A view of Emory from Professor Richard Freer
The Academic Exchange invited Professor of Law Richard Freer to join writer Faye Goolrick and cartoonist Paige Braddock one chilly January morning in Freer's Gambrell Hall office to discuss his perceptions of Emory. The writer and cartoonist asked him questions such as, What does he consider the center of campus? Who does he talk to every day? Where does he go for lunch? When he has a meeting across campus, how does he get there? From that interview comes the following essay.
For future issues, we would like to seek out other Emory faculty members willing to talk to our writer and cartoonist. Please contact the managing editor if you're interested in learning more about this opportunity.
Where do I go on campus everyday? The law school. That's usually it. We are our own self-contained world here, so we run the risk of being quite isolated. Unless you get involved in the [University] Senate, the Faculty Council, committees, and so forth--which I am--you can live here for decades and not see the other side of Clifton Road. Sad but true. Somebody asked me if I'd ever been to Tarbutton Hall. What is Tarbutton Hall? I've no idea. I'm doing well if I find Bowden Hall.
There's no question, though, that one of the biggest things that's changed in the last few years is Clifton Road is not the barrier it once was. It used to be kind of like the Berlin Wall, you know-and now the wall is down. We sense that we're part of the mission, more integrated into the life of the university. Another big change through the years is the incredible national recognition for Emory. Lots of my California friends want to send their kids here now.
It's odd to me that what comes to mind when I think of Emory is not the law school itself, but the Quad--the center of campus. I walk across the Quad to go see my good friend Harriet [King], and to go to various committee meetings and faculty and senate meetings and the like. The Quad is such a lovely place. I see folks walking around, students sitting and chatting, and you always see somebody trying to teach a class outdoors. It never works. First of all, the grass is wet and it's going to soak through your pants, and second of all, nobody's paying attention. An airplane goes over, and they can't hear you. And they can't take notes. But still, it's a great undergraduate thing to do. . . . 'Wow, we had class on the Quad!' Of course, I really have nothing to do with the Quad. The law school had long since moved across Clifton by the time I got here in 1983.
One of the most interesting things that ever happened to me on campus was one day in 1987, the phone rang in my office, and someone asked me if I could join the president for lunch. I'd just been tenured, so I assumed this meant Jim Laney. Turns out it was Jimmy Carter! I got there and thought, "Oh, that president!" It was just great. President Carter invited three or four faculty members from all different disciplines--theology, business, philosophy--to the president's dining room in the DUC. We were there for two hours. Somebody had briefed him on us, he knew our backgrounds, he knew I was from California. He knew what I taught, and he knew my law firm had represented Ronald Reagan. He spent two hours listening to us and chatting. It was fabulous.
Talking about this makes me think of another campus highlight for me: two years ago, Henry Aaron got an honorary degree at Commencement, and I got to sit with him for about half an hour before the ceremony. Of course we talked baseball! I'm a university marshal, so I get a front row seat for graduation, and I get to see people like Hank Aaron and the Dalai Lama. Sure beats hanging around here talking to Tom Arthur.
I'm on campus five days a week . . . although now, with voice mail and being able to access e-mail from the house, each faculty member can be an island unto himself or herself, much more than before. You don't need to be in the library; you have it online. You don't need to talk to all your colleagues; you e-mail them from home, sometimes at two or three o'clock in the morning. In some ways, this is wonderful, but I think, too, that sometimes it costs us collegiality. I do tend to do my major writing at home.
On days when I'm not teaching, I wear casual stuff-khaki pants and jeans, a sweater. When I'm teaching-that's usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday-I'll wear a coat and tie, but I never wear the coat in the classroom. I've never, never taught a single class with the coat on; I leave it hanging up in here. Students seem to notice what profs wear. They tell me I always wear a blue-and-white striped, Oxford-cloth, button-down shirt and a tie with a lot of red in it. I guess I wish they paid that much attention to the book.
Lunch is always here, in my office, between my eleven o'clock and one o'clock classes. I usually run into the faculty lounge and get a cup o' joe about ten minutes before class and say 'Hi' to my buddies, but that's about it. I'll bet I haven't been off campus for lunch three times in ten years.
If I could change one thing about Emory, here's what I'd do: On a freezing day like this, I'd move the whole campus to San Diego, where I'm from. I never saw snow fall until I moved here. My wife grew up in Honolulu, and when we came here, that first November was the coldest we'd ever been. I remember being on the elevator with some students who were obviously from the North, and they were going on and on and on about how gorgeous the weather was-how warm it was. I knew then we had made a serious change in our lives. We had lived right on the ocean, and I don't ever remember it being under fifty degrees.
Yet when I look out my office window here in Atlanta in the morning, the sun is right in my eyes. And I always see the trees. It's so green. Where I grew up, in Southern California, we don't have trees, and we don't have green. My office looks out on North Decatur Road, so I don't see rest of the campus at all. I see a civilian world out there, except for the occasional jaywalking student. I always watch to make sure he or she makes it across. Might be one of mine.
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