September 9, 2010

Emeritus College keeps members engaged and connected

2010 Distinguished Emeritus Award recipients and their nominators

The fall Emeritus College reception on Sept. 2 turned Winship Ballroom into the most interdisciplinary spot on campus.  Obstetricians hobnobbed with biochemists, theologians with geneticists, poets with mathematicians. The discourse was highbrow but lighthearted — clearly, these accomplished professionals enjoy each other’s company.

“The Emeritus College is a melting pot, if you will, where disparate disciplines come together,” says Brenda Bynum, who joined after retiring from the Department of Theater Studies. “The mix can be exhilarating and is a welcome expansion of the more sequestered departmental environment that prevails in one’s working years.”

The reception welcomed new retirees and honored the four 2010 Distinguished Emeriti:

• Donald McCormick, professor emeritus of biochemistry
• William McKibben, professor emeritus of mathematics, Oxford College (also currently a visiting professor at Oxford)
• Jean Priest, professor emerita of pediatrics and genetics
• Don Saliers, professor emeritus of theology

Each of the honorees remarked that their careers had been most memorable for the friendships they formed in the academy, the mentoring of young scholars, and the legacy of their many students.

“I am so grateful for an academic environment in which the intellect is pushed hard, but our common humanity is held at premium,” said Saliers.

Based at the Briarcliff Campus, the Emeritus College began in 2001 to enhance the relationship between retired faculty and the University. The group now has 153 active members and sponsors programming like the annual Sheth Distinguished Lecture, the Heilbrun Fellowship for retired faculty, and an ongoing Living History Project.

“This increasing cohort of long-lived emeriti is a potent resource for Emory,” says Dean Emerita of Oxford College Dana Greene ’71PhD, a member who is writing a biography of the poet Denise Levertov. “The Emeritus College gives an old rank new meaning for the benefit of its members and the institution they served.”

Professor of Social Ethics Emeritus Jon Gunnemann, who recently retired from Candler School of Theology, says he became involved with the Emeritus College out of a concern for the way universities engage — or fail to engage — their retired faculty.

Gunnemann recalls the most difficult moment in his retirement: “For more than 40 years, I had had an office with my name on it where I met with students, talked with colleagues, worked on lectures. All of this was no more. I was still intellectually alive and curious . . . but what was I to do with this?”

This was just the question Professor of Religion Emeritus Gene Bianchi and Professor of English John Bugge wanted to answer when they began organizing Emory’s Emeritus College in the late 1990s, intending for it to be a social and intellectual hub for retired faculty.

“When I started this I was nowhere near retirement age myself, although I am now,” says Bugge, chair of the Emeritus College’s executive committee. “I was mainly interested in it as a major fringe benefit for faculty, who — at Emory, at least — had quite often retired and then just gone missing, with no further systematic contact with the institution.”

“All the better,” adds Bianchi, “if we share our work over a little wine and homemade cake.”

Emeritus College director Nan Partlett says it is often difficult to schedule meetings, however: the members are too busy traveling, writing books and embracing the role of public intellectual.

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Related Information

  • Upcoming events at the Emeritus College
    • Sept. 13: Breakfast Discussion with Stuart Zola, Yerkes
    • Sept. 14: Writers' Group
    • Sept. 14: Men's Stories
    • Sept. 20: Lunch Discussion with Charles Napravnik, Emory, SUNY