Joseph C. Moon’s fascination with Oxford College’s history began when he joined the college in 1988 as associate dean for campus life.

“The eclectic and beautiful styles of architecture evident in the buildings facing the campus Green, the class photos from the nineteenth century displayed in Seney Hall, and the austere but powerful Soldiers’ Cemetery on the nature trail revealed that this was a place of substance and interest,” says Moon, who came to Oxford from Emory’s Campus Life division. “I wanted to know how this extraordinary place came to be.”

Oxford College lies thirty-eight miles southeast of the Atlanta campus in rural Newton County. Now a small, residential college offering a two-year liberal arts curriculum, Oxford has about six hundred students. Those who receive their associate of arts degree automatically become Emory College juniors and can also apply for admission to the schools of nursing or business.

But as Emory’s original campus, Oxford remains the bearer of much of the University’s history and Methodist heritage. The setting is serene and bucolic, with a sense of escape from “the stresses of modern life,” says Moon. “You come here and just . . . exhale.”

“For those who know Oxford,” says Dean and Chief Executive Officer Dana Greene ’71G, “it is a mythic place with a powerful grip on the imagination.”

Moon has captured the college’s distinctive history and mission in An Uncommon Place: Oxford College of Emory University, published in April by Bookhouse Group of Atlanta. (Bookhouse also published Vice President and Secretary of the University Gary S. Hauk’s Emory University: A Legacy of Heart and Mind, in 1999.)

Oxford’s “biography” begins with the chartering of Emory University in Atlanta in 1915. The last Emory commencement held at Oxford was in 1919, at which point all but one professor packed up and moved their equipment and families to Atlanta. Oxford was left with no endowment and very little support from the University, which was busy establishing its new campus.

“The joke is that ‘In the beginning, Emory left and took everything,’ ” says Moon. “Oxford had to start again from scratch. Everyone you talk to about Oxford has a privation story, where the college’s very existence was threatened: ‘We kept it alive, we sacrificed.’ But that’s what shaped the institution’s mettle.”

Covering the years from 1914 to 2000, Moon’s coffee table book includes more than sixty photographs and illustrations and tells of Oxford’s transformation from Emory College to a regional preparatory school, a manual labor college, a junior college, and its current incarnation, Oxford College of Emory.

“Joseph Moon’s history of Oxford College is a carefully researched, wonderfully thought out, and gracefully written story,” says Thomas G. Dyer, a historian who wrote the University of Georgia’s history. “He has mastered the subtleties of institutional saga.”

During Oxford’s tenure as a junior college, from 1929 to about 1961, it placed a priority on dynamic teaching and student involvement, both inside and outside the classroom. While its devoted staff and professors, who were sometimes paid less than local high school teachers, could keep the flame of learning alive, keeping the lights on was another matter.

In the lean years, single light bulbs dangled from strings in the classrooms, students used flashlights in the library at night, faculty served as custodians as well as student advisers–and even helped to build the residence hall.

Dean Virgil Y. C. Eady, who some claim saved Oxford through his persistence, wrote to Emory administrators in 1959 that there was not one adequately equipped classroom on the Oxford campus, and described the Seney Hall offices as the most “disreputable” at Emory.

All the hardships, however, seemed only to bind the Oxford community more tightly. And as Emory grew more prosperous, funds found their way to Oxford as well. In the 1960s, Oxford adopted its two-year curriculum and strengthened its status as a division of the University. “Linked now as we are by the interstate and the Internet,” says Moon, “our students and faculty virtually have access to all of Emory’s resources.”

Quality teaching, student involvement, and a sense of community remain, says Dean Greene, as evidenced by the college’s ratings in last year’s National Survey of Student Engagement. Of more than six hundred colleges, Oxford ranked in the top 10 percent in three of the five benchmarks: level of academic challenge, student interactions with faculty, and enriching educational experiences.

While Moon often wishes he could “go back and walk the grounds in the 1920s,” he’s been happy to see Oxford embrace some modern elements. The college has gone high-tech, as evidenced by its new computer lab and “smart” classrooms. And, although many of its students are still drawn from the Southeast and Georgia, they include students whose families have immigrated from around the globe. Recently, a Hindu celebration was held on campus, with more than forty students of Indian descent participating in the ritual.

“A snapshot of Oxford today doesn’t look like the old snapshots. It’s more diverse, ethnically and religiously. But the intimate environment is the thread that goes all the way back,” says Moon. “At Oxford, we want to know your name and your gifts.”

An Uncommon Place: Oxford College of Emory University is available only through the Oxford Bookstore, 770.784.8365.



© 2003 Emory University