Spring 2010: Of Note
Emory’s Emeritus College is a hub of camaraderie and new connections
When Jon Gunnemann retired earlier this year, a former student, Louis Ruprecht Jr. 90PhD, composed an essay commemorating his remarkable career.
Mission: To provide opportunities for continued intellectual, creative, and collegial engagement of the emeritus faculty with and in service to Emory.
Members: 139 and growing
Most represented: School of Medicine
By Mary J. Loftus
The brainpower in the room is nearly palpable. A renowned historian is chatting with a noted thespian. A former dean is deep in conversation with a physics professor and an obstetrician. Wherever this group gathers, such as this party in Dobbs University Center, instantly becomes one of the most interdisciplinary spots on campus.
“The Emeritus College is a melting pot, if you will, where disparate disciplines come together,” says Brenda Bynum, who joined after retiring from the Department of Theater Studies. “The mix can be exhilarating and is a welcome expansion of the more sequestered departmental environment that prevails in one’s working years.”
Based at the Briarcliff Campus, the Emeritus College began in 2001 to enhance the relationship between retired faculty and the University. The group now has nearly 140 active members and sponsors an annual Sheth Distinguished Lecture, the Heilbrun Fellowship for retired faculty (with Emory College), and an ongoing Living History Project.
The Chronicle of Higher Education found that retired professors who are active in emeritus colleges are more likely to reconnect with longtime colleagues and stay involved with current students.
“This increasing cohort of long-lived emeriti is a potent resource for Emory,” says Dean Emerita of Oxford College Dana Greene 71PhD, a member who is writing a biography of the poet Denise Levertov. “The Emeritus College gives an old rank new meaning for the benefit of its members and the institution they served.”
Professor of Social Ethics Emeritus Jon Gunnemann, who recently retired from Candler School of Theology, says he became involved with the Emeritus College out of a concern for the way universities engage—or fail to engage—their retired faculty.
“On the whole, universities have not been very good at this, I think,” he says. “The most difficult moment in my retirement came when I closed down my faculty office, sorting through the accumulations of an academic lifetime. For more than forty years, I had had an office with my name on it where I met with students, talked with colleagues, worked on lectures. All of this was no more. I was still intellectually alive and curious . . . but what was I to do with this?”
This was just the question Professor of Religion Emeritus Gene Bianchi and Professor of English John Bugge wanted to answer when they began organizing Emory’s Emeritus College in the late 1990s, intending for it to be a social and intellectual hub for retired faculty.
“When I started this I was nowhere near retirement age myself, although I am now,” says Bugge, chair of the Emeritus College’s executive committee. “I was mainly interested in it as a major fringe benefit for faculty, who—at Emory, at least—had quite often retired and then just gone missing, with no further systematic contact with the institution.”
“All the better,” says Bianchi, “if we share our work over a little wine and homemade cake.”
Emeritus College director Nan Partlett says it is often difficult to schedule meetings, however: the members are too busy traveling, writing books, and embracing the role of public intellectual.