"Fame is a fleeting thing," admits Professor Emerita of Dance Jeannette Hypes. She isn't talking about being a Hollywood starlet, but rather one of Pomona's own "superstars"--its beloved professors.
"Students move on and they forget you," she adds. "Suddenly you find yourself at a campus function, and you don't recognize anyone and they don't recognize you."
It's a seldom-discussed challenge that the ranks of Pomona's esteemed emeriti have faced, compelled to take inventory and redefine themselves in the process, frequently moving on to unexpected yet gratifying endeavors in their post-Pomona golden years.
The exact definition of "professor emeritus" depends on whom you ask. The word comes from Latin, translating roughly to "by reason of merit." But is membership in the celebrated emeriti actually awarded on merit or simply earned by marking time? Professor Emeritus of English Thomas Pinney waxes philosophical on the topic: "Like any other of life's big events--being born in a particular place, becoming a grandparent--it just happens to you," he jokes, suggesting, "All you have to do is hang on long enough to become one."
Others feel the title denotes a certain cachet. Professor Emerita of French Virginia Crosby, currently living and writing mystery novels in Paris, likens the award to "a summation, in a sense, of a span of time given to a professional endeavor, one that might suggest a job well done."
While there may be no silver plaque, there can be added perks that come with the territory. According to Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Corwin Hansch (who maintains a research lab on campus), Pomona is "pretty good about defining space for most of the emeriti--office and otherwise." Hypes, who has chaired Pomona's emeritus organization, believes the College "treats its emeriti very, very well--we're treated with respect, invited to all the campus functions, treated just the way we were before; we just don't have to put up with the same bull as when we were full-time professors."
Confronted with such central issues of identity, however, it's hardly surprising that many retired professors still take pleasure in some of the little rituals associated with their former roles. Professor Emeritus of Botany Sherwin Carlquist notes that many of his fellow retirees continue to "check in to look what mail drifted in, chat with the other old-timers--in other words, get an identity fix." In fact, by leaving the comfortable confines of Claremont for the sprawling home in Santa Barbara that he inherited from his mother, Carlquist believes he may have forfeited many of the unspoken privileges afforded to the emeriti who remain close by. A self-starter and admitted loner, he insists that he'd be "doing what I do regardless of what anyone says, or what town I happen to be in."
The prospect of ending a decades-long teaching career can be daunting for even the most celebrated professor. Pinney, who retired in 1997 after 35 years in Pomona's English Department, likens the act to "a kind of little death," as many professors finally cease to do the very thing they love most. "Unlike many of my colleagues, I wanted to make a clean break," he says, though even he admits enduring a bad week or two.
Beyond recovering from such a metaphorical demise, however, many professors actually find a vital sense of rebirth. Suddenly freed from the constraints of the daily grind of a professor's full course load--prepping for lectures, grading papers, attending committee meetings--many find they're more productive than ever before. Many of Pomona's emeriti, such as botanist Carlquist, have actually--as he puts it--"come into full bloom," continuing their lifelong research while exploring new fields or pursuing creative endeavors untapped before.
Recognized internationally as one of the top experts in wood anatomy, a field he helped revolutionize by combining the principles of field botany and plant anatomy, Carlquist taught at Pomona for 37 years before retiring in 1992. He then taught for a time at UC Santa Barbara as an adjunct professor of biology, continuing his pioneering research under the auspices of Santa Barbara's own Botanical Garden.
Thriving in his new locale, he's taken an interest in a variety of plants he'd never had his hands on back in Claremont, and in the process, he's turned part of his home into a private laboratory. "You know how it is with science equipment--once you put a plastic cover over it and shove it in the closet, that's the last you'll see of it," Carlquist jokes. Determined to build a lab in his own home, he took his old microscope from the Botanical Garden in Claremont and discarded equipment from Pomona's labs, putting them to good use, looking at the conductive tissue of water lilies and ferns.
Looking fondly back at his old home in Padua Hills, though, Carlquist does miss Pomona College and Claremont in particular, "that wonderfully idiosyncratic college town with all kinds of good people in it." In fact, one of the things that he and many of his fellow emeriti miss most about their tenure at Pomona is the daily contact with students and colleagues who formed a "vicarious extended family" that he could never re-create elsewhere. "Every day, while driving to work, I knew I'd be seeing people I knew and loved."
Of course, science isn't all about airtight proofs and pristine theorems; it's also full of blind alleys, failed experiments, trial and error. No one knows this better than Professor Hansch, another acclaimed Pomona researcher who pioneered the ground-breaking field of QSAR (quantitative structure-activity relationships), used in the design of pharmaceuticals. Still underwritten by a grant from the National Institute for Environmental Health, Hansch (who began teaching at Pomona in 1946 and retired 42 years later at age 70) is continuing to study the interface between chemical and biological reactions, converting these relationships into mathematical expressions that can be used to help predict such properties as environmental toxicology.
Hansch knows his high-octane work ethic isn't for everyone. "You must have a crucial idea that gets you up in the morning and gets you down to the lab," says Hansch, who still works every day, with only Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons off. "Truth be told, I wish I would have retired earlier. Now that I don't have to give lectures, grade papers, fix the equipment, I'm able to get in the lab and conduct my research whenever I want. I'm so happy doing what I'm doing now that I've forgotten much of that (past era)." How long will Hansch continue his research in this "improved life" as a professor emeritus? "Probably till I drop dead."
Other Pomona emeriti are not only still mentally active, but physically fit, as well--take Professor Hypes, who after decades of contributing to Pomona's cultural life is still in a state of perpetual motion. Having arrived at the College in 1957, Hypes was tapped to design and direct Pomona's dance program for 31 years, having to win over an initially skeptical administration, which couldn't grasp the concept of dance being more than simply another form of P.E. Hype's unique sensibility declared that dance could fortify the mind and body in equal parts: "They didn't understand that dance is a viable college subject--beyond learning how to compose dance, or the sheer technique of dance, you can learn a lot about yourself, about collaboration with others, that you just can't learn in a typical classroom situation," she stresses, adding that "Many students over the years have confided in me that taking my dance class is what kept them sane while at Pomona." No small feat, indeed, given the rigorous demands put on students then and now.
Even as she approaches 80, Hypes--who has seen Pomona's dance department grow from the venerable (if dilapidated) Renwick Gym to the more functional Pendleton Dance Center to the somewhat lavish Seaver Theatre, where students give regular performances--still finds the time and stamina to lead her renowned early-morning adult fitness classes in Rains Center, where both faculty and staff are more than willing to rise, shine and stretch, as Hypes keeps disciples of all ages toned and flexible, inside and out. "You've got to keep your mind and muscles active even at this age," says Hypes, who continues to revise her published tome to fitness, "The Bottom Line," which advocates exercise as the world's cheapest (and most reliable) health-care policy. But what drives Hypes to keep up this strenuous pace isn't entirely altruism. "I don't do it for them; I do it for me," she claims.
Other emeriti have left the comfortable confines of Claremont to stake claims in more exotic soil. Professor Emeritus of Geology Donald McIntyre moved back to his native Scotland after retiring from Pomona in 1989, shifting research gears to become a noted expert on Scottish culture as part of the bargain. Though Professor Crosby has called Paris home since 1985, she doesn't think the term "expatriate" exactly fits her--"After all these years, I still feel like an American who just happens to be living in France, quite capable of loving and being irritated by both societies, their often baffling behavior, their particular cultures and political-social policies," she stresses. "I would say, though, the French have an edge in the importance they give to family life and all forms of artistic endeavors. Family, education and culture still rank higher in the concept the French have of themselves and their priorities than making money."
Shifting from 16th-century French literature studies (as a member of Pomona's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures from 1963 to 1984) to writing her own particular brand of fiction, Crosby published her first novel in 1990--a whodunnit titled The Fast Death Factor set on a thinly fictionalized Pomona campus. She then sold two crime novels set in France, Deadly Prospects and Deadly Secrets, to a small but well-respected Eastern U.S. publishing house. Without warning, disaster struck in the spring of 1996, when distributors and major chains began returning unsold books (commonly called "remainders" in publishing industry jargon) in truckloads. While the "Big Houses" could absorb such a financial crisis, few of the boutique publishing houses could survive such an economic blow, and Crosby's two unpublished novels were relegated to literary limbo.
"It was quite a blow," she recalls. She has since finished another Paris-based novel, Terminal Relations, and is hopeful her agent will now find a home for all three. A completely different enterprise from scholarly research, writing novels is "an enjoyable, frustrating, stimulating and demanding process all the same," Crosby explains. "I may be more productive now than as a professor. If so, it is in a completely different way."
Another emeritus scholar, Thomas Pinney, former Phebe Estelle Spalding Professor of English, has put his literary interests on hold to pursue other endeavors, most notably his ongoing interest in documenting the secret history of wine. Having published books on George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Babington Macaulay, Pinney has turned his critical eye toward the history of wine production, specifically in the U.S. While the University of California published his definitive The History of Wine in America in 1989, Pinney is now hard at work completing a sequel of sorts, which will guide readers from the end of Prohibition to the end of the 20th century. "And I'd better hurry up, since we're already in a new millennium," he chides, noting this kind of sleuth work provides "an interesting alternative" to the other types of scholarship he routinely does. And how does researching vintage wines differ from, say, annotating the collected verse of a late English poet? "It takes a comparable sort of ability, if ability is in question," he explains. "You still have to get outside sources, read a lot of secondary material and treat your subject as critically as possible. But this type of scholarship brings me in touch with very different kinds of people. My friends and acquaintances through my interest in wine are utterly different from those I've met through English literature."
Taking time for the kind of self-inventory some emeriti are prone to, Pinney dryly notes that "if being retired taught me anything about what I used to be, I don't think I want to know it." Above all, he's glad "not to be in the business of giving grades anymore," which after all "isn't the essence of teaching; it's one of its accidents." Rather than breaking old habits, Pinney and others continue to do the same kind of work they've always done, the careful reading and writing in one form or another that are essential to any scholarly endeavor: "I'm still doing that, but now without the pressures and obligations I used to have," he admits. "On the other hand, those same pressures and obligations are part of a responsibility which one is sometimes very glad to have."
So what keeps Pomona emeriti so active? For Carlquist, the answer has become clearer since the professional pressure to produce was removed. It's not the need to keep adding to his extensive list of publications (11 books, 265 papers, and counting) that keeps him going. It's something much more personal--the simple joy of discovery:
"Every time I look through my microscope, I make little 'micro-discoveries.' Not anything that I'll be known for, but amazing things that have never been seen before--and that in itself, the joy of continual discovery of new things, not the public recognition, is what keeps me going," he explains. "At this point, I couldn't care less about what anyone thinks, or pleasing someone else. I'm simply coasting along on the pure fun of it all."
"Most guys my age are out there playing golf all day," deadpans Hansch. "Me, I'm stuck in the lab."
And like most of Pomona's active emeriti, he couldn't be happier.
Gregg Mitchell '89 is a freelance writer living in Manhattan Beach, California.