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December 11, 2000

Moon over Oxford

By Eric Rangus

When Joe Moon strolls across the Oxford College campus, people notice. He can’t walk more than 30 feet without someone waving to greet him. Hi, Dean Moon! Good morning, Mr. Moon. How’s it going, Joe?

Like a politician weaving his way through supporters, Moon acknowledges every greeting with a nod, a wave or a point. And he responds to each student by name.

“On a campus as small as this,” Moon said, after reaching the relative anonymity of an automobile, “you get to know most of the people.”

Moon, a native of Hamilton, Ga., which is north of Columbus, has never had full-time employment outside Emory. After graduating from Furman University with a bachelor’s and the University of Georgia with his master’s degree, Moon took a campus life job in Atlanta, one with the archaic title of assistant dean for men. That was 1978.

In 1988, looking for a new and broader challenge, he accepted the position of associate dean of campus life at Oxford. It’s a move he hasn’t regretted for a second.

“I entered this profession because I enjoy this age group,” Moon said. “College students, particularly undergraduates, grow so dramatically during this time of their lives. It’s clear to me that students’ co-curricular experiences add immeasurably to the core educational mission of the institution.”

Much more so than most colleges, Oxford activities usually are not simply for “faculty” or “students.” The line is much fuzzier. For instance, Moon sings in the Oxford Chorale, which features faculty, staff and student participants; competes in intramural sports; and makes cameo appearances with Oxford’s guitar and mandolin society.

And that vibrant type of community is what he thrives on.

“Student affairs work doesn’t have an ending bell,” Moon said. “Attending and participating in campus events are not only a routine part of what we do, but it demonstrates our commitment to them is strong.”

Moon often makes his after-hour duties into a family activity. Recently, his older daughter Lauren, 15, read Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar for her sophomore English class (Moon is also father to 13-year-old Hannah. His wife Cindy, also a Furman grad, is a flight attendant for Delta.). He then took Lauren and a few of her friends Oxford to see Caesar performed by a college theater group.

Since 1996, Moon’s time has been even tighter. It was then he returned to UGA part time to pursue his doctorate in education. This summer, after more than a year-and-a-half of research and writing, Moon completed his dissertation—a history of Oxford College—and earned his degree.

“I’m told it reads like a story,” Moon said. “There are some distinct periods in Oxford’s institutional life—the decade where Oxford was an accredited, four-year junior college, for example—that could be looked at separately, but also foreshadow Oxford’s transition to the next period. I particularly enjoyed discovering how Oxford’s unique institutional culture was shaped by events both internal and external.”

Indeed, Moon’s dissertation, From Estrange-ment to Reconciliation: A Biography of Oxford College of Emory University, tracks Oxford’s history from 1919, when Emory moved west to Atlanta, to 1976, the point where Oxford, institutionally, evolved into what it is today.

The 148-page work (pretty reasonable for a dissertation) is separated into six chapters and follows Oxford’s course along three themes: the college’s relationship with central Emory campus in Atlanta, the relative influence of the Methodist church and the evolving organization of Oxford’s curriculum and academic structure.

One inspiration for Moon’s subject matter came from a class he took on institutional culture. He learned that many colleges, particularly smaller ones, have distinct identities. “I couldn’t help but think, ‘Gosh, Oxford just fits this distinctive cultural model.’ As a newcomer in 1988, I was struck with the passion and devotion most Oxford alumni have for the place. What caused this?,” Moon said.

“After the dissertation was accepted, the main feeling for me was deep relief,” he said. “I thought I was going to feel excited. That came, but more slowly. I’ve attended 23 Emory commencement ceremonies, but it was really nice to be a student for a change and actually have the hood placed on me.”

Upon being told someone is interested in reading his dissertation, Moon visibly brightens. It’s not from arrogance—it’s just the excitement of knowing someone, anyone, might be interested in work that he slaved over for more than a year.

Most dissertations and theses are read only by major professors, unlucky spouses and only the most enterprising of graduate students. Usually, they simply gather dust on some dark library shelf.

Moon joyously passes his out.

“I bought several copies; I presented Ginger Cain the first one,” Moon said. Cain is University archivist, and Moon spent many days and nights keeping her and her staff company in Special Collections during his research. “I donated one to the Oxford library, gave my dissertation advisor one, and I kept a couple under my arm in case anybody wanted to see or read it,” he laughed.

His boss is certainly happy with the final result.

“Joe has given a wonderful gift to Oxford College and all those interested in the history of this institution,” said Oxford Dean Dana Greene. “This is a story about determination and dedication, evoking a deep appreciation for all those who over the years worked to save this special place.”

Since receiving his doctorate in education this past July, Moon has happily set the project aside for while. He can envision a future, though, in which he turns his work into a book. Emory’s previous histories have focused on the main campus, and this would be an opportunity to focus on Oxford.

“I’m really confident, if a book like that existed, a lot of people would want to read it,” Moon said.
Publishing a book would also give him the chance to include many of the anecdotes he turned up in his research—stories he couldn’t confirm but were just too rich to forget.

“You’d hear a story about how someone put a cow in a Seney Hall classroom, and as the story got passed around that cow would get bigger and higher in Seney, all the way to the ball tower and then the steeple,” he laughed. “Telling a good cow story is part of Oxford’s heritage.”


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