Emeriti Faculty Continue Scholarly Work

Like many retirees, UC Davis professors don’t quit working when they retire. Some say they’ve done their most significant work since retiring.

For example:

Thomas Cahill, professor emeritus of physics, has written five science fiction novels along with studying air pollution.

Wayne Thiebaud, a world-renowned artist, is still painting at 95, as is his art professor emeritus colleague Roland Peterson, now 90.

• This year alone, Peter Hays, English professor emeritus, attended three conferences, presented a paper at one, chaired and/or served on five panels, and has an ongoing stream of editing and writing contributions.

• Along with curating and writing extensively, Jo Ann Stabb, design lecturer emerita, has continued working with the Design Department and Design Museum.

All are examples of what John Vohs, senior lecturer emeritus of communication, called “a virtual eleventh campus” in a recent study he did for the Council of University of California Emeriti Associations. “A Virtual Eleventh Campus: An Inventory of University of California Emeriti Activity During 2012–2015” examined UC emeriti activity with Vohs concluding this “virtual campus” could be “counted as one of the leading teaching and research institutions in the nation.”

“I’m not surprised at what we found, but I am impressed,” said Vohs, a past president of the UC Davis Emeriti Association.

“The findings indicate in a compelling way that for hundreds of emeriti, in spite of formal retirement, their work goes on. At this point the work is done because it is challenging, it is interesting, it is important.”

The study was based on an extensive survey completed by 1,617 emeriti from the UC campuses. It showed that between 2012 and 2015, emeriti taught 2,000 classes and wrote 500 books and 3,000 articles. Of the surveys returned, 461 came from UC Davis, followed by UC Berkeley with 323 and UCLA with 202.

Retirement allows more time for research

Although the professors enjoyed teaching, shedding the teaching load upon retirement allowed them more time for research and writing. So did freedom from administrative duties and meetings (something none of them said they missed).

“It has a feeling of a multiyear sabbatical,” said Fred Block, professor emeritus of sociology. “I think there is no question that I am working at a greater intensity.”

Along with regularly publishing papers and books, a few years ago he and several colleagues established the Center for Engaged Scholarship. The center recently awarded its inaugural round of $25,000 fellowships each to four doctoral students across the nation.

Thomas Cahill
Thomas Cahill

Cahill, who retired in 1994 after nearly 30 years at UC Davis, has researched the impact of freeways on health and aerosols on climate change. Without teaching and administrative duties, he was also able to rapidly respond to research opportunities connected to the 9/11 attacks in New York, a volcanic eruption in Alaska and a meteor strike in California.

“The last 20 years I’ve had the freedom to pursue all that,” Cahill said. “I feel I’ve done some of my most important work since retiring.”

He also developed an avocation as a science fiction writer. Between 2012 and 2014, Cahill published four novels, all connected to his research on subjects such as global warming and all scientifically accurate.

Keeping close ties to UC Davis

Although she retired in 2002 after 34 years in the Design Department, Stabb has retained close ties to UC Davis.

She co-curated “Fashion’s Memory: From Peasant Art to Wearable Art” in 2004 for the Design Museum which travelled to two venues in Great Britain. This year she co-curated “The Image of Fashion: A Photographer’s Legacy” which paired early 20th century photos from the Davis area with clothing of the period from the museum collection. She is also researching historic articles on fashion recently donated to the museum.

“I was looking forward to working with both the university and outside agencies active in the historic costume and fashion area and becoming involved in larger projects, some of which required international travel that is difficult with a teaching, student advising, and committee service schedule,” Stabb said.

Jo Ann Stabb

“I feel my most important contribution since retirement is fostering and strengthening links between UC Davis and other statewide and international institutions and venues through exhibitions and research contributions in textiles and wearable arts,” she said.


Hays, at UC Davis from 1966 to 2004, is the world’s expert on The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. His books since retirement include Fifty Years of Hemingway Criticism (2013) and a collection of 70 years of critical evaluation of The Sun Also Rises. Along with attending conferences connected to 20th century American literature, he has taught classes, written and edited books and essays, and is currently helping complete a book by a colleague and friend who passed away.

“I keep busy,” he said. “I do think we (emeriti) are a tremendous asset in terms of scholarship and contribution to the university. I’m not sure people know that and I hope the survey creates a revelation about that.”

Most extensive survey of UC emeriti

The survey provided more quantitative and qualitative information about UC emeriti scholarship than has ever before been available.

“The retired faculty should get recognition for all the work they have done,” Vohs said. “This lets leadership know we remain an asset and are still contributing to the mission of the university.”

He also noted that UC Davis emeriti seem particularly engaged in work with the campus emeriti association and with one another.

“There are about 1,200 UC Davis emeriti and 700 to 800 are still fairly close to Davis, so it makes for a close-knit community,” Vohs said. “The UC Davis association has about 500 members – the other UC campuses don’t have that level of participation.”

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science