Retirement in 1998 marked a major turning point for Mark Reader, a political science professor at Arizona State University. It ended long days at the office and in the classroom, and he no longer had to prepare instructional materials.
Although Reader spent a lot of his spare time with his wife, Frances, caring for their ailing diabetic son, he knew he needed to do something more to fill the void.
"What was hard was to find something to do in retirement," said Reader, 72. "I shopped around for a little while. I thought maybe I’d be a sculptor, but I couldn’t do three-dimensional stuff."
Many retirees discover that concluding their career means they must find a new focus, or they will feel disconnected, perhaps even longing to return to their old jobs.
ASU is taking a step toward helping its academic retirees stay active while allowing them to broaden their knowledge in areas outside their specialties. It is opening an Emeritus College this month.
Professors who participate are asked to contribute $30 to the ASU Foundation. They can then teach some courses pro bono, or even take courses offered exclusively to them, such as creative writing. A few may opt to conduct some paid research, but none will be obligated to work full time.
Elizabeth Redmon, executive director of the Association of Retired Organizations in Higher Education, said such colleges exist that both serve and are served by retirees.
Most academics successfully adapt to retirement. But, getting involved in any new activity — on or away from campus — helps ease the transition, said Lorraine Dorfman, who explored the issue of how professors cope with retirement in her book, "The Sun Still Shone."
Dorfman, a University of Iowa social work professor, said she believes academics are a unique bunch because many devote decades to their institutions. They feel an intimate connection with their campus community, and identify closely with their work. So when retirement dawns, some feel adrift.
Afterward, "most of them don’t have any formal connection anymore with the institution," Dorfman said.
Dorfman believes they must find a healthy balance that allows them to grow personally while making a useful contribution to the university.
"Nobody wants a hangeron" who can’t let go of their old routine, she said.
Richard Jacob, an ASU physics professor who retired in 2001, is dean of ASU’s new Emeritus College. His inspiration was an article about Emory University’s emeritus programs. ASU administrators were enthusiastic and put Jacob on a task force to study how to design such a college. The administration approved the plan last year, agreeing to provide a small budget: Less than $10,000.
Jacob said retired professors participating in the college can be as busy as they want to be.
"They can go out and play golf if they want, but still get the job done," he said.
More than 150 ASU emeriti are members of the emeritus college. Jacob expects the number to increase to 200 or more by fall.
"Not many people walk out of their office door here on campus and never look back," said Jacob, who plans to teach a senior honors course on Albert Einstein’s legacy this fall.
Reader found a new forte in his retirement: Watercolor painting.
He’s been taking classes and cultivating his talent the last six years. Reader and John Aguilar, a retired ASU anthropology professor, will display some of their paintings at the college’s opening on Friday.