We asked five newly or recently retired professors to reflect on what they've learned, what they enjoy or regret, and what they might do differently. Here are their answers.
Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology
Of all the people from whom I asked for help in writing this message, perhaps the best advice came from my grandson Soren, aged 6. "Pappa," he said, "tell your students that what's important is to be kind to people, eat healthy food, and make good poopies." It's difficult to improve on that advice, but let me try.
My main point is there is nothing more important in the university experience, and dare I say in life itself, than our relationships. And of our relationships few are more important than those formed in college between students and their professors. They provide the basic building blocks from which a university is built.
Remove the buildings, but if you have professors willing to teach and students willing to learn, you still have a college. Remove the students but keep the professors, and you may have a research institute but you will not have a college. Likewise, if you remove the professors but keep the students, you may have one great party, but you will not have a college.
It is easy to say what is good for the college: it is anything that supports the student-professor relationship. From this perspective being an effective teacher depends on building those relationships. Having nice classrooms to teach in and smart technology available to use are delightful additions to this process, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient for good teaching to take place.
I have one more bit of advice. As you value your relationships, pay special attention to their endings. While beginning and deepening relationships are important, it is the endings that provide the richest source of learning. It is only then that you can look back to find out what you did well and what you did poorly, so that you can apply that knowledge to your next relationships.
Think about how you ended your time at Emory. Remember the people to whom you were going to say special things before you ended. Evaluate how you did. If you are like most of us, you didn't end very well. You didn't tell many of the people that meant something to you during your time at Emory that they were important and appreciated. You got busy and maybe irritated as you ended, the two major ways that we soften the pain of ending especially—when we are ending something good.
But it is not too late.
Many of those people are still around, be they former peers or professors. You have time to contact them and tell them they meant something to you. You have no idea how important that might be, to them and to you.
So, a take home message? Give your relationships the attention they deserve, and especially how you have ended them. Beginning and ending relationships are the rhythm track of our lives, but we get no formal education about how to do it well. So you are going to have to do some home schooling.
And of course, remember that it is always good to be kind to others, eat healthy food and . . . well, you know.
Early to the Feast
Goodrich C. White Professor of English
As with 99.9% of students in the western world, my undergraduate education at the University of Texas consisted mainly of textbooks, lectures, labs, tests and assigned-topic papers. Junior and senior assignments required occasional library visits, but I could not, when asked, direct an inquirer to Special Collections, that remote, exclusive preserve of professors and postgraduates that played no part in our learning or in the formation of our intellectual lives. When I returned later to graduate school in English, on only one occasion during the first three years did a professor take the seminar to what had become the famous Ransom Center, and then only for purposes of a demonstrated lecture on bibliography and methods of research: the only primary materials present were under glass cases, untouchable. Not until I began writing my doctoral dissertation was I finally admitted to the treasure troves of manuscripts, letters, and rare editions. As I prepared my first classes in anticipation of arriving at Emory in September 1969, I had no thought of exposing my students to such transformative riches. In any event, Special Collections in the new Woodruff Library, which opened on my first day here, had no archival materials in my field. The undergraduate educational experience continued as I had known it.
It was soon my good fortune to teach a course on modern literature in the new British Studies program, one of Emory's first summer abroad ventures, in the summer of 1973. A study of D. H. Lawrence would take us to his home in Eastwood, and I wrote the librarian at nearby University of Nottingham to ask if we could come see any Lawrence materials. The sub-librarian in charge of our visit, unaware of restrictions, had placed scores of Lawrence manuscripts, letters, and documents on tables for students to examine. It was a magical learning moment: Emory undergraduates exhilarated at this chance encounter, calling in awe to each other to come see a letter or the manuscript of Sons and Lovers. It governed pub conversations and class discussion for days, and they all wrote about it as a highlight of the program.
So when the Woodruff gift in 1979 allowed the library to acquire a unique collection of books and manuscripts by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, it was agreed that this extraordinary material would be available for undergraduate instruction, that the teaching mission would be as important as the research mission. Over the past 33 years, as the Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Books Library (MARBL) attained international distinction, adding collections in English, Irish, American, and African-American literature, plus Southern, European and Art history, thousands of Emory undergraduates have had mind-changing archival experiences. When I spoke to a conference of academics and librarians at a British library conference about the Emory policy of bringing undergraduates early to the feast of primary materials, one professor stood up and shouted, "Undergraduates should be reading books, not manuscripts!" To which I replied, "Let them read manuscripts and they will redouble their reading of books."
The exposure is not related to the English major but to the creative and critical processes. When business, chemistry, and psychology majors taking an introductory poetry course come to MARBL and see in the archives of Yeats or Seamus Heaney or Langston Hughes the handwritten manuscripts, the revised typescripts, the struggle to find the right word, phrase, image, or symbol over weeks or months, it focuses their minds on the difficulty and discipline of creativity: they see what went into the transformation of dross into gold, what labor stands behind the work that made its way into their textbook anthology. They never forget the process, and carry it into their own disciplines. One student who was in that Nottingham library in 1973, the physician Wayne Rackoff, has been a strong supporter of MARBL for years.
This past academic year over one thousand undergraduates made use of archival materials in MARBL, which leads the way in redefining the role of special collections around the world in undergraduate education; the Bodleian at Oxford and the Beinecke at Yale are among the followers. Moreover, the successes of the College's SIRE, SURE, and INSPIRE programs have provided student-faculty research partnerships for over 57% of our undergraduate in the humanities, social and natural sciences, thereby placing the emphasis not on "pre-" but on "professional." It has been great to witness this development, for it is one way to ensure that Emory maintains a genuinely strong teaching College in an expanding research University.
Journey of an Academic Chemist
William Patterson Timmie Professor of Chemistry
"How did you get here from there?" is a question often asked of one who has achieved what passes for success. That question assumes there is a rational explanation which, once understood, can help others become successful. However, the most truthful response to this question is simply: "The randomness of life is primarily responsible for change."
I was drawn to chemistry as a young student attending William Howard Taft High School in New York City in 1954. I found that I enjoyed science, that it came to me easily and was fun. After graduation I enrolled at Columbia, where I was a student there from 1955 to 1959 and lived at the Alpha Epsilon fraternity house with a cluster of frat brothers. The intellectual climate in the house was vibrant and full of discussion about society, politics, life, and even organic chemistry, since many of my pre-med contemporaries had signed up for that required course. My enjoyment of chemistry turned to a passion when I met my first great teacher there.
As a rather provincial native New Yorker I did not want to go elsewhere for my graduate studies and elected to stay on at Columbia for my Ph.D. But afterwards I decided to broaden my horizons, so with my wife and very young children (ages 3 and 1) I set off for the hinterlands, to the University of Wisconsin, then Ohio State University, and subsequently SUNY Buffalo.
It was in late January 1977 that a winter storm dropped more than four feet of snow on Buffalo over an eight-hour period. By early afternoon I was stranded in my office with a state of emergency in effect, with all nonessential vehicles barred from the streets. Because the roads were impassable, I was unable to get home for three days. About thirty disoriented students and a few faculty managed to survive on food procured from the vending machines in the building, and we slept on the floor of our laboratories and offices. Not a particularly pleasant memory, but certainly unforgettable. It was during this period that I received a phone call from Leon Mandell, chairman of the chemistry department at Emory University. Two weeks later I was met at the airport by Leon in his open convertible on a rather balmy spring-like day, and this initial visit eventually led to my moving to Emory University as the William P. Timmie Professor of Chemistry during the summer of 1979.
During the mid-1980's I discovered that another passion in my life lay in climbing tall mountains. To me mountains are like life: you see them from the bottom up and the summit seems hard to reach. But once you're on top, everything is clear. This is really not so different from bringing a scientific project to fruition and getting it published. My first real mountaineering experience was a climb to the top of Mount Rainier in 1984. Over the next 35 years, I have climbed extensively in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Tanzania, Western China, and Nepal and have been as high as 23,000 ft on Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina.
One of the main areas of organic chemistry that has captivated my attention for many years is the "stereochemistry," which studies the three-dimensional shapes of complex molecules. Nature is inherently three-dimensional because the building blocks of life (alpha-amino acids, nucleotides, and sugars) appear in nature in mirror-image forms. I have found this area fascinating due to the aesthetic beauty associated with chemical structures, and the intriguing ability to combine the fields of geometry, topology, and chemistry in a study of three-dimensional shapes.
Mobiles are examples of kinetic art which bear a strong resemblance to the structure of complex organic molecules. Walk into the chemistry building at Emory, and the first thing you'll probably notice is a mobile. Walk on, and before you know it you'll be surrounded by the mobiles I've been creating for many years. I draw inspiration from Alexander Calder, the famous American sculptor credited with inventing the dangling art pieces. I started giving away some of my mobiles to my colleagues and staff members in the chemistry department many years ago. Almost everyone now has a mobile—roughly fifty of them adorn the various offices and corners of the chemistry department. I am fascinated by the way they float in 3-D space, have oddball shapes, but remain in balance. That's why I build them, much as I assemble complex natural products in my laboratory. I hope that my passion for collecting and creating mobiles will become part of my Emory legacy. Future generations of chemists may not remember me for my science, but there should be enough mobiles in the chemistry building to remind them of me.
The journey of an academic chemist is a challenging one; teaching, sitting on committees, obtaining grants, publishing papers. I have often questioned the relevance of what we do, but have come to recognize that organic chemistry is a window of unlimited opportunities. Going to my office is like an adventure every day. Chemistry opened up a world of experiences, seeing the world and interacting with students as well as colleagues from around the globe. I often tell my students that with immense hard work and sincere effort, anything is possible. But I also say that while it is extremely important for scientists to keep abreast of new knowledge through research, it is essential to maintain a proper balance between professional and nonprofessional activities, like my own hobbies of mountaineering, yoga, and my ever-expanding collection of mobiles. Would I do anything differently if I had to do it again? Certainly not!
Changing the Rules
Goodrich C. White Professor of Biology
Ever notice how in action movies the black guy almost always dies? I first noticed this phenomenon in The Dirty Dozen. I can still see Jim Brown sprinting across the castle courtyard, only to be cut down by machine gun fire. Then there was Ernie Hudson in Leviathan. Most of that movie takes place underwater and he makes it all the way to the surface before the monster finally gets him. Idris Elba dies in both Ghost Rider 2 and Prometheus.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, although some of those also prove it. LL Cool J survives in Deep Blue Sea, but Samuel L. Jackson dies. Richard T. Jones survives in Event Horizon, but Laurence Fishburne dies.
Why does the black guy always die? I would argue that even in the ostensibly liberal Hollywood environment, black lives mean less than white lives. So, there's no reason to keep the black guys alive.
What does all of this have to do with retiring from Emory? About fifteen years ago I wrote two articles, published in Emory Report, in which I argued that Emory may well have decided to become more diverse by becoming more international, with the result that less attention was paid to the recruitment, support and retention of African American and other American minorities by Emory. In the intervening fifteen years, I believe that the evidence for this claim has become even more substantial. With my retirement, there will be no tenure-track African American faculty in any of the core science departments in Emory College. The most recent statistics I've seen indicate that there has been very little if any increase in the percentage of African American students in Emory College over the last fifteen years.
Let me share an anecdote that illustrates the impact of this situation on those in our community. Some months ago I had a conversation with an Emory undergraduate. We were both waiting for cars to be serviced at a local dealership and he noticed that I was reading a document with an Emory logo. We recognized our common connection and had an extended conversation about the College. He raved about his experiences at Emory generally and said that he would make the choice to come here again in a heartbeat. He did, however, have two significant laments about his experience.
The first was that Emory does not have at least one Division I sport.
The second was that the ratio of international students to American minorities in the College is much higher than he expected and higher than he thought was desirable. He indicated that he has had to make a considerable effort to meet African-American and Hispanic students, while not having to make much of an effort to meet international students. I found these comments especially interesting given that he is an international student himself.
This student's observations and my own lead to the same conclusion, that efforts to increase the populations of African American, Hispanic, and Native American administrators, students and faculty at Emory have taken a back seat to the recruitment of internationals.
Emory is a great university. I've truly enjoyed my time here and if I were given a do-over, like my young College friend I'd choose to come to Emory again in a heartbeat. But if I were to start over here, I'd do at least one thing differently. I'd make a greater, more vigorous, more sustained and visible effort to increase the population of American minorities, especially African Americans, in the Emory ranks. I would work harder to ensure that the black guy doesn't always die.
Goodrich C. White Professor of the Liberal Arts
Worlds apart. Or not quite. It's more like seventy feet across a Peachtree Center-style sky bridge which connects my new and old campus allegiances, my two cultures: Library and College. I tend to spend most of any working day in Woodruff but a portion of many an afternoon will find me grounded in Candler's William L. Matheson Reading Room—the "Harry Potter Room"—or suspended in neutral airspace somewhere along the sky bridge between the Library and the College.
I retired from the College in August 2011, attached myself as a consultant to the fledgling African Americans and Sports Collections in the Library's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL ) in September, and signed on as Senior Faculty Curator (part-time) this past February. Unlike my three fellow curators ("legal guardians," according to my vintage American Heritage Dictionary) who oversee the African Americans Collections, the Literary Collections & Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, and the Modern Political and Historical Collections, I am without a collection to call my own—most definitely it is not the "Senior Faculty"!—and serve as a sort of "Ambassador Without Portfolio" across the three designated collections. We four, with a fifth who joined us in August, convene monthly for some of the liveliest two-hour sessions that I can recall attending during my four-plus decades in academe. Explanation and examples follow, but first, back to the sky bridge, the wizard's room, and some other magical places.
Between them, Woodruff and Candler libraries boast many spaces to delight the eye and rest the soul, but my own digs fail to register among them. My modest quarters in Woodruff fall more under the category of Economy Class, although upgrades are readily at hand. These include the aforementioned Hogwarts Hall and Portmanesque floating bridge; the "Quiet Floors" of Woodruff Library—3rd, 4th, 5th, and 8th; and its 10th floor aerie (a "nest of an eagle or other predatory bird," according to my AHD), where buzzards were recently photographed by a MARBLer and where visitors, students, staff, and scholars perambulate its "porch" to gain a panoramic perspective on far-flung Atlanta, the full 360 degrees of it. All offer space and light, areas for enjoyment and repose.
During my forty-some years in the College, by way of contrast, I inhabited office space in three buildings—in one both before and after its renovation. In its "after" years, I boasted a corner office in one of the anchor buildings on the quad, which I managed to stuff with so much scholarly impedimenta—books, papers, journals, tapes, slides, files and more files—that it commanded a biblical forty days to pack-me-up, move-me-out. (Perhaps, after all, Economy Class best defines my territorial limits.)
I also taught classes in all three buildings, as well as here and there across (and off) campus. Most of these many structures were rigorously utilitarian: often rectilinear, defined by long corridors, illuminated by artificial light. Functional enough for the most part, yet anything but aesthetically pleasing. Almost all were wanting in space, light, never mind beauty. Now that I operate in an environment that offers all three, I sense how much was missing in my daily rounds during my tenure in the College. Back then, I should have recast the trite-but-true injunction to "think outside the box" as something along the lines of "venture outside," beyond the narrow boundaries I had so thoughtlessly inhabited.
But back to the tenth floor of the Library, where we curators meet monthly in, predictably enough, the Robert W. Woodruff Room. We discuss acquisitions, both completed and in progress; purchases, as well as gifts. A few curatorial reports are brief, noting one-time donations or single purchases. Others are extensive, detailed narratives about major, often prolonged quests. One colleague confided that he had spent ten years in pursuit of a major collection. (My first, and to date only, appraisal—the initial step in acquiring a collection—began in late fall and remains, at this writing, ongoing.) The pacing of these reports, their month-by-month staging, keeps them fresh in memory and provides narrative coherence, a story line to be maintained, recalled, updated. The sense that these sessions convey is less committee meeting than faculty seminar.
In years as a faculty member, I had participated in only two such efforts. One, at Emory, was really a discussion group, a "proseminar" for sharing ideas and perspectives across the curriculum: interesting, at times provocative, but in the long run rather unmemorable. The other, before I came to Emory, was a full-fledged research-based seminar in urban studies, in which each participant presented and defended work in progress. I still recall specific debates, some of them turning into arguments, over matters of method and definition, as well as shifting alliances between (and among) humanists, social scientists, and design professionals. I allied myself then with geographers, anthropologists, and planners. Now, four decades later, I remain their fellow traveler.
During my "departmental years," by contrast, I too often felt distant from my colleagues' scholarship, the progress of their work. Even as chair, when I reviewed their updated c.v.'s each year, read their articles and books, I often found it difficult to measure the long-term direction of their research efforts. The end products, the completed works, were of value, but the narrative of their development was often obscure—something was missing. Something like a departmental research seminar, a periodic sharing of work-in-progress, might have helped then, might be in order now.
"Two cultures: Library and College," I offered as an opener. How wide a gap between the two, how deep a divide? On a C.P. Snow scale from one-to-ten, I'd grade it fairly low: let's say, one-point something. And of course there's always that airborne bridge between Library and College, symbolic but real, a two-way street connecting my two cultures.