Emory Report
Oct. 16, 2006
Volume 59, Number 7


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Oct. 16, 2006
Emory’s Chace chronicles life as student, professor and president

BY Chanmi kim

William Chace had a story to tell—in the form of a 368-page book entitled “100 Semesters: My Adventures as a Student, Professor, and University President, and What I Learned Along the Way,” published by Stanford University Press. In his new book, the former Emory president chronicles his life as a restless graduate at University of California at Berkeley to a professor at Stanford and then president at both Wesleyan and Emory universities.

“I’ve had some adventures,” Chace said, such as the time he was expelled from Haverford College, as an undergraduate, for stealing silverware as a practical joke.

And on a recent stormy Thursday at the Druid Hills Bookstore, a group of mostly old friends and former students gathered around Chace—like children eagerly waiting for story time—to listen to a few.

Chace’s listeners absorbed every word he read from his chapter on spending time in an Alabama jail in 1964 for uttering slogans of “No More Racism” and “End Segregation” as the only white person in a gathering of 300 civil rights protesters.

“A tough-looking young trusty came to my cell, stared at me for a long time, and said: ‘I’m just looking at you, because when you get out and when I get out, I’m going straight ahead kill you.’”

But despite such dangers, the tale had a comic element to it as well: “When asked by an officer if I wanted anything from ‘home,’” Chace read, “I reacted instinctively and said I wanted the German book—Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kröger”—I had been studying for the German language exam back in Berkeley.”

Though mesmerizing, such tales are only one component of “100 Semesters,” which Chace describes as part memoir, part “how-to” manual for being a university president, and part analysis of higher education in the U.S.

Chace critiques the American university today, worrying about the plight of the humanities, rising tuition costs and growing consumer pressure on institutions. Colleges are“meant to be havens of thought, not pleasure resorts,” wrote Chace. At the same time, Chace hails the university as “a [constant] reminder of the promise of youth, the excitement of learning, and the sanctity of teaching” and gives “a plea for modesty and honesty in how universities represent themselves to the public.”

“Every chapter of this book can be called, ‘I was not ready,’” Chace said. But it seems that the less ready he was, the more he learned. The book is jam-packed with hard-earned lessons and valuable insight on teaching, learning, university administration, politics and poetry—all from his own perspective as student, professor and administrator for 50 years at six universities throughout the country.

Having returned to Emory as a professor of English, Chace’s passion for teaching is clear in “100 Semesters.” He describes teaching as “the sudden acceleration of learning, the surprises of thought, the quiet mutual struggle against ignorance.”

As one might expect from an English professor, Chace writes with ease and grace. According to Mark Hayes of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Chace’s prose is clear and compelling, a pleasure to read as much for its style as for its ideas. It is, in a word, eloquent.”

University Vice President Gary Hauk was more straightforward: “I would recommend it to all my friends.”