Milton Scarborough: Report from Jurassic Park
August 19, 2010 By Milton Scarborough*
of “Jurassic Park,” a place where retired professors are able to
maintain close ties to the College and continue their scholarly
The Emeritus House is located near Craik House, where Centre
president John Roush and his wife, Susie, live. Five rooms of the
two and-a-half-story house contain old, non-working fireplaces,
framed by tiles and topped in a few cases by elaborately carved
Dr. Don Brown (left), professor emeritus of psychology, and Dr.
Bradley Nystrom, professor emeritus of education, enjoy the
atmosphere of the Emeritus House.
Each “dinosaur” has a desk, phone, bookshelf, filing cabinet,
computer, Internet connection and a link to a common printer.
Group book discussions and weekly coffee hours take place in the
living room area of the house. “The conversations there take place
beneath the benevolent (it is hoped) gaze of ghosts in the form of
framed 8 x 10 inch photographs of all retired members of the
faculty going as far back as four decades,” Scarborough says.
“Old soldiers never die,” they say; “they just fade away.” Old cowboys “ride off into the sunset.” Work-weary farm animals, on the other hand, are “put out to pasture.”
“So what about retired college professors?” you may be asking, “Where do they go and what do they do?”
The answer—at least as far as Centre College is concerned—may surprise you: they go to Jurassic Park! Yes, that place where a tyrannosaurus rex rears up to meet an approaching brontosaurus while a pterodactyl circles overhead. Doubtless, some explanation is in order.
In 1995 Centre President Michael Adams designated the white, two-story house on the corner of Main and 5th as the “Cheek Emeritus House,” a place where retired professors who wanted to maintain close ties to the campus and perhaps continue their scholarly pursuits could have an office. History professor David Newhall (known to his students as “Oz”) was among the first to occupy that space, where he churned out encyclopedia articles one after the other over the course of his final years. He dubbed the place “Jurassic Park.”
Meanwhile, during a particularly “animated” faculty meeting, a young professor referred to six senior faculty members attempting to push through a piece of legislation as "dinosaurs.” Eventually, this moniker was applied to emeritus professors occupying Jurassic Park. As for the tyrannosaurus, pterodactyl, etc., they are wooden figures that decorated a “Jurassic Park” sign at the rear entrance to the building.
In 2009, however, because of increased student enrollment, Cheek House was converted to dormitory space, and the dinosaurs (and the sign) were moved to a more upscale Jurassic Park just two doors down Maple Avenue from Craik House (where Centre presidents live). Five rooms of the rambling two and-a-half-story house contain old, non-working fireplaces, framed by tiles and topped in a few cases by elaborately carved wooden mantles. Karin Ciholas reports that the beautifully turned balusters on the stairs trigger a “Proustian experience” of remembering her childhood home.
A Baker’s Dozen
Over the summer, new arrivals Bill Levin, Bill Garriott and Brian Cooney settled in there, joining Don Brown, Ciholas, Herb McGuire, Eric Mount, Brad Nystrom, Milton Scarborough, Brent White and Marshall Wilt. Including retired federal judge and lifetime trustee Pierce Lively and former Director of Human Resources Walter Gooch, the total number of occupants is now 13.
Each person has a desk, phone, bookshelf, filing cabinet, computer, Internet connection and a link to a common printer. There is also access to new software and tech support. Bill Garriott calls it “a place to hang my hat,” while Eric Mount says it is a way to stay “in the loop” of campus activities and information. For Don Brown, it’s “an important anchor for part of my life.” It’s also a place for that lifelong collection of books or data, with which no professor can bear to part.
What Dinosaurs Do
“What,” you may now be asking (a la Richard Scarry), “do dinosaurs do all day?” Let me count the activities. They retrieve and send e-mail, pick up their increasingly dwindling and irrelevant snail mail, read, meet current and former students, and get feedback on writing projects.
Sometimes there are special sessions to discuss books. To date, there have been sessions devoted to Nikki Keddie’s Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Promise of Globalization, Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution And How It Can Renew America, and Rich Whitt’s Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia.
Once, Centre psychologist Katherine White made a presentation to the dinosaurs on her research into aging and cognition, following which she tried to recruit guinea pigs for future research. Both active members of the faculty and retirees who chose not to settle into Jurassic Park are often invited to such occasions.
The dinosaurs have a more serious side, too, namely, doing research, writing, and other scholarly activities.
Don Brown does research, especially for grants, and continues to meet with students.
Marshall Wilt has been working on three physics papers that will have student co-authors. One, “On the Magnetic Field Near the Center of Helmholtz Coils,” has been accepted for publication in Reviews of Scientific Instruments.
Brad Nystrom is doing research and writing scripts that will be used “to illuminate, clarify and entertain” visitors at the Jacobs Hall Museum on the campus of Kentucky School for the Deaf. His “100 Years of Teacher Education at Centre” was published in the Centrepiece.
Milton Scarborough has written a book, Comparative Theories of Nonduality: The Search for a Middle Way, which was published last year.
Karin Ciholas has completed a historical novel and is now working on a play.
Eric Mount (perhaps the new Newhall in terms of sustained output) has written several articles and prepared lectures, sermons, training sessions, and courses for a number of churches, hospice and hospital staffs, and Centre student organizations. Recently, he taught a New Testament course at Montreat, a Presbyterian conference center. He is also a consultant with a team preparing a DVD for use in churches across the nation. It is based to a considerable degree on one of his books.
Brent White continues to meet with and supervise research on primates for both former and current Centre students. This spring a manuscript involving six Centre students was accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Primatology. He also planned and hosted the annual meeting of the American Society of Primatologists, which was held in Louisville and in which scientists from Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa participated.
Judge Lively uses his space to prepare for the course on constitutional law that he teaches each long term with Dan Stroup.
Several retirees even voluntarily submit activities summaries to the dean and/or president, as they did while still teaching.
Coffee and Ghosts
By no means, however, are dinosaurs drudges. There are daily, impromptu bull sessions to discuss politics, sports or where to find a good plumber.
This past July a weekly coffee hour on Mondays at 9 a.m. was instituted, and at a recent one President Roush showed up. The coffees and the aforementioned book discussions take place in the living room area of the house, which opens onto a large, well-furnished kitchen. The conversations there take place beneath the benevolent (it is hoped) gaze of ghosts in the form of framed 8 x 10 inch photographs of all retired members of the faculty going as far back as four decades, which adorn the surrounding walls.
A Presidential Perspective
Of Jurassic Park, President Roush has said: “Centre’s Maple Street Emeritus House is one of my favorite ‘parts’ of the College. I find it altogether appropriate, inspiring even, that Centre chooses to honor those faculty members who have given so much to the College. Providing them a place to continue their involvement in and contributions to Centre is the right thing to do, and the more recent response from the residents of the Emeritus House is a point of personal pride for me.”
It is not clear how many, if any, other colleges provide such a wonderful resource to their retirees. Roush said he does not know of any. If the character of a college is measured by how it treats its aging professors, then Centre is in this respect, as in so many others, a very special place.
*Milton Scarborough came to Centre in 1969 from Duke University, where he had just completed courses in religion and philosophy. He taught these subjects at Centre College until his retirement in 2005 and was co-coach of the tennis team from 1969 to 1980. In addition to the book referred to in this article, he is also the author of Myth and Modernity: Postcritical Reflections, Suny Press, 1994. With a group of friends, he recently completed a 100-mile bike ride in 10 hours and reports that he can still do anything he was capable of at age 18, though not necessarily on successive days. The dwindling number of messages in his inbox may be replenished by e-mails sent to email@example.com.