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100 SEMESTERS by William M. Chace


My Adventures as a Student, Professor, and President, and What I Learned Along the Way

by William M. Chace

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-691-12725-5
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

A guided tour of academe, from the author’s years as a student at Haverford in the 1950s through his recent retirement as president of Emory University.

Chace, who has hitherto published only scholarly titles, began this memoir after he stepped down as the head of Emory. (He returned later as a professor of English.) He entered Haverford in the fall of 1956, was suspended for a year—college authorities were not amused by his “borrowing” the dining-hall silverware—and finally got his B.A. in 1961. After that, he made fairly consistent progress up the plane of academic life: a Ph.D. from Berkeley (earned during its wildest free-speech days), a stint at Stillman College in Alabama (where he was arrested during an early civil-rights demonstration), a job at Stanford (he taught the school’s first course in black literature on barely a moment’s notice), a segue into administration, an appointment to head Wesleyan University (some success, some failure), a transfer to Emory for nine of his most gratifying years. During his administrative career, the author continued to teach, generally courses on Ulysses, and so brings a broad perspective to his commentary on higher education today. Chace sees some things he doesn’t like, especially big-time college athletics, which he calls a “cancer.” He also worries about the state of his own particular academic specialty, English-teaching, which in his judgment has nearly abandoned its traditional emphasis on literary history for a food-court curriculum, political correctness and the arcana of literary theory. In sum, however, he is sanguine, dismissing portraits of dissolute campus life like Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons as “grotesquely cartoonish.” Although the subtitle’s characterization of Chace’s experiences as “adventures” is perhaps over-generous, he did hold some nitro he needed to handle carefully: Gay unions proclaimed in a college chapel? Tenure for all? Investing in South African businesses?

Of interest mostly to those concerned about the health of American higher education, but Chace’s quiet, modest voice is intelligent and appealing.