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Emeritus College channels retirees' research, creativity

June 30, 2009

John X. Evans teaches a course titled “Reading Homer’s Iliad as Heroism and Anti-Heroism.”

Robert A. Green regularly lectures on “Tuberculosis: Past, Present and Future.”

And Santos C. Vega has just published a book titled “Mexicans in Tempe.”

Pretty routine activities for university faculty – except that Evans, Green and Vega are all retired – and members of the ASU Emeritus College. Evans and Vega taught at ASU, while Green is an emeritus professor and former associate dean of the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

Nearly 400 emeriti faculty from ASU and other universities belong to the ASU Emeritus College, which was founded four years ago to “give a home and a focus to continued intellectual, creative and social engagement of retired faculty with the University.”

The initial College programming was established during the first two years during the period when the Founding Dean, physics emeritus professor Dick Jacob, worked with the Founding Council and the initial membership of 157 founding College members.

Len Gordon, professor emeritus of sociology, who was appointed to his second two-year term as dean in April, recently sat down to talk about the “state of the college.”

ASU’s Emeritus College is one of approximately 20 such academic units in the United States, but is, he said, undoubtedly one of the busiest in striving to fulfill President Michael Crow’s challenge “to build a college that would distinguish ASU among the nation’s universities.”

“Our College programming ranges from continuing engagement of many of our emeriti faculty in ongoing instruction and research to innovative programs like the emeritus faculty art exhibit at our Downtown campus to display the great artistic talents of many of our members, dance and musical performances, informal luncheon colloquia on topics of emeriti expertise, regular colloquia for the university and general communities, outreach to our K-12 and community college systems, offering four- and five-week courses in Tempe and at our ASU West Campus on a wide array of topics, and other academic activities including research proposals and grants in a continuation of what we have been doing all our academic lives.”

And there’s more. The college also publishes a journal, Emeritus Voices, twice a year, that is available both on the Web and in a printed form; sponsors a writers’ workshop with periodic readings; and publishes a quarterly newsletter.

The emeriti faculty also are involved in mentoring new faculty and working with new teachers through Teach for America through the College’s Center for Issues in K-12 Education. (Other Centers, or program units, focus on creative writing, the arts and mentoring. A new center for those interested in sustainability is now in the developmental stage.

The college recently published its first “Guide to Lecturers and Courses,” which lists 21 members who offer a wide variety of short courses and lectures on topics ranging from “Auroras and the Earth-Sun Connection” to “Your Life Stories: A Course in Memoir Writing.”

(On the cover of the “Guide to Lecturers and Courses” is a reproduction of a painting by Lou Weschler, professor emeritus of public affairs, who started painting at age 12, was a part-time commercial artist in high school and resumed serious art work when he retired.)

Many Emeritus College members also serve on dissertation committees and advise graduate students, Gordon said, and the computers at the Emeritus College offices hum as members come to work on books and papers – and pause for a cup of coffee or tea and some good conversation.

There is no doubt that the members are excited about the college, and grateful for ASU’s support of it.

Mary Riege Laner, professor emerita of social and family dynamics, said, “What I like the most about membership in the Emeritus College is the many opportunities it provides for intellectual stimulation, events at which I meet old friends and some new ones.

“Occasionally, I contribute to one or more of the presentation formats (brown bag lunches, symposia, etc.) and preparing for these  also includes scholarly stimulation. During the regular school year, I try to attend any/every “talk” available under E-College sponsorship.

“My only disappointment is that in summertime, it all ceases. I can hardly wait until it starts up again in September and, if we’re lucky, maybe even right after school starts in August. Clearly, I’m an enthusiast.”

JoAnn Hennington, professor emerita of supply chain management, likes the opportunity to keep up with her retired colleagues. “I appreciate being able to read the Emeritus College Newsletter to hear what my colleagues are doing and how they are staying active on the ASU campus where we spent so much time during our active years at ASU,” she said.”

The Emeritus College also is a signal that ASU still values them, many members said.

“Very often people who retire from an organization are simply put out to pasture and are never heard from again,” said Patricia Etter, a retired ASU librarian. “The Emeritus College was a great idea since members know they are still respected by ASU even if retired. It feels good to say I'm emerita from ASU.“

Carlton Moore, a retired Regents Professor of chemistry, agreed. “The nicest thing to me is that ASU cares about us. This is not true everywhere.”

Christy G. Turner, Regents' Professor Emeritus, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, who said he finds it a pleasure to take some time off from his bioarchaeological research and writing to attend the college’s lunches and annual symposia, exemplifies the college motto: Its members are productive scientists, scholars and artists who have “retired from their faculty positions but not from their disciplines.”