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History faculty look to the future

The WSU history department will be “a whole new place” in four or five years. Six professors/instructors, with something approaching 200 years of service to WSU, are retiring this academic year. And similar “group retirements”
are expected in the next two to three years.

“We have phenomenally good people,” said Kathryn Meyer, one of those retiring this year. “But whenever you get new people, they’re so excited. They bring new energy. This will be a whole new place in four to five years.”
But the department will feel the loss, too.

“Losing so many faculty of proven ability and active participation at one time does inevitably strip the department of considerable institutional knowledge and influence,” said John Kicza, history department co-chair.
“We’ve all grown old together,” Meyer said. “It was a yo
ung faculty when I arrived.”

Changes marked

That was in 1983 as a graduate student who was teaching part time. “We were using typewriters, ditto machines and mimeographs,” she remembered. And college wasn’t as prohibitively expensive when he arrived in 1972, said LeRoy Ashby, another of this year’s retirees.

“I worry about declining public funding for a public university,” he said. Changes for the better, said 2008 retiree Sue Armitage, have been the growth of women’s history and the position of women at WSU since her arrival in 1978. And the two are no doubt connected.

“Without a knowledge of the past, we mess up the future,” she said. “I’m proud that I have played an important role in making western women’s history widely known.”

Retirement plans

Her affinity will continue in retirement; Armitage plans to write a book on the history of women in the Pacific Northwest. Edwin Garretson, who joined WSU faculty in 1970, will devote more time to cataloging archives for the Whitman County Historical Society. Ashby and Meyer plan to travel with their spouses.

Susan Swan, who started at WSU in 1977, plans to become a Master Gardener, show her watercolor paintings, do volunteer work with animals and help with ill family and friends.“I need to be there for the people who matter to me,” she said.

People who matter are among the reasons she stayed at WSU for her entire career.“The students have kept me going,” she said. “And Pullman is a good place to raise a child. It is a caring community.”

“My department has a strong commitment to teaching and research — a balance that I applaud,” added Ashby.

“WSU was a good nurturing place for the work I wanted to do,” Armitage agreed.

Bright future

And she encourages it to stay that way. Her advice for WSU as she leaves is to foster the key academic values of generosity, diversity and humanity. Ashby extols the university to not depend on underpaid, underappreciated adjunct appointments and to not diminish the importance of the liberal arts.

On a lighter note, Meyer’s advice for future improvement is “Keep Tony Bennett!”

“I have no worries about the future of the history department,” Swan said. “They hire well.

“I’m quitting at the top of my game.”

Retirement party planned

The WSU community is welcome to a celebration 3-5 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, at the Lewis Alumni Centre in honor of the six history faculty officially retiring this academic year.

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