May 6, 2016

Retiring faculty honored, invited to remain active

Michael Fontaine
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
Mike Fontaine, acting dean of the faculty, holds up a new translation of Cicero’s “How to Grow Old” at the May 5 reception honoring retiring faculty and academics.

More than three dozen retiring faculty members – including emeritus professors, senior lecturers, senior research associates and librarians – were honored May 5 at a reception at the A.D. White House.

The annual event is hosted by the Office of the Dean of Faculty. Michael Fontaine, acting dean of the faculty, and Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff welcomed the new retirees; Ann Lemley, president of the Cornell Association of Professors Emeriti (CAPE), previewed many ways retired faculty can stay involved with Cornell.

Fontaine and Kotlikoff kept the audience laughing and nodding by reading selections from a new translation of the essay Cicero wrote in 44 B.C., “de Senectute (How to Grow Old).”

“‘Growing older, far from being feeble and sluggish, can be very active; … always doing and engaged in something, as it follows the pursuits of earlier years,” Fontaine read. “You should never stop learning … learn something new every day.’

“‘No one who provides a liberal education to others can be considered unhappy, even as his body is growing older. The excesses of youth are more often to blame for the lost bodily strength than old age,’” he continued, to appreciative laughter.

Kotlikoff, continuing to read selections, said: “‘And as much as we should care for our bodies, we should pay even more attention to our minds and our spirits. For they, like lamps of oil, will grow dim with time if not replenished. … And even though physical exercise may tire the body, mental activity makes the mind sharper.’”

Lemley described the results of a CAPE survey of their members last fall. “It was overwhelming to see the results of the contributions that emeritus faculty make,” she said. “They teach courses. They do research. They win awards from the MacArthur Foundation. They’re on National Academy of Sciences panels. They advise and mentor students. … We’re a key, key part of the university.

CAPE reception
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
About 40 retiring faculty members attend at a reception May 5 in the A.D. White House.

“We have a lot invested in Cornell; Cornell has a lot invested in us.”

Kotlikoff thanked the group for “all the vital work that you’ve done for the university, for sharing your knowledge and your ideas, your energy and your talents, with countless students, colleagues and community members here in Ithaca.”

He acknowledged four deans of the faculty in attendance: Fontaine, Joseph Burns, William Fry and incoming Dean of the Faculty Charles Van Loan.

“Please do continue to contribute to the university, look for opportunities to contribute and be part of university life,” Kotlikoff said. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for you.”

Several retiring faculty members spoke about their experiences at Cornell and their careers.

Bob Swieringa, professor emeritus of accounting and the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean Emeritus of Johnson, said he found Cornell to be “an empowering environment that really allows people to blossom. And when that happens to you, you’re forever grateful.”

Kay Obendorf, professor of fiber science and apparel design, described how different Cornell is today than when she first arrived in 1966, and said: “People ask me how long I was at Cornell, and I tell them: A lifetime and a career.”

Plant pathologist George Hudler, known as the teacher of the longtime popular course Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds, wrapped up the event with a heartfelt reminder about Cornell, teaching and the joy of discovery:

“For the first 15 years of that course, it didn’t satisfy any requirements whatsoever. It attracted students who just flat out wanted to learn something new. They wanted to get out of their box and beyond their borders. Since then, we do satisfy a bit of a requirement in the Arts College and the Ag School, but it was those early years that really will forever be etched in my mind.

“And I hope we never lose sight of that celebration of inquiry. Whether it meets a requirement or not, I hope we always give our undergraduate students that little bit of elbow room to just do something different.”