Over box lunches from Jason's Deli, 10 retired faculty members shared their war stories of a nascent university, one where job interviews were conducted in the president's temporary office in the athletics building and where many of the students were older than the faculty.
That luncheon would turn out to be the first meeting of the UTSA Retired Faculty Association, which was formally established in September 2011 by a memorandum of understanding with the university.
But even before the paperwork was drawn up, the members of the RFA were making their presence known on campus by attending and hosting faculty functions and by knocking on doors to get answers about available benefits beyond insurance and retirement programs. (Their happiest discovery to date? That all retired faculty can obtain a campus parking permit at no cost.)
Getting retired faculty back on campus, where they invested so much of their professional lives, is the impetus behind the RFA.
"We can be a service organization for the university and a social organization for ourselves," said RFA president Marian Martinello. "I see our group as having unlimited capabilities. It's only limited by our imagination, and collectively we have a phenomenal imagination."
For most of the two dozen RFA members, retirement didn't mean they quit working. It meant the luxury to choose only the projects they wanted. RFA member and professor emeritus Charles Field continues to mount exhibitions of his landscape paintings; his former colleague in the Department of Art and Art History Jim Broderick, the group's treasurer, works as a consultant to universities and independent colleges of art and design. Martinello has published two books on historical inquiry since she retired in 2002 and is completing a young adult novel.
"I may have retired, but my sense of connection to UTSA and my profession is still strong," she said.
Indeed, this is true of many of the group's founding members. Dewey Davis, who holds the distinction of being the first faculty member hired in 1971, has long been a familiar face at university events with his wife, Ruth. Martinello has been called upon frequently to serve the school in various capacities and currently serves on a subcommittee to develop an academic inquiry course that eventually will be required of all freshmen. Professor emerita of education Gillian Cook, who retired in 1998, is a docent at the Institute of Texan Cultures. And Judith Walmsley, who retired in 2010, still has a lab and office in the Department of Chemistry and is on campus more days than not.
And they give more than time. To date, more than 40 emeriti faculty have donated money to UTSA, with average giving of more than $37,000. Having a program to recognize RFA members' support for students through endowed scholarships and other means is one thing Martinello hopes the association can accomplish. Another RFA priority project—one they plan to begin this fall—is to collect and document their own oral histories of the university's early days.
One item on the RFA wish list will come to fruition soon: When members lamented the loss of the university's faculty-staff dining room a decade ago as a venue to form collaborations with colleagues across disciplines, they were invited to give input into a new faculty center to be constructed in the John Peace Library.
The center, due to be completed sometime in 2013, will be a space where both retired and current faculty can connect formally and informally, and, as Broderick said, enjoy "the intense pleasure...of a high-level of conversation with extraordinary people"— another perk of having an association of retired scholars.
"I love that," said Broderick, "and I hope to be doing it until my last gasp."