Emeritus College about staying plugged in, sharing wisdom

October 18, 2017

With support from the vice president for academic affairs, a recently retired Saint Michael’s Shakespeare scholar is giving shape and substance to a new “Emeritus College.”

Nick Clary’s hope is that by offering social opportunities, academic collaborations and dedicated common space in a central academic building, he can keep wise and experienced retired faculty more directly and meaningfully connected to the College and to one another, benefiting all involved.

Karen Talentino, vice president for academic affairs, explained the origins: “With so many faculty retiring as part of the Voluntary Severance Program, I thought it was the opportune time to establish an ‘Emeritus College’ similar to others that I have read about,” she said. “Fortunately, Nick Clary was enthusiastic about the idea and was willing to take a leadership role.”

Clary retired this year from a 40-plus-year career on the English faculty. Now, however, even in retirement, he often can be found many mornings in Jeanmarie Hall Room 279 — the new Emeritus College headquarters — immersed in collaborative Shakespeare and other literary projects, visiting with old friends, or rallying fellow retirees for activities like lunches together on campus or theater outings in the nearby community. He keeps the door open most of the time, and fellow emeriti come and go, as do students and active faculty when they see him in the office.

“Last week Ed Mahoney was in here with me for a bit,” he said of the recently retired longtime director of the Graduate Theology program/ religious studies professor. “I usually come in mornings, and I know emeritus have come in when I haven’t been here.”

“Most who have visited me here are still full-time faculty, like today Bob Brenneman from sociology stopped by briefly, as did James Conley from classics — and Rick Gamache from Applied Linguistics came by and left a nice aloe plant here as a gift,” Clary said. Gamache, whose career at St. Mike’s, like Clary’s, reaches back into the 1970s, is still an active faculty member.

The large, bright, carpeted new Emeritus College second-floor space right by the Faculty Lounge most recently was a seminar-style classroom, and before that, the Dean’s Office in the early 2000s. Opening onto a highly trafficked central hallway, the space already contains (thanks to efforts by Clary, Talentino, the College facilities crew and assorted random donations) four soft leather chairs, two large tables (one with a computer plugged into the College’s system) a little coffee maker, a microwave oven and some lamps. A funky window of unusual curved shape and proportions imparts unique personality into the space.

“It’s very comfortable. and coming together nicely,” said Clary on a recent Monday, taking a break from work on some of his many local Shakespeare projects to speak of his hopes for the Emeritus College and a few early activities and initiatives.

He says before now the term “Emeritus Faculty” as a practical matter at Saint Michael’s, was a title of honor without many if any specific  privileges or expectations. While some colleges have a screening process for granting emeritus status, at Saint Michael’s the title simply fell upon any retired faculty automatically. “You would be invited to social and academic occasions or to join processions and so on, but nothing else that was distinctive – no definition in terms of what you’d do,” Clary said. But, when talking with Talentino about the Emeritus College concept just before his own retirement, the veteran English professor felt inspired. “I told her I’d be perfectly happy to be instrumental in getting it set up and oversee it until members decide what they want to do themselves, he said.

Clary has no formal title or salary for recent work on the project and no set hours or pressure, but it gives him a chance to continue projects like editing for a Hamlet website as coordinating editor, or work as a board member for the Vermont Shakespeare Festival.  He hopes the incentives of the Emeritus College will make other retired faculty more likely to continue similar worthwhile projects related to academics in their own fields, with the potential for students or current faculty to collaborate.

“One interesting possibility is that collaborations could be set up across interdisciplinary lines,” Clary said, citing some conversations he’s had with John Hanigan, a philosophy emeritus professor who as an accomplished musician might be able to weigh in usefully with Clary on stage directions in Shakespeare plays that pertain to music. “I’m just putting some things out so our retirees don’t feel like they’ve been cut off and left adrift as may have been true in the past,” he said.

Three emeritus luncheons at Alliot dining hall so far in recent months have included former president Paul Reiss, Edmundite retired philosophy professor Fr. Richard VanderWeel, SSE, Don Rathgeb from theater, Josh Van Houten from chemistry, John Carvellas from economics, and others, he said.

Membership has its privileges: “We have new Emeritus Faculty IDs that give access to the faculty lounge, library and gym, and they can get parking tags,” said Clary, who also has spoken with former veteran Institutional Advancement leader Rit DiVenere about emeritus faculty being invited to future homecoming or reunion activities and perhaps giving presentations.

Clary said he has a list of about 20 names so far who recently have taken the voluntary separation package or retired in recent years and who might become involved at least in occasional activities since they still live in the area.

“I like to think there will be some nice gratifying socializing that can occur,” he said, “since many retirees now have no children at home, or spouses that have passed away or friends who are no longer viable. This gives them at least a little community people of similar age who might like to spend some time with them, maybe engaging in continuing research and production in their specialties.”

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