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Academic life continues on in Emeritus College

November 02, 2010

At some colleges and universities, when a faculty member retires, his or her office is snatched away and the professor bids adieu to students and the life of an academic.

But that’s not the case at Arizona State University. When a professor retires here, he can find a new home – and new colleagues – at the Emeritus College.

The Emeritus College, founded five years ago, offers retiring faculty a slice of their old life to savor and feed their minds on.

There are computers and desks to use at the college’s headquarters in Old Main, a wealth of lectures to attend, classes to teach, opportunities to mentor students and new faculty, and a place to publish their poetry, stories, essays and papers, and more.

For retired ASU faculty, and associate members who taught at other colleges and universities, “there is no fading away,” said Emeritus College dean Len Gordon.

The Emeritus College definitely keeps faculty active in their disciplines, said Gordon. “Most of our members wouldn’t be giving presentations, teaching or writing books and articles without the Emeritus College.

“It provides them with the opportunity to stay active in a more flexible way.”

In its first year, the college had 157 members. At the end of the spring semester 2010, that number had grown to 407 (including the spouses of 30 deceased members).

And Gordon expects the college to have a growth spurt as baby boomers start to retire.

Many other universities have programs for retired faculty, but none, perhaps, with the scope of ASU’s Emeritus College, said Gordon. “Plus, we may be the only emeritus college with a voting senator in the Academic Senate.”

To read the college’s list of activities is to be reminded of retirees who say, “I don’t know how I ever found the time to work.”

There are writing groups; brown-bag readings; the annual college symposium; the Academy for Continued Learning (courses taught by Emeritus College members for community groups); the journal Emeritus Voices, edited by Eric vanSonnenberg; a quarterly newsletter edited by Winifred Doane; the monthly Fulton Center Emeritus College Colloquium; twice-monthly “short-talks” luncheons with speakers at Karsten Golf Course; Center for K-12 Education; Center for Mentoring; Grants and Awards Committee; participation at the annual Art Walk at the Downtown Phoenix campus; and responses to general requests for help, such as judging student research projects, serving as translators for visiting scholars, and working with Teach for America.

The spring 2010 edition of Emeritus Voices illustrates, perhaps, the breadth of disciplines and college members’ knowledge.

It’s 316 pages long, and includes memoirs, essays, poetry, fiction, photographs, and more, in sections such as “Historic Personalities,” “Science and Mathematics,” “Medicine,” “Geo-Politics,” “Innovative Thinking,” “General Nostalgia” and “Family.”

There, you can read Albert McBride’s story of being bitten by a rattlesnake, Don Sharpes’ thoughts about Lebanon, Richard Jacob’s ’47 Chevy, the story behind the creation of one of Beth Lessard’s dances, Per Aannasted’s take on infrared astronomy, and much more.

Unwritten are the stories behind the College members. Many of them include gratitude for the College.

Winifred W. Doane, professor emerita of life sciences, for example, said, “The Emeritus College opened new pathways for me at a time in my life filled with personal tragedies. It provided an opportunity to meet and befriend colleagues from departments and academic units with interests quite different from my own in the life sciences.”

“Through participation in its creative writing workshops, I discovered talents I did not know I had and have published a number of short stories and memoirs in its literary journal, Emeritus Voices, and in the Emeritus College Newsletter, of which I am the editor.”

Barry Leshowitz, professor emeritus of psychology, said, “As a recently retired member of the ASU faculty, I have not found the transition to this new status as smooth as I thought it would be. In this regard, the many varied activities of the Emeritus College have been helpful.”

Others are simply thankful for the opportunity to continue their academic life and their intellectual growth.

Members of the College’s advanced writers group, for example, meet bi-monthly and critique each other’s newly written work.

“Our writing ranges from poetry, to flash fiction, to short story, to memoir, to article, to novel. Some members have published books, and others, poetry and stories.

“Some of our personal goals for the year are to finish or revise a larger piece; submit a work to a publication, agent, or editor; and establish a writing habit, such as so many pages or hours per day.”

Linda Stryker, professor emerita of astronomy and integrated studies, said the six members of the group have each submitted short stories for the fall issue of Emeritus Voices, and most have had stories, poetry, memoirs or photography published in previous issues.

“And many of us submit pieces regularly to literary magazines. Some of us give local poetry readings, some appear on nationwide radio interview programs.”

Jim Schoenwetter, professor emeritus of anthropology, said, “For me, an important aspect of the College is the services it can provide the membership as well as the Valley community.  To help them happen, I direct the Emeritus Press and chair the editorial committee for Emeritus Voices.”

Member Quentin Borgart, emeritus professor of educational leadership and policy, added, "ASU is fortunate to have a well founded and growing Emeritus College to harvest the outstanding talents of its retired faculty (and several from other fine institutions) who serve ASU's students, faculty, staff, and the community at large through meaningful programs and other important endeavors.

“It's a privilege to be an active contributor to this effort to enhance the value of our university."  

Associate member Eric vanSonnenberg, M.D., who was lured out of retirement from the Harvard School of Medicine to the Kern/UCLA Medical Center to serve as chief academic officer, vice chair of radiology, Institutional Review Board chair and chief of interventional oncology (he spends three days a week in California), said the Emeritus College has been “a privilege, fun, and superbly interesting and stimulating.

“From Dean Gordon on, it's really all about the people. The members of the College are interesting, creative, intelligent, and with such varied experiences, just tweaking them provokes all kinds of stimulating and fascinating material for Emeritus Voices, the College's journal, which I am privileged to edit.

“Frankly, if all pre-Emeritus College faculty members at any given university had the energy, commitment, vision, and esprit de corps of the ASU Emeritus College, everyone would benefit. The Emeritus College at ASU is a big time winner, and what a joy to be part of it!”

Paul Jackson, professor emeritus of English, summed it up in three sentences: “This was a marvelous idea. It gives us all a chance to be active and creative among great people. Terrific!”