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Campus history is Senior Academy legacy

Sept. 10, 2013

Like all college campuses, IUPUI is rich with history. And like most campuses, that history lives on through the memories of the men and women who work there and the students who learn there.

But turning those memories into progress requires thoughtfulness, common sense and a spirit of collaboration. For IUPUI, those factors are the foundation of the Senior Academy, which will celebrate its 20th birthday this month. And in those 20 years, IUPUI has benefitted regularly from the expertise of the retired faculty and staff who comprise the Academy.

Carol Nathan (left) and William Plater were instrumental in the launch of the IUPUI Senior Academy.

Carol Nathan (left) and William Plater were instrumental in the launch of the IUPUI Senior Academy.

Launching the Senior Academy in 1993 was simple logic for administrators and faculty who either were retired or soon to leave the campus and who wanted to stay involved with campus life.

“We talked to a lot of people who were concerned with what would happen to our history if we didn’t create something like the Senior Academy,” said William M. Plater, then the executive vice chancellor of IUPUI and Dean of the Faculties. “These are people who know where IUPUI came from, and how much the campus contributed to our own history, and to the Indianapolis community we served -- and continue to serve!”

Plater and his colleague Carol Nathan, then the associate Dean of the Faculties, are convinced that creating the Senior Academy kept open vital lines of communication to people who “know how our campus works, and the key role that higher education plays in a community,” Plater said.

Nathan said “we knew we wanted an official vehicle for the emeritus faculty to participate and contribute to university business and activities, and to benefit IUPUI with their collective and ongoing institutional knowledge and memory.”

But the group charged with building the academy found that IUPUI was different from other campuses that had established similar emeritus faculty groups on other campuses. Academy founders “realized that IUPUI’s early development had a component other campuses didn’t use: collaboration between faculty and staff,” Nathan said. “IUPUI was founded on a concept of inclusiveness, or it never would have developed as it has.”

Plater noticed the same key point.

“A lot of universities stay in touch with their retired faculty, but we felt it was important to invite the participation of retired staff, too,” Plater added. “They are people with unique insights and a lot of practical knowledge, who were a big part of IUPUI’s growth through the years.”

Perhaps just as importantly, the Senior Academy represented a tangible, ongoing connection with IUPUI, the academic and social core of their professional lives. “I think some of the faculty thought that retirement wasn’t something they particularly wanted,” Plater said. “They had so much knowledge and experience, and they wanted to stay connected.”

One of the first goals established by Senior Academy members was to ensure that IUPUI maintained its close historical ties to its community, to Indianapolis. “That remains true today -- it is one of the things I believe the Academy does best,” Plated noted. “They embrace the role of being IUPUI’s historians, of being the conscience of our campus community. They understand how it shaped our campus, and why it remains important.”

For Plater, three Senior Academy achievements stand out: launching the annual Last Lecture event; establishing an expanded commitment to mentoring (for both peers and students); and a robust scholarship program.

“The event is a wonderful opportunity to hear first-hand about the careers and achievements of remarkable people who are still a part of our campus,” Plated said. “Other universities may have similar types of programs, but it was an important advance for us.”

Nathan and Plater knew many of IUPUI’s historical figures, depicted on the History Wall in the Campus Center.

Nathan and Plater knew many of IUPUI’s historical figures, depicted on the History Wall in the Campus Center.

Senior Academy’s mentoring efforts helped improve student success through the years and contributed to professional development programs for current faculty.

Plater also noted that administration projects, such as the Vision 2025 strategic planning initiative, often enlist the voices of experience offered by Senior Academy members.

“Senior Academy members have a lot of expertise, a lot of knowledge and a lot of institutional memory; they can play an important role in advancements such as Vision 2025 because they understand how such efforts affect other parts of academic life on a college campus,” Plater said.

For Plater, the social aspects of being part of an organization like Senior Academy are often overlooked. “Gathering together for interesting field trips and social events is important,” he said. “It keeps people who have spent their careers working together and sharing a vision with one another.”

To the retired campus executive, that’s one of the reasons the group has been able to work effectively -- because the ties that bind them are so strong, forged in decades of shared experiences.”

Like a lot of administration leaders past and present, Plater has noticed that the intellectual skills that served Academy members well, in the classrooms as well as IUPUI offices, are as strong as ever.

“There is a reason that Academy members were so effective as teachers, administrators and in keeping IUPUI on track as a force in higher education,” Plater said. “They do a lot to self-educate themselves when a new issue arises. They are by nature curious and inquisitive -- and that isn’t likely ever to change. It’s a big part of what makes them effective as facilitators to discussions about opportunities arise for IUPUI to get stronger, become more effective.”

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