Aug. 29-Sept. 12, 2003
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U.S. News ranks U.Va. No. 1 public
William Pease to lead U.Va.’s marching band
Headlines @ U.Va.
For Dom Starsia, the summer of his content

ACC looks beyond athletics with Traveling Scholars Program

‘A great ride’ comes to a smooth landing
Reynolds puts love of numbers to work for University
New orthopaedic surgery chair focuses on today’s broken bones, tomorrow’s new legs
Breast Care Center offers high-tech health, warm environment
Appalachian clinic draws record crowd
Positive spin keeps wheels turning at Parking & Transportation
Bus schedule, escort changes enhance safety
Visa problems take toll on international students
Summer session office losing longtime leader
From bugs to satellites: A symposium on the limits of landscape
McCormick Observatory offers ‘Mars Mania’
All moved in
Pluses and minuses fill balance sheet of Luckson Hove’s life
Transfer students get early start at building community
Summer session office losing longtime leader
Leaving legacy of commitment
Alton Taylor has been lauded by faculty for encouraging innovative summer courses.
Photo by Matt Kelly
Alton Taylor has been lauded by faculty for encouraging innovative summer courses.

By Matt Kelly

Alton L. Taylor wants to do things he hasn’t done before.

The man who will retire Sept. 1 after shepherding U.Va.’s Summer Session for 29 years wants to watch women’s softball, learn Spanish, see “more of the things that make up this country” and maybe take in a few Alison Krauss concerts.

Among the diplomas, certificates and honors on his wall is a framed, signed photograph of Krauss, whom he calls “a bluegrass crooner.” He also “loves” Irish musician Enya, and if he’s not in the mood for her, he can pull from his desk drawer compact discs of Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged,” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.”

“I have not decided what I am going to be doing on Sept. 2, but I hope it is a lot of fun,” he said. “I have the right attitude, I am in good health, I have the right interests. I want to travel, I want to learn, I want to see some things and I need to reconnect with family and friends.”

Taylor, a native of Kannapolis, N.C., has spent most of his adult life at U.Va., first arriving as a graduate student in 1961, after having taught high school biology in Newport News and Morehead City, N.C. After earning a master’s degree in science education, he went on to earn a doctorate in 1965. He spent two years in Richmond as the supervisor of research for the state Department of Education before returning to the University on Sept. 1, 1967, as assistant director of institutional research. He took over the summer program in 1974.

“Alton’s dedication to Summer Session is evident, and the program has grown tremendously under his leadership,” said Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block. “He has been an asset to the University and a dedicated adviser and mentor to so many students over the years. They and we will miss him.”

While others laud his leadership, Taylor downplays his role, insisting that the faculty owns the Summer Session; his office only administers it. The faculty decides what courses to offer, while Taylor provides perspective, history, advice on what works and what needs to be offered. Then he stretches the budget to cover the courses.

Stephen Railton, professor of English and director of the department’s summer offerings for 15 years, praised Taylor for his commitment to academic excellence in the summer programs and for encouraging interesting course ideas. He cited English professor Victor Cabas’ course, “Mississippi in Stories and Songs,” which looks at the region through the eyes of writers and through blues music, as being the sort of innovative and popular courses Taylor promoted.

“I won’t be the only department summer chair who will miss him,” Railton said. “While he understood the economic realities of the summer session, he never took control away from the academic needs.”

Taylor says he benefits from working closely with the students.

“Our graduate students in higher education are just so great and smart and creative and energized and have such enthusiasm, it just spills over on me,” he said. “The thing of helping young people, if you do it well, it doesn’t get any better than that. But you have to focus on their welfare, not your own, not to embellish or enlarge yourself.”

Taylor says he has no retirement plan, but he is weighing his options.

“I would like to get a hobby,” he said. “It is going to have to be very hypnotic because I get bored very easily. I don’t think I could watch a fishing line sit there without some sort of entertainment going on.”

He wants to read fiction, waving his hand dismissively at a wall of bookshelves filled with books on higher educational topics and parasitology, with the exception of one on bass fishing and several volumes of the collected Dilbert.

One thing he will not do is teach. “That takes a lot of energy,” he said.

Taylor will remain local in retirement. His wife, Ann Gill Taylor (Nursing ’63, Education ’75), is a professor in the Nursing School, and their daughter, Shannon (College ’89), a federal prosecutor, lives in Richmond.

While he has agreed to help a friend with a book he is writing, Taylor will guard his time jealously.

“I have friends that want me to teach or to consult,” he said. “Give me six months to get my feet on the ground. I don’t want to start agreeing to do everything and all of the sudden realize I’m really interested in going to watch the Washington Redskins play on Sunday and find I’ve given up all my Sundays. I won’t be doing what I want to do, I’ll be doing what other people want me to do.”

Even without a plan, Taylor is prepared.

“I have a good attitude. I am not worried about it or afraid of retirement.”


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