Dr. Janine S. Hiller received her Bachelor of Arts in History from Virginia Tech in 1978. She went on to receive her Juris Doctor degree from the T.C. Williams School of Law at University of Richmond in 1981. She joined as a full-time R.E. Sorensen Professor of Finance with the Finance, Insurance, & Business Law department in 1981 as an Instructor of Business Law. Dr. Hiller taught Legal and Ethical Issues in High Tech Environments, Commercial Law, Internet Law and Policy, and Legal Environment of Business at Virginia Tech. She is also an associate member of the Virginia State Bar, a member of the Virginia Bar Association and a member of the American Bar Association. Dr. Hiller also worked as an intern at the Virginia Attorney General’s office.

Dr. Hiller also works on her research focusing primarily on the intersection of law, ethics and technology. Since announcing her retirement, we connected with her to hear about her time at Virginia Tech, what she will do during her retirement, and what she has to say to students. Here's what she said:

Q: You’ve held many different positions during your 40-year tenure with Virginia Tech, how did you transition through all those roles?

A: I am fortunate; the different roles that I have had at Virginia Tech seemed to evolve naturally. After earning my Juris Doctorate, I began teaching fulltime in a tenure track position at Virginia Tech at age 24. Along the way to tenure and promotions to full professor, the committees and administrative duties that I was asked to assume, such as the Faculty Chair of the Virginia Tech Honor System, as just one example, leant organizational and administrative experiences that were helpful for the position of Associate Dean of Graduate and International Programs in Pamplin. Interest in international experiences, and a research stream led to the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Lund University, Sweden. The university’s “Destination Area” initiative opened a door for me to participate in interdisciplinary team work and curriculum development at the university (Integrated Security Destination Area) that dovetailed with my research and teaching in Cyberlaw, expansion of cybersecurity and privacy programs in Pamplin, and my present position as Director of Integrated Security in Pamplin. That’s the nutshell version of 40 years.

Q: How has your research played a role in influencing your career path?

A: Research did affect my career path. In large part, it is why I decided not to pursue a 100% administrative role. When I was serving as Associate Dean, I also taught the first course on “Internet Law.” It is so hard for folks to imagine a time without the internet, but this was at the beginning, and there were (and are!) so many unanswered questions that I wanted to research and work on that I stepped down from that position, ultimately writing a text, Internet Law and Policy. Cybersecurity and privacy law research expanded from there, now including artificial intelligence and law. In a way, I came back full circle by taking on administrative duties that helped to expand programs, including research programs, in our Pamplin Pillar of Security, Privacy and Trust.

Q: Is there any advice to students seeking a similar career path?

A: I would say that this advice is to any student, no matter the career path. We cannot predict what future societal developments and challenges will be. We don’t know what opportunities will arise, as the creation of the Internet shows during my career. I’ll always remember a friend and colleague in Pamplin who walked by my office one day and asked; “Don’t you think this internet thing is just a fad?”   Be flexible, be open minded, and be ready to take on the unknown.

Q: What was some of the best advice you received at VT?

A: That’s a hard question. When I think back, the “advice” is less about words and more about actions. I’ve learned from and respected leaders at Virginia Tech who lived the community values of Ut Prosim by contributing to the greater good, and by helping others, faculty and students alike, to succeed and to reach their greatest potential. I also remember a person who gave me the advice that “you are not powerless,” which was an inspiration to take on a difficult task.

Q: What do you hope for the future of BL, CYS and other programs once retired?

A: When the first college of business was established in this country (Wharton), one of those first required courses was business law. It is even more important now, yet Legal Studies in Business (business law), as well as ethics, can often be overlooked. I hope for a legal studies core curriculum and faculty that is fully supported so that we can prepare students for the legal environment in which they will operate, not as lawyers, but as informed business managers and leaders. And I hope for a legal studies research capability for the future that will contribute to the really thorny questions that we are facing in business areas such as how to pursue socially beneficial artificial intelligence, the Metaverse, and the like.

The Security, Privacy, and Trust Pillar in Pamplin has made enormous strides in the last couple of years, and I hope for it to really take off in prominence, for Pamplin to be known nationally and internationally for its students and for the impact of its research. Cybersecurity and privacy vulnerabilities are national security threats as well as business challenges, and I look forward to seeing our faculty, students and alumni as leaders who help to solve these thorny problems.

Q: What was your most memorable experience at VT?

A: Again, there is no one event or experience that is possible to identify as most memorable. What I will remember is the whole experience of Virginia Tech, the opportunities and difference that an education, broadly defined, can make in a person’s life. My family has a long history at this university; our father attended VT on the GI bill after WWII, and he met our mother here.  I attended VT as an undergraduate, as did my three siblings. Our father grew up on a farm and he was the first in his family to go to college; this is a personal as well as a professional memory of how access to education and the Virginia Tech community can change lives. My siblings and I have endowed a scholarship (in our parent’s memory) in Pamplin so that we might help others to have this memorable experience, and to have access to the expanded opportunities that it opens up.

Q: What is your most challenging experience while teaching?

A: It is impossible to name one challenging teaching experience. We have all been through some agonizing events and years at Virginia Tech that affect the student experience, and thus how and what one teaches and experiences in the classroom. And female faculty have challenges that are generally not shared by male faculty. Putting those global VT challenges aside, the Cyberlaw subject is continually changing, and in a state of flux that creates uncertainty. Accepting and navigating uncertainty while making reasoned and informed decisions is one of the harder things for some students to grasp and so it is challenging to teach.

If I were to point to one example, I might say that one of the most challenging experiences was when I designed a course, way before the time of online courses, on the virtual platform known as Second Life. Second Life was a virtual world with avatars, a precursor to the Metaverse (Facebook’s newest venture). In that class, I just could not get my avatar to walk, so I just flew through the virtual world class (no pun intended). It was a lot of fun, but technically challenging.

Q: What do you have planned for retirement?

A: So much that it hardly seems like a “retirement.” I will still be working on some labors of love, such as research projects related to cybersecurity, privacy, and artificial intelligence, and I am a member of a Centennial Celebration planning committee for the Academy of Legal Studies in Business. So, I’ll be supporting that work until our 100th meeting in Washington, DC, in 2024. Because of international work, I’ve traveled a lot professionally in the past and I hope to expand traveling to a list of places. But basically, I am looking forward to this stage in my life, and will let retirement unfold and reveal itself to me and to my family as it will.

Q: Do you have any last words for your peers at VT?

A: Certainly, I would like to thank friends and colleagues throughout the University for their wisdom, kindness, and support over the years. And, Go Hokies!