Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sitting in the Chair

Yesterday, we had another of those special events at Fuller whereby we honored one of our professors. This one was for a slightly different purpose than the other two. The first link references an occasion where a professor was promoted to full-time, tenured status. The second link references an occasion where a professor was stepping down from full-time status after a long career (he still teaches from time to time, so we don't tend to say he's "retired"). Yesterday's occasion was of a different kind of career milestone: Marianne Meye Thompson was installed into the George Eldon Ladd Chair of New Testament (the chair vacated by the professor referenced in the second link, actually).

Named chairs are an interesting phenomena in higher education. Generally speaking, they exist because some donor has specifically allocated money to fund a position to teach courses in a certain subject. The idea is that the professor's salary (and occasionally an additional operating budget) is paid for out of the interest that accrues on that fund as it is invested. This is, naturally, a separate source of funding from the infamous "general fund" that handles most of the institution's expenses, and so being named to such a chair is not only a high honor for the professor, but something that an institution tries to make happen wherever possible, as it frees up funds for other matters.

Obviously, to call such a position a "chair" is more figurative these days than literal, but I got to take part in an interesting turnabout on the term yesterday. Dr. Thompson's father, himself a prominent (although now retired) New Testament scholar, was a close associate of Ladd (for whom the chair is named), and handled many of Ladd's personal effects after Ladd's death. Apparently, one of these possessions was an actual, physical chair with Fuller's logo on it (presumably the kind often presented to faculty and staff who've worked at the seminary for more than 25 years. Ladd worked at Fuller for about 30.). Dr. Thompson's parents chose to surprise her at the luncheon in her honor by giving Ladd's chair (the physical one!) to her, and I got to be the one to bring it out while the Dean explained its history. So Dr. Thompson not only now sits in Ladd's (figurative) academic chair at the seminary, but she gets to sit in his real one, as well.

It's moments like these that I really love this job!

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