In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay, University of Pennsylvania Professor Jonathan Zimmerman states that “I’ll retire when my institution pledges to hire a full-time, tenure-track professor in my place” (November 8th online).
Dr. Zimmerman is the latest in a long line of college faculty who have offered to “go emeritus” in exchange for a specific concession from the administration. Here’s a sampling of some of the more notable episodes, and how they turned out:
Gerald McTillis, College of William and Mary, 1807: Said he would retire if given the opportunity to engage in a single-shot duel with the chairman of his department. McTillis had accused the chair of assigning him 7:00 am classes, 5 days a week, for over 35 years. Outcome: Professor McTillis passed away suddenly, but not unexpectedly, on May 27, 1807.
Spencer Woburn, Cornell University, 1891: Would not retire unless the names of the four members of the Tenure & Promotion Committee whose negative votes prevented him from being promoted to full professor in 1880 were made public. Outcome: Request denied. Curiously, between 1892 and 1894, all seven members of the 1880 T & P Committee disappeared without a trace. For the next several years visitors often claimed that the barn on Professor Woburn’s farm “smelled funny.”
Celeste Wiggins-Talbot, Gettysburg College, 1937: Demanded that Professor Navin Teasdale be blindfolded whenever he was on campus. Wiggins-Talbot claimed that Teasdale stared at her breasts incessantly during department meetings, refusing to make eye contact. “I don’t want the next generation of female professors at Gettysburg to encounter the same boorish behavior that I did,” she said. Outcome: A compromise was reached, which stipulated that Teasdale would never be permitted to have cataract surgery, even if he needed it.
Maynard Nesbitt, University of Mississippi, 1952: Promised to forgo his school-funded pension if the University agreed to show the film “Birth of a Nation” at freshman orientation every year, with Nesbitt coming out of retirement to give a post-screening lecture entitled, “D. W. Griffith: The Persecuted Prophet.” Outcome: Proposal rejected, by a 14-11 vote of the Board of Trustees.
Gretchen Harvesta, Smith College, 2016: Refused to retire until the school’s Business Office reimbursed her for a 2009 lunch she had at Chick-fil-A in the Charlotte International Airport, where she had a layover on the way back from a research conference in Puerto Rico. A valid receipt for the meal had been submitted by Harvesta. Outcome: Request denied, due to Chick-fil-A’s public opposition to same-sex marriage. The denial noted that the airport’s food court had an easily accessible McDonald’s, which also served a chicken sandwich.
Percy Oddson, Emory University, 2018: Oddson attempted to take a University-owned, window-mounted air conditioner out of his office when he vacated the premises upon retirement. “Toby and I share a lot of memories, and even more secrets,” he asserted when apprehended by Campus Police in the parking lot. “We should be together.” Outcome: Professor Oddson was admitted to DeKalb County Mental Hospital, where he currently resides.
NOTE: You can visit Dr. Oddson at DeKalb from 2 to 4 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. He enjoys doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles with family and friends, and collecting photographs of vintage air conditioners.