked professors so we could get further insight into what distinguishes them from the rest.

First on our list is Richard Hilliard, or Rich, as he is known by all his students. Rich is a professor within the school of Art, Design and Art History and this is his 19th year instructing at JMU. He has a 4.8 overall quality rating on RateMyProfessors, as ranked by 31 students.

Here’s what some Dukes had to say about Rich on the popular website:

“Rich is absolutely the best teacher ever. He is SUPER talented, HILARIOUS beyond any doubt, and a very helpful man… he teaches you lessons for the real world. If more teachers were like him, life would be a blast!” (GRPH 200)

“If I had to depend on one professor to teach me everything, this would be the man I would choose. Awesome teaching style, great humor, extremely knowledgeable. Pushes you to do better, but never too far. Take his classes and you won’t regret it!” (GRPH 202)

“…He REALLY understands students, which is nice, for a change.” (GRPH 244)

“Rich is seriously wonderful. Yes, he can move quickly but he NEVER hesitates to help if you ask!! He knows what [he is] doing so you are simply learning from the best. Not only an awesome teacher but an awesome person—take him!!!” (GRPH 200)

“…He is a wealth of stories, experience, and knowledge. In the numerous classes I’ve had with him, I’ve learned so much about illustration and the importance of “passion” in what we as artists do. His lessons will be with me for life.” (GRPH 349, 390)

Put simply:

“Best professor at JMU.” (GRPH 200)

I am lucky enough to be taking my second class with Rich this semester, and I can personally attest to some of the reviews his previous students have written. Rich cares greatly about his students. He wants each and every one of us to succeed, and he recognizes that success may look different from one student to the next. He is always eager to help inside and outside of the classroom, and shares some of the most uncommon, helpful, and funny advice I’ve ever received. If you have the opportunity in your time at JMU, I highly recommend taking one of Rich’s classes. You will come out of it with a different perspective on art, your college experience, and life in general. (And also a unique, personalized nickname, such as Lens Flare. Don’t ask how I got it.)

Rich was not aware that he was ranked highly on RateMyProfessor, but he admitted that he had checked out the website “some time ago.” I read a couple of his reviews to him, and asked some questions to find out from his point of view what makes him such a well-liked professor.

What’s your favorite thing about being a professor?

Being in class with the students is like the fountain of youth for me; I have never been more enthusiastic about artwork than I am right now, and all I want to do is try and infect others.

What do you feel sets you apart from other professors?

I’ve never forgotten what it was to be 20 years old, and I don’t take myself too seriously.

What’s the best thing about JMU students?

My students are here because they want to be here, and they’re paying out the nose to be here, so I’m going to give it my A-game every day. There is never a day that I get up out of bed and think, ‘Oh jeez, I gotta go to that dang school.’ I’m always enthused to be here with them.

Why do you think students have rated you so highly on RateMyProfessors?

I know why I’m here. I know why the students are here, and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t want to be here, and I want the students to feel the same. I can be bluntly honest and sometimes I’m afraid that’s going to get me in trouble, but it seems like the students respond to that, and it’s never meant in a truly mean way.

If you weren’t a professor what would you do and why?

If I weren’t a professor, I would probably still be in New York working in an ad agency or design firm, getting crankier, and more impatient with each passing day, and probably not having very high scores on “RateMyArtDirector.”

Still not convinced Rich is the coolest professor around? His office is decorated with hundreds of comic books, posters, action figures and all things Batman-related. It’s a testament to his commitment to stay current, and probably counts as a museum at this point.

On behalf of all the students who have enjoyed one of Rich’s classes, I would like to say a huge thank you to Rich for creating an engaging and dynamic learning environment. Stay tuned for more professor spotlights!

Have you had a professor that particularly impacted your life in a positive way? Leave a comment telling us how!

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