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August 27, 2001

Pilot program will unite retired professors

By Eric Rangus


When Eugene Bianchi retired last year from the religion department, his life didn’t stop. His work certainly didn’t stop.

In fact, one of Bianchi’s biggest projects to date—a book he researched for seven years and co-wrote with Arizona State’s Peter McDonough called Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits—will be released early next year.

He’s given several guest lectures at Emory and this fall he will teach a course on Christianity and Buddhism. For Bianchi, “retired” is nothing more than a title.

Many retired Emory professors, like Bianchi, stay in contact with their departments and their ties remain strong. Many others, though, lose touch with the University.

It is these professors that Bianchi and several other emeritus professors want to reach through the creation of Emory’s Emeritus College, which opened its doors Aug. 1.

According to its mission statement, the Emeritus College program “seeks to enhance the relationship between the University and its emeritus faculty for the benefit of Emory’s educational mission and for the greater welfare of its emeriti.”

And those emeriti faculty are no small number. The 2001 Emory Campus Directory lists 257 retired faculty and administrators, and almost a quarter (24.6 percent) of current Emory faculty members are 55 or older.

“Throughout the country we are an aging population,” said Bianchi, who is 71, but appears younger. “And the baby boomers who are going to follow us are going to be here in very large numbers.”
Indeed. A total of 46 percent of Emory faculty members are between the ages of 40 and 54. While their use for an emeritus college is most likely several years away, those years are becoming fewer and fewer.

The effort to create the Emeritus College began in 1998. Bianchi, who has studied aging for several decades, and English Professor John Bugge put together a proposal looking for a way to redefine the status of emeriti professors and provide them with an official campus organization that would supply a much-desired academic and social connection to the University.

The first step was a questionnaire that was sent to retired faculty and those nearing retirement age. It asked whether the creation of an emeritus college was a good idea. Encouraged by an overwhelmingly positive response, Bianchi and Bugge researched similar emeritus organizations around the country, drafted and revised their proposal, and were finally able to pitch their idea to the Faculty Council this past spring.

Cardiology Professor Nanette Wenger, head of the council’s faculty life-course committee, presented the proposal, which was unanimously supported in principle.

“As faculty are retiring, they are very interested in continuing to participate in university life,” said Wenger, who sits on the college’s 17-member advisory committee. “We were fortunate that the Faculty Council was receptive to the idea.”

The faculty life-course committee will continue to oversee the college’s progress, Wenger said.
Following the presentation, then-Provost Rebecca Chopp budgeted $60,000 for each of the next two years to create Emeritus College as a pilot program. It will be re-evaluated in 2003.

The college is located on the second floor of Emory’s Briarcliff Campus (formerly known as Emory West), and while its facilities are modest now (the college consists of just three offices and doesn’t even have a coffee pot), future expansion is a strong possibility.

The college staff consists of three people—all on a part-time basis: Bianchi, the director; administrative assistant Nancy Caro, who moved over after seven years in biology; and research assistant Stuart Hysom, a doctoral student in sociology.

Hysom is teaming with Abbott Ferriss, professor of sociology emeritus, on the college’s first major project: The design and distribution of a survey of Emory’s emeritus faculty. The information gathered would then be set up in a database detailing the interests and activities of the University’s retired faculty members.

The survey is still in its development phase, but once complete it will poll emeritus professors on their current activities, future goals, whether they have published recently and how the emeritus college could help them.

“We could be a clearing house on these professors [and provide information] on what they can offer to a seminar, to a class, or speaking engagements on and off campus,” Bianchi said.

While Emeritus College will have a definite social aspect (professors from throughout the University will be able to network across all Emory’s schools, Bianchi said), the focus will remain on academics.

Bianchi said he sees a wealth of potential in the program. The Alumni Association, Senior University and the Office of University-Community Partnerships are just three areas he hopes to team with,in addition to exploring organized efforts to define roles in research, lecturing, teaching, service and perhaps even fundraising that emeritus professors could play.

“I would hope we could see how retired professors would be able to fit in more with the teaching and lecturing projects of the university,” Bianchi said. “And also how they would be able to relate their continuing research or writing to projects at the University. Maybe some retired professors would be interested in serving on committees.”

For more information on Emeritus College, contact Caro at 404-712-8834.


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