Professors James Lanier, Diane Clark Retire

By Martha Hunter Shepard ’66
Photography by Baxter Buck


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This spring, two longtime faculty, Associate Professor of History James C. Lanier and Associate Professor of Music Diane McCullough Clark ’62, retired after long and distinguished tenures at Rhodes. The college is indebted to them for their invaluable service, which has enriched the lives of countless members of the Rhodes community.

James C. Lanier

Jim Lanier came to Rhodes in 1967 fresh from Emory University graduate school where he was completing work for the Ph.D. in history. Today he feels “pretty fortunate to have started my career at an excellent college that I valued from the beginning.” Lanier, who grew up in Winter Haven, FL, majored in American Studies at Stetson University, a liberal arts institution strong in his chosen field that no doubt influenced his decision to teach at Rhodes.

The young professor arrived in Memphis on the cusp of change at Rhodes.

“I had a sense that the place was energized—moving, changing, working on a new curriculum, struggling with the civil rights movement and the demands of a new generation of students,” he recalls.

At the time, the faculty and administration still managed the details of student behavior.

“There were long discussions at the first faculty meetings I attended about dormitory regulations and whether or not men students should be required to wear ties to dinner,” Lanier recalls. “That’s when President David Alexander created the Social Regulations Council, telling students to get together and make their own rules—and we would decide if they were rules we could live with,” he laughs. “I thought it was good for the college to move away from the traditional in loco parentis role and shift responsibility to students, encouraging them to be independent and responsible in regulating their social behavior.”

Lanier notes that the curriculum changes gave students more choices by establishing area requirements—in the social sciences and humanities, for example—rather than assigning them to the usual introductory courses in each department. Freshman colloquia were established in which faculty were paired with small groups of first-year students as a way of introducing them to college. Third term was created, and for several years Lanier participated in the program by taking students to New York for a month to study 20th-century art,
music, theater and the neighborhood cultures of the city. In recent years he represented the humanities on a task force that developed an entirely new and, he believes, better approach to the core curriculum.

Lanier served as chair of the History Department a total of 13 years between 1978 and 1994. In that period the college’s enrollment grew by 50 percent and the History Department almost doubled in size. He takes pride in the fact that his department made it a point to offer African-American history and was the first to hire a full-time African-American professor at the college. New positions were created in women’s history and Asian history; the members of the department were brought together in one place on the third floor of Clough Hall along with their first departmental assistant and a faculty lounge.

In his early years at the college Lanier was president of the Rhodes chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). In addition to service on many faculty committees, he was elected twice by his colleagues to be a representative to the Rhodes Board of Trustees. Both terms came at important moments in the college’s history—once when tensions between faculty and president were extraordinarily high, and another in the transition from President James Daughdrill to President William Troutt.

“I have a strong commitment to faculty involvement in the governance of academic institutions,” he says. “I think of tenured faculty as partners with trustees and administration. Trustees have the final authority for all decisions, but strong institutions create a climate of consensus and cooperation between faculty and administration. I was active in student government at Stetson, attended trustee meetings there and had a sense that faculty should appropriately be involved in those kinds of things. I wanted to make that happen here.”

Teaching always remained Lanier’s priority; a significant number of students regard him as an important mentor and a catalyst for their own intellectual curiosities. He enjoys exploring new theories and crossing the usual academic boundaries. In  1990, he played a key role in establishing American Studies, his first love, as an interdisciplinary minor at Rhodes, and he chaired the program for the next 10 years.

“Some faculty from different departments who wanted to teach interdisciplinary minors got together and created it,” says Lanier. Rhodes now boasts nine interdisciplinary programs, from African-American Studies to Women’s Studies.

“I’ve always tried—in the broadest way—to understand American culture,” he says. “I’ve made a point of having some experience in Europe, of getting outside American culture, which has been invaluable in teaching American history.”

Lanier says he learned from Gertrude Stein’s example that every thoughtful person needs to experience a second culture. He spent two sabbatical years and three summers in France, and has presented papers at several American Studies conferences in Europe.

Lanier is retiring from the faculty but will continue working as a consultant on his latest Rhodes endeavor, the Crossroads to Freedom project, a digital archive that will house historical documents and oral histories of the civil rights movement in Memphis and the Delta.

“I’m as excited about this as anything I’ve done,” he says. “It has so many moving parts—state-of-the-art computer technology, students working closely with faculty in developing the materials, the potential to recruit strong students with scholarships and work-study opportunities. It also fits into the larger effort of involving the college in the life of Memphis. As a professional historian, it means a lot to me to make these documents available to scholars and students all over the world and to bring recognition to the college that I would like it to have.”

Lanier also plans to pursue “learning how to play the piano again (I haven’t played since high school) and maybe learning to cook seriously.” He also anticipates some volunteer activities in the community. And, he says, he has a reading list from you-know-where.

Diane McCullough Clark ’62

Dramatic soprano Diane Clark joined the faculty in 1975, but she’s been at Rhodes a lot longer than that. She enrolled in the College of Music Preparatory Division when she was 12, later attending and majoring in music at Rhodes. It’s almost a lifetime, certainly a lifetime of creativity and service to her alma mater.

After graduating from Rhodes with a bachelor of music degree, she pursued a career as a director of Christian education and director of youth and children’s choirs for four years at churches in Alabama before earning a master’s degree at Indiana University. She taught voice at Texas Tech University from 1968-71, where one of her pupils was dramatic soprano Mary Jane Johnson, who was a McCoy
Visiting Artist at Rhodes in 1991. In 1980, Clark earned her doctorate from the University of Mississippi, where she was a Carnegie Fellow and named the most outstanding doctoral student in music.

Teacher, performer, composer, arranger and poet, Clark was the first student director of the Madrigal Singers in her college years. As a faculty member she founded Encore, a mixed choir. She coached the Wool Socks, the male student double barbershop quartet during its first years. Later, she founded its women’s counterpart, Silk Stockings.

In addition to her regular teaching schedule, Clark taught in the Search course for 10 years and Effective Public Speaking for 15 years.

Dr. Fred Neal (late professor of religion) invited her to teach in the interdisciplinary Search course.

“I learned so much,” she says. “Engaging in intellectual activity with people from so many different departments was fun. I got a liberal education. I didn’t take Search as a student. I took music history and Bible instead. Little did I know I would take it years later—the hard way.”

Her public speaking class came about through the Topics in Teaching program. French professor Jim Vest asked her to give a presentation on tips for lecturing to the faculty.

“It was well received,” says Clark, who agreed to give an hour of free private coaching to anyone who had attended the session. Seventeen faculty signed up. Those sessions led to the later establishment of the college speech class, to which political science professor Mark Pohlmann regularly sent his Mock Trial students.

Clark, a life member of the Tennessee Poetry society, was named its poet laureate in 1997. Her interest in poetry, she says, plays into her regular work as well.

“I work with poetry in several languages all day long. During my last sabbatical I set the work of other Memphis poets to music, including that of Rhodes Russian professor Valerie Nollan.”

In 2003, Clark published a volume of her poetry to benefit the Memphis Literacy Council, with which she has tutored for 15 years.

Along her multifaceted career path, Clark joined the Memphis City Sound Chorus of Sweet Adelines, the international women’s singing group whose specialty is four-part a cappella harmony, barbershop style. She served as associate director of the Memphis chorus for five years, than got involved at the regional level. For the last three years she has been an international faculty member. She says she knew that was the direction she would take when she retired, and that’s exactly what she’s going to do.

This summer, she will become director of the Grand Traverse Chorus of Sweet Adelines in Traverse City, MI. The group chose her by unanimous vote, even leaving a musical message on her answering machine to tell her of its decision.

Characteristically, Clark looks forward with great excitement to her new life. As for wardrobe, she says she has plenty of heavy coats and sweaters to get through the Michigan winters.

“Yes,” said a friend, “but you’ll have to learn to wear them all at once.”