Emory's Senior University:
teacher and student on a log

The second quarter of the 18th year of Emory's Senior University (ESU) will convene Jan. 21 when 11 instructors will look out upon the eager faces of some 300 mostly gray-haired students. It defies academic orthodoxy. The senior citizens pay a mere pittance for the privilege of the noncredit courses, and the instructors receive not a dime: truly teacher and student on a log.

"An arena for ideas" and "never too old to learn" have been the guiding slogans of the continuing education program developed at Emory and offered as a model for other programs for retirees around the nation.

Charles Adams, a retiree from the former dental school, said his busy pre-med and medical school training did not allow time for a thorough liberal arts education. Now, Senior University is offering a chance to round out his intellectual development in subjects he missed as a young man.

Sociability and stimulating courses
Janice Benario has enrolled in ESU courses for the last three years. "I enjoy the sociability of meeting new people," said Benario. "The courses have been stimulating. I especially enjoyed Professor Robert Morgan's course on politics, and I look forward to learning Tai Chi in winter quarter."

Other retirees (at least a half century of years is the minimum for registration) report similar experiences.

John A. Ward, a retired professor of medicine, finds "intellectual stimulation to continue working the brain. I like the variety of courses offered. Then there is the additional privilege of enrolling in one Evening at Emory Class, gratis, each quarter, which adds at least a $250 benefit for the $100 fee."

Betty and George Vanta, who retired to Atlanta from Orlando, find "both the intellectual stimulation and entertainment invigorating. We found the course in Appalachian music delightful and the program on personal financial management most informative."

Intellectual challenges
They and other winter quarter students will be offered a wide range of intellectual challenges: the ideas of the 17th Century French philosopher Pascal (instructor: Ryan Streeter), a history of the arts (Joan Sammons), the culture of Mexico (Jean Burns), an exploration of basic American values and privileges (Robert Morgan), a discussion of the most important foreign policy decisions the United States faces in 1997 (Hill Bermont), modern health care systems (Trudy Lowell), and reading The New Yorker and discussing it with others (Robert A. Smith).

Stimulating and practical studies also are scheduled: estate planning (Julianne F. Andrews and Catherine C. Miller), the exchange of ideas and experiences in a small structured group (Charles Owen), a forum for debates on informal provocative topics (Shia Elson and Bob Friedman). Both beginning and advanced classes are offered in the Tai Chi exercise program to stimulate coordination of mind, movement and body (Evelyn Locke).

Upon the suggestion of Mary Cobb Callahan, former director of Community Education, the Rev. and Mrs. Sam Laird organized the ESU program in fall 1979 with 33 registrants for four courses meeting twice weekly. It was among the first such programs in the nation. By 1981 there were 70 eager seniors enrolled, and the fall program that year offered seven courses. By this time ESU was off the ground, and the Lairds were receiving inquiries from other institutions to find out how they had done it. Growth continued, and 1989 found some 250 enrolled. Eight or nine courses each quarter had become typical.

In Spring 1982 Nathan Nolan became coordinator, but after his death in 1988, the Lairds again coordinated the work, this time with the help of Alex Cunningham. Seymour S. Lavine became coordinator in 1991.

Group tours
Junkets to interesting places also have been part of the ESU program. A visit to the Etowah Indian mounds north of Atlanta began the practice, and one of the grandest was to Florence and Rome, Italy, and intermediate cities in 1983, enjoyed by 25 seniors.

Tex Schietinger, a retiree from the Southern Regional Education Board, said "I appreciate most being with people who are looking for the same intellectual interests as myself. The ESU students are open-minded, receptive to ideas. It is a great blessing to be able to participate in this stimulating interaction. I especially enjoyed the lectures on the thoughts of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. I appreciate the stimulation created by the people in charge of the courses. They make me go to the library, which I enjoy."

ESU is associated nationally with the Elderhostel program and maintains communication with the Institute for Retired Professionals and other programs with common interests. Additional information about the Tuesday morning classes, which run for eight weeks, may be obtained from Seymour Lavine at (404) 872-3369

Abbot L. Ferriss is
professor of sociology emeritus.

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