With the spring semester quickly coming to a close, it’s time for ACU to prepare to say goodbye to a few of its most contributive and influential faculty members.
At the end of the school year, several staff transitions will take place. Professors Dr. Carley Dodd and Harland Rall will take a multi-year phased retirement. In addition to teaching several classes, they will remain involved on campus while having the ability to explore other areas of interest. Rall will pursue an extended mission field experience, while Dodd will continue to work on research projects.
Three faculty members will be retiring at the end of the spring semester: Dr. Chris Willerton, Dr. Emmett Miller and Dr. Paul Varner.
Willerton came to ACU in 1970, fresh from earning his M.A. in English at the University of North Carolina. He has spent 41 of the last 44 years on the faculty, taking three years in between to complete his doctoral work at UNC.
Besides being an outstanding teacher loved by his students, Willerton’s greatest contribution to the school has been the Honors College. He became the first director of the program in 1985, but he said most of the credit for founding the program goes to Dr. Dwain Hart’s committee, which had been designing the program two years before Willerton was offered the job as director. He said he jumped on the opportunity because his time in the TCU Honors Program was an incredible experience and he wanted to help bring the same thing to ACU.
“The main thing I brought to the job was stubbornness,” Willerton said. “It took 25 years to grow it into the program I’d wanted in the first place. The best proof that I did OK was that the program outgrew me. It became good enough that it needed leaders with more energy and a wider skill set than I had. It was very satisfying to ask the provost to replace me. My successors have been splendid, and so has the administration’s support.”
Willerton to spend his retirement continuing to writing his detective fiction, travel to England more often with his wife Sharon and spend hours a day reading through his 11 bookcases.
Miller has been serving at ACU since 1988. He earned his Bachelor’s degree here in 1970 in animal science as well as his Master’s in wildlife biology in 1979. His 26 years as a professor have included an NACTA Teacher Fellow Award (2006), ACU Honors Program Mentor of the Year Award (1999) and ACU Agriculture Department Aggie of the Year Award (1980). His work and effective teaching are well-recognized by his peers and colleagues.
“It is clear from the many nominations for the Career Achievement Award the high esteem Emmett’s colleagues have for him, and how he is universally loved by his students,” said Dr. Greg Straughn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “His leadership and example have cultivated a department that raises up servant leaders. This was done by consistently placing colleagues and students above himself.”
Varner has been at ACU since 2009 as a professor and Scholar-In-Residence for the Department of Language and Literature. Varner said his role, besides devoting most of his time to writing and research, has been to lead classes that teach research methods or cover topics directly related to the subject matter about which he is researching and writing at the time.
Before coming to ACU, Varner spent 20 years at Oklahoma Christian University. Before that, he taught at Rochester College, Texas Lutheran University, Oklahoma State University at Oklahoma City, the University of Texas and the University of Tennessee. He is married to Dr. Jeanine Varner, former provost of ACU and currently a professor of English in the Department of Language and Literature. His retirement is starting right before his first two grandchildren arrive this summer.
In addition to the retiring professors, Jason Missal, associate director of bands and director of the Big Purple Marching Band, will be leaving to pursue doctoral conducting studies. After four years of service, he will now be part of one of the premiere schools for wind conducting at the University of Texas.
All retirees were honored last week at the CAS Appreciation Dinner. Dean Straughn said the university is searching for replacements for some of the positions, but no candidates have yet been identified.