After 32 years at Albion College, Gene Cline, professor of philosophy, will begin retirement following the 2010-2011 academic year. Cline sat down with The Pleiad to discuss memories of his career and future plans.
Why did you make the decision to retire?
The College was making serious cuts in the Humanities a year ago. Our department had just hired two fine young scholars (who were both to become teachers of the year) and was in very good hands. I was worried that the Administration’s shift away from the humanities could be used to rationalize cutting us further. The College offered a very generous buy-out package to expendable faculty who were over 60 years of age and I was deemed to be eligible. Knowing that my position might well provide a target of opportunity for a tenure track line cut, and taking all of the above factors into account, I held my nose and took the offer of early retirement.
What will you miss most about Albion College?
My colleagues and my terrific students. My lifelong friends are mostly in these two groups. Given the ways in which I have changed my courses, where students use their growing disciplinary expertise to address contested issues in the Philosophy of Law, Social Philosophy and the theory of reasonable choice, I have learned as much from them as I have taught them. My colleagues, particularly on the second floor of Vulgamore, inspire me with their dedication to their students, their scholarly output, and their exemplification of what Albion has always been about: excellence and commitment to a liberal arts education. The Honors program, which I helped administer for nearly ten years, also exemplifies the best of the liberal arts tradition. As I write this half of the first year class deposits for next year are from prospective honors students. We will once again enroll one hundred plus students in our honors program.
What won’t you miss?
I won’t miss shortcomings in institutional performance of the sort that North Central (the accreditation organization) is going to ask that the college respond to in coming days. I particularly won’t miss first-year enrollment numbers that vary widely over time, since tuition revenue is the primary source of revenue for our school.
How will you spend your time when you retire?
I’d like to think that I will finish a first rate version of the writing I’ve been doing on law, justice and race in American history. I have a couple of manuscripts, each several hundred pages long, but neither of which is terrific. The focus is on why the racial divide between blacks and whites looks the way that it does, and why whites don’t give it a second thought and blacks think about it constantly. Wish me well in this endeavor.
What I will doubtless do is spend more time with my wife who is recently retired from Michigan State (and on whose health insurance we both rely). And I’ll spend time with my three granddaughters, my grandson, two sons, two daughters-in-law and many dogs. I’ll also spend time with my dear friends and at our cabin near Lovell’s Michigan. Fly fishing with some Albion alums and with some old friends is also in the works. But Albion College will always be my heart and mind. (Sounds like an obituary doesn’t it?)
What are some of your favorite memories of Albion College?
At the top of the list is my students’ zest for life, and their sincere ambition to make the world a better place. There are many stories to tell. Just in the last week I heard from two women about the joy of dancing on the tables in the Observatory at 3 AM to celebrate their theses being finished. I was just incredibly impressed by a young man who left Grosse Pointe with two friends to live for five days among the homeless in Detroit. And, I just loaned my Big Lebowski wig to a student friend who went to a party in drag. Big fun.
Can you share any insider information about Albion?
There are puzzles about Albion. When did the fire hydrant end up in the middle of the quad and why? Was it that when the town gave us the second half of the quad, the road in front of Goodrich ran there? I don’t think so..Are the Mary Sykes room, the observatory and Old Robinson Hall really haunted? We have an old honors newsletter that purports to have a photograph of an apparition. Does anyone notice that the tower in Robinson hall tilts? Who are the students who put themselves in the frieze on the front of the pottery building?
What is your hope for Albion’s future?
I hope that the college will find and identify a genuine overlapping consensus on its core liberal arts mission, a consensus that faculty, staff and students genuinely embrace from the grassroots up. But then I hope for world peace, too.
What is the most important (to you) philosophical question you’ve wrestled with here?
The issue of social justice. How can the richest country in the world do so poorly in the list of measures of well-being of its own citizens as is sometimes shown on the back pages of the Economist? Why are we, as a nation, so comfortable with unilateral policies that seem to make the world a more cruel place? Some philosophers, like John Rawls, think that the desire for justice is deeply embedded in American identity. I’d like to think that this is right.