Emeritus College

Twentieth Anniversary of Clemson’s Emeritus College

Chip Egan

Clifton “Chip” Egan, Dean and Professor Emeritus of Performing Arts and IDE Emeritus College Fellow

Good morning! Allow me to begin by offering my sincere congratulations to the newest members of the Clemson University Emeritus College. I like to think of my own retirement as the best promotion I ever received. You are beginning a delightful and enriching journey of the life-of-the-mind joining with new academic and social colleagues you may have never had a chance to get to know. Among the many wonderful benefits of EC membership is the pleasant dissolving of the academic boundaries you spent your career adhering to. The Emeritus College offers you a chance to meet, work with, and get to know some of the most enriching, far flung, and amazing minds the academy has to offer. Welcome to adventure.

President Clements, Senior Associate Provost Lawton-Rauh, deans and department heads, family members and well-wishers, and my fellow emeritus faculty, it is my distinct privilege to speak to you today on the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebration of the Clemson University Emeritus College. This is a day for looking back on two decades of accomplishment and growth, for taking stock of where we are as a college and, perhaps most significantly, looking forward to the coming decade of new horizons and challenges for the Emeritus College.

With your indulgence, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on my personal journey of retirement as a member of the Emeritus College for nineteen of the past twenty years. I first retired in 2004 after 28 years of teaching at Clemson. I arrived in 1976 as an assistant professor of theatre in the English department. When I filled out my employment papers and enrolled in the various benefit programs, the only option for retirement was the SC Retirement System. It was just as well. At age 24, I could have easily made a bad decision, had I had any choice.

In 2004, my decision to retire may have been a little ill-considered, but I was resolute. As a theatre professor and practitioner with a career-long collection of professional contacts, including former students, I wanted to start a second career as a self-employed, freelance theatre professional. For the next two years, my supremely patient wife, Diane, and I lived largely on the road in temporary housing provided by theatre companies around the country. We followed contract employment to places like Boston; Raton, NM; Moscow, ID; Roanoke, VA and Hilton Head, SC. Diane worked as an actor and stage manager, and I worked as an actor, director and designer. It was a life of variety and adventure, but not particularly comfortable or grounded.

In one housing arrangement in New Mexico, we lived for a summer stock season in an historic but only semi-maintained and un air-conditioned historic hotel called the El Portal. The occupants were a combination of tourists, fellow theatre employees and itinerant laborers. We lived in a semi-furnished suite of rooms with another couple and ended up using various cardboard boxes for coffee tables and side tables. We were living the life of theatre vagabonds. A couple of years later, the El Portal burned to the ground.

By spring 2006, I was living in an extended stay hotel in Roanoke, VA, while directing the premier of a play called Elvis People at Mill Mountain Theatre. The play was an ingenious collection of vignettes about the lives of the fans of Elvis Presley. The featured and final vignette was the story of an average Joe who fell into Elvis impersonating and began working at local used car lots for free. He eventually found his way onto cruise ships and ultimately to the world capital of Elvis impersonators, Las Vegas, where finally the “Peter Principle” kicked in. He had ascended to the level of his incompetence. Humbled and humiliated in a sudden death “Elvis off” with a show business giant, he shuffled home to his now-broken marriage and his previous job, older but wiser.

While I was directing, I got a call from a friend and colleague of mine in English at Clemson who, during the course of our conversation, wondered how his department was going to find someone to serve as interim chair when no one was interested. Almost without thinking, I told him I would do it. Long story short, I returned to work at Clemson for what became nearly six more years of administration including a three-year stint as dean of Architecture, Arts and Humanities followed by a stint as interim director of the Emeritus College. I went from gig work in theatre to gig work in academic administration. Having rejoined the SC Retirement System, I retired again which brings me back to today’s occasion! After two decades of operation, the Emeritus College has grown fully into its position as one of the now eleven colleges of Clemson University.

The Clemson Faculty Constitution states in its Preamble, “To fulfill its role of preserving, interpreting, and advancing knowledge, a university depends upon the scholarship and professionalism of its Faculty.” The Constitution further defines the membership of Clemson’s faculty as consisting of, “the President; Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost; other administrators with faculty rank; faculty with regular appointments as Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, or Instructor; Librarians; Emeritus Faculty; and such other individuals as the faculty may duly elect.”

The Emeritus College, by measure of its 867 faculty members, 61% of whom live within a 40-minute drive, is the largest college at Clemson. It is both extraordinary and powerfully influential that so many retired faculty choose to live so close to Clemson for their retirement years. We live in one of the most desirable places in our country. We enjoy a mild and yet varied climate, proximity to such natural wonders as the Blue Ridge Escarpment, also known as The Blue Wall, and an extraordinary system of lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. We are home to world class arts and sports in venues normally located in heavily urban settings. We support a food culture that rivals the best anywhere. Although our rapidly growing population adds pressure to it, our cost of living is still considered a bargain. We now consistently top multiple “The Best of…” lists for retirement living. But it is Clemson University’s cultivation of the affection and continuing engagement of its retired faculty that nourishes our branch of “the Clemson Family.”

But “Family” has taken on a new meaning in the post-pandemic world. The Emeritus College has grown its reach and accessibility by adopting both virtual and hybrid, streaming and recorded programming and by conducting its officer and business meetings in a hybrid format. The College now regularly engages members from across the country for both business and programming.

One year prior to the origin of Clemson’s Emeritus College, the Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education was founded in 2002. Twenty-one years later, AROHE, as it is known, champions Clemson as a model for engaged retirement and institutional effectiveness among its 130 institutional members. Of that number, only four institutions have designated their retirement organizations as colleges. Because Clemson made that defining choice, we hold an enviable position as the Nation’s premier academic retirement organization.

No celebration of the EC’s twenty years of existence would be complete without crediting its founding visionaries of Provost Dori Helms, President Jim Barker, University Historian Jerry Reel and Founding Director, Diane Smathers. Their choice to create a college of retired faculty imbued the EC with legitimacy and agency that has inspired the organization to reach ever higher standards of excellence and accomplishment. Members are proud to tout their college affiliation knowing that it provides a permanent home for their continuing growth and development as faculty and life-long learners.

The Emeritus College is fortunate to have been guided by a series of highly effective directors, beginning with its founding director, Dr. Diane Smathers. For the first ten years, Diane grew the EC identity and brand as an exemplary organization. She joined AROHE and promoted the involvement of individual Clemson Emeriti. She patiently taught the University how to fulfill the status of emeriti as full faculty invested by the Faculty Constitution, by pursuing their rightful access to all University privileges such as parking, ID cards, library access, information technology resources, Fike privileges and so forth. She created the EC Advisory Board, guided the creation of our by-laws, and all the while projected professionalism, legitimacy and gravitas to Clemson and the higher education industry. Dr. Smathers is here with us today.

Dr. Dwaine Eubanks, the second permanent director, built on Diane’s foundation of organizational health to take the EC to the next level by relocating the EC offices, promoting strategic planning, expanding programming, hiring a full-time program coordinator, creating more recognitions for Emeritus faculty achievement, and instituting a program of Emeritus Faculty Fellows. Following Dwaine’s untimely death in 2018, the Fellows program was named in his honor. His widow, Lucy Eubanks is here today.

The third and current director, Dr. Debbie Jackson, is serving in her fifth year as a dynamic leader who has guided the Emeritus College through the pandemic years implementing streaming and hybrid programing and greatly expanding the on-line reach and reputation of the College. She has continued to promote service opportunities and has nurtured a culture of inclusion and diversity by expanding membership and leadership opportunities. Recently, she facilitated a continuing partnership between the Emeritus College and the Class of ’39, Clemson’s only perpetual class, consisting, in part, of the annual faculty recipients of the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.

In 2018, under Debbie’s leadership, two Clemson Emeritus College language programs for international graduate students, the Clemson English-Speaking Proficiency (CESP) test and its follow up, the Conversations with International Students (CIS) program, were selected for a national award! Working together, those programs significantly enhance participating students’ English language skills and cultural awareness. The pair of programs received the AROHE National Innovation Award for benefiting students, improving instruction, and enhancing campus diversity.

It’s truly a campus-wide initiative involving emeriti CESP interviewers, emeriti CIS mentors, student participants, graduate coordinators, student-service coordinators, active faculty, department chairs, college, and university administrators. Also contributing are faculty and staff from the Pearce Center, Graduate School, and Office of Global Engagement. The programs are now institutionalized as continuing programs.

Throughout the twenty-year history of the EC, support from the Office of the Provost has been an indispensable anchor of stability and resources. I want to recognize Provost Bob Jones and Associate Provost Amy Lawton-Rauh and thank them for their unwavering enthusiasm for the Emeritus College and the value that it provides for Clemson’s mission, vision, and strategic goals.

As a part of its 20th anniversary celebration, the Emeritus College has joined with the Clemson University Press to publish Moments and Memories: Reflections of Emeritus College Faculty, a collection of essays surrounding the Clemson experiences of its retired faculty. Guided by four editors, Victoria Gillis, Debbie Jackson, Kathy Headley and Marty Duckenfield, the collection of eighty essays covers over sixty years of Clemson University history. You are receiving a copy today. In the book’s Foreword, Provost Jones writes, “The rich tapestry of faculty experiences in this book reveals humility and dedication to the land-grant mission and our institution. They make me proud to be a Clemson Tiger.”

At the January meeting of the EC Advisory Council, a discussion of undertaking a self-study and review of the College’s strategic plan for the purpose of framing a vibrant path into the future was held. The College’s mission and vision statements have been effective touchstones, but could we articulate our core values as a companion and a powerful engine for continuing advancement and effectiveness? A volunteer group of Emeriti began meeting every two weeks to draft and review such a document. The resulting one-page statement, approved last week by the Advisory Council, is before you in your packet.

Our meetings and discussions have been rich, animated, thought-provoking, and productive. We examined the University’s and Board of Trustees’ statements of guiding principles and values. We collected similar statements from other universities that we considered to be comparable. We debated the political hazards of our time and how much, or even whether, they should be taken into account. Ultimately, we fashioned a short and defining set of aspirations that we believe will inspire us to be at the forefront of the Clemson Elevate planning effort. The next step is to revise our strategic plan in accordance with these values.

Chief among our values is that of belonging. As I mentioned earlier, the phrase, “the Clemson Family” has been used for years to describe that certain, almost indefinable something that draws people to Clemson and holds them. Can a 30,000-person institution truly remain a family? Key to our belief that it’s possible is the notion that a feeling of belonging, born of the caring, respect and trust that Emeriti find in their college, can be modeled throughout Clemson’s campus culture. Maybe our college of senior citizen, life-long educators can lead the way! The members of the Emeritus College are proudly embarking on that path. Thank you for your kind attention today and GO TIGERS.

April 25, 2023 Emeritus Day Luncheon