Gifts at Work

By Carol Olechowski

A Name for Emeritus Center

Nearly 40 years in the making, the Emeritus Center – a place where retired faculty and staff could engage with the rest of the UAlbany community – came into being in 2006. Now, it finally has an official name: the William L. Reese Emeritus Center.

Professor Emeritus William L. Reese II

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy William L. Reese II was the chief promoter of the venue. “We can expand its educational and cultural offerings, and provide a gathering place for University at Albany emeriti,” said Reese, who taught at UAlbany for three decades and served as longtime chair of the philosophy department.

A native of Jefferson City, Mo., Reese spent his boyhood in the Midwest. The minister’s son earned a degree in religion and philosophy at Drury College (now Drury University), then received a bachelor of divinity and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Reese taught religion and philosophy at several institutions before applying for a faculty position with the State University of New York at Albany. Impressed by his interview with Evan Revere Collins, president at the time, Reese accepted the post.

For Albany, Reese observed, the Collins era “was a time of great expansion,” and the chief executive was “an agent for positive change.” Collins worked with then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller to supervise the institution’s physical growth; he also assured that the University at Albany would assume its proper place in the State University system hierarchy. “Initially, Albany had not been selected as one of the State University’s four University Centers. But Collins discovered there were more people with Ph.D. degrees at Albany than there were at some of the other campuses, so Albany became a University Center,” Reese recalled.

Collins likewise recognized the important role that retired faculty could play at the University, according to Reese. To express appreciation for their prior service, the president proposed library and parking privileges, and invitations to convocations, commencements and other campus events, for emeriti. In addition, Collins suggested that they be permitted to serve on University committees and councils, and represent Albany in professional associations. The University Senate approved the proposal in 1972-73; the SUNY Board of Trustees endorsed it, in part, for all campuses in 1975.

Toby Clyman, Ray Ortali and Findlay Cockrell at the 2006 opening of the Emeritus Center
Retired faculty Toby Clyman, Ray Ortali and Findlay Cockrell, left to right, visit at the 2006 opening of the Emeritus Center.

One thing remained: to establish a campus location where emeritus faculty could gather to continue their intellectual pursuits, and, by extension, promote the “three voices” of the University mission: education, research and public service. Reese worked diligently for 37 years to advance the Emeritus Center cause. The center finally came to fruition during Kermit L. Hall’s tenure as UAlbany president.

Just before the dedication ceremony, however, Hall died. Reese remembered, “I asked if we should have the dedication, and the consensus was, ‘We’ve done the work,’ so we decided to go ahead.”

Then-Provost and Officer in Charge Susan Herbst commented at the ceremony that Reese had come to her the preceding summer “with a stack of yellowing papers to make his pitch for the establishment of such a center. I told him, ‘Bill, you don’t have to show me the memos from 1969 to convince me of the merits of this case.’” Hall, Herbst noted, had pronounced the proposed center “a great thing” and added, “Let’s do it.”

Attendees at the Emeritus Center dedication ceremony cut a large gold ribbon
Then-Provost and Officer in Charge Susan Herbst, pictured at left, joined faculty for the Emeritus Center dedication ceremony. The center, located in the University Administration Building (UAB) on the uptown campus, was recently named the William L. Reese Emeritus Center.

Reese himself frequents the center two or three times a week. Located in University Administration Building (UAB) 134, it affords retired faculty space to continue their teaching, research and outreach activities while enhancing and complementing University academics.
The Emeritus Center naming also honors Reese’s father and son. William Reese III, who passed away several years ago, had taken and transcribed notes for some of the professor’s books, just as his father had done for his grandfather decades earlier. “I thought it would be nice if we could put his name somewhere. I think we’ve found a place for it,” says William Reese II.