November 1, 1999
Volume 52, No. 10
Emory's Senior University celebrating 20th anniversary
For many students today it is unfathomable: take classes if you don't have to? But for 325 members of the Emory community enrolled in Emory's Senior University (ESU), that is exactly what's happening. The program, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is so popular that there 150 Atlanta seniors on its waiting list.
ESU was the brainchild of Emory Dean Charles Lester and Mary Cobb Bugg Callahan, coordinator of senior services for the University's Community Educational Services department. In 1979 the two looked at what other universities were doing, and Lester traveled to the New School in New York to see its program. Later that year, ESU was born.
Retired campus minister Sam Laird and his wife, Mary, coordinated the program until 1982, when Nathan Nolan took over until his death in January 1989. The Lairds, with Alex Cunningham, captained the program again until Callahan recruited current Director Seymour Lavine in 1992.
ESU has "almost become a way of life" for Lavine, and it is hard to imagine a person better suited to running the liberal arts, "lifelong learning" program. He is a retired fashion mogul who was responsible for bringing high fashion to the Southeast as a rep for Geoffrey Beane, Adolpho and others. Lavine's father had owned a clothing factory that he moved from New York to Georgia for its more hospitable labor climate, and Lavine took over the successful business when his father died. The seven-day work weeks were fine until Lavine met his future wife, Lillian Schact.
"Once I met my wonderful wife, Lillian, I wanted to spend more time with her," explained Lavine, so he embarked on a new career, opening fashion showrooms in Charlotte, N.C., Dallas and Miami, and earning the nickname "dean of the Apparel Mart" in Atlanta. "I did so well that I only had to work six months of the year and traveled all over the world with my wife the rest of the time."
They traveled to exotic places no longer even safe for American tourists, such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iran and Iraq. Schact-Lavine was a successful psychologist in private practice for many years before her death four years ago. When Lavine retired from the fashion industry in 1989, he enrolled in the Atlanta College of Art and now divides his time between ESU and portrait painting.
Lavine has been successful at recruiting impressive faculty to ESU, including current and emeritus Emory, Georgia Tech and Georgia State professors; Emory's David Bright, Richard Long, Corey Keyes and Alvin Boskoff have all taught. Nearly all instructors have doctorates. Edith Blicksilver is a Georgia Tech professor emerita who teaches writing, and Charles Williams is a Georgia State professor on the faculty.
Some of the recruits Lavine is proudest of are Abbott Ferriss, retired chairman of Emory's sociology department; local historian Franklin Garrett; and Jay Harvey Saunders, former president of Westminster College in Missouri who retired to a horse farm in LaGrange. Lavine said many instructors come from the ranks of Emory's medical staff.
The heart of the ESU curriculum is an always-fresh selection of intellectual courses in history, philosophy, music appreciation, art, writing and literature. These are coupled with practical courses on investing, health issues, t'ai chi, gardening and other subjects. Lavine noted that the intellectual curiosity of the older, lifelong learners is appealing to faculty; if he can get an instructor to teach a course once, he said, the professor loves the experience.
Members of ESU pay $125 annual tuition to enroll in two courses each quarter that meet at 9:30 and 11 a.m. on Tuesdays at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church. Students also may enroll in a complimentary Evening at Emory course each quarter. To be eligible, students must be at least 55 years young; one student noted on her application that she was "89 and therefore a senior citizen," Lavine said. Space limitations currently prevent ESU from accepting more students, but Lavine hopes that eventually there will be facilities at Emory to accommodate and allow for growth of the program.