John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Ode to a Retiring Colleague

John N. Gardner


For all of us who have been public service employees, the date June 30 has multiple significances: the end of the state government fiscal year, and the most preferred date for state and local government retirees to retire.

I took “early” retirement June 30, 1999 and have been flunking retirement ever since. My wife, Betsy Barefoot, and I established a not-for-profit higher education firm, the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education immediately after we left South Carolina. One of the triggers for my own move was my disillusionment over the decision to place the Confederate flag at the foot of the steps to the statehouse.

Since my own date for transition I have gone back down to South Carolina for an occasional retirement celebration for a special colleague, this year being a case in point. My colleague of 37 years, Stuart Hunter, “retired.”

Stuart was my successor at the University of South Carolina who was responsible for the University 101 programs and the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. These initiatives have flourished since my departure, and not necessarily because of it! Rather, I prefer to think that the success of these pillars of support for the US “student success” movement is due instead to a number of factors: 1) Stuart’s outstanding leadership; 2) the extraordinary support (especially during and in spite of the Great Recession) of the University’s highest level(s) of administration; and 3) the continuing participation of thousands of USC students and in like manner, thousands of higher educators around the globe.

Stuart leaves behind the administration of the multiple courses and their faculty/staff/peer leader development programs, including University 101, 201, 401 in the very able hands of Dr. Dan Friedman. And in like manner, an equally but differently capable Dr. Jennifer Keup, will carry forward the leadership of the National Resource Center.

Although she was not influenced by me in the slightest regard in this manner, Stuart also will not be totally retiring. She will be on campus several days a week very involved in the academic credit bearing work of the organization and other special projects for the University. I am so grateful to my University for not letting this wonderful corporate memory and contributor fade away. Stuart will join me as a Senior Fellow and, as I have explained to her in all seriousness, this title is not meant to be a reference to our age, rather our wisdom.

It occurs to me of course that Stuart and I are becoming less common in the ranks for American higher education professional leaders in that we elected to spend the entirety of our careers at one institution. Neither of us have any regrets about that. Both of us left the place in a little bit better shape than we found it, for our having being there. Both of us met our spouses there and raised our children with the University being part of their lives.

As I reflected at Stuart’s retirement reception, the University was founded in 1801 and the first students arrived in 1805. The oldest part of the campus is found inside what is known as “the shoe” or “horseshoe, a wall built in 1821 to keep the all male student body inside to prevent themselves from killing each other in the code of dueling practiced after drinking in nearby taverns. As we walk in that sacred place we always are in touch with the eternity of the place. Both of us were always conscious that the University had been there before us and would be there after us. We had one overriding goal: to leave a legacy by making the institution even more student focused and successful for those students. I realize that even though many of our peers will not dedicate an entire professional life to one institution, that nevertheless, no matter how long they stay, they can do the same thing we did: contribute to leaving the place better than they found it.

When I was an impressionable child, my father said to me repeatedly: “Son, find a good company and stick with it.” I did that. So glad I did. Stuart did too. I’m so glad she did.

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