Paul Michelson, Ph.D., distinguished professor of history, will officially retire in August 2015 after his contract expires. He first joined the institution’s history department in 1974.
Since then, he has played an intricate role in designing and restructuring campus development and is one of the longest-serving faculty members in the institution’s history. He is a renowned historian on C.S. Lewis and Romania, and he has published over 150 articles and has wrote or co-edited six books. He’s currently working on another book.
But after 40 years, Michelson will teach his final class as a full-time faculty member in May.
“I’m going to be 70,” he said. “I think that’s probably a good time to call it a day. …. I’m still in reasonable condition. I need to get my book done before I turn completely senile.”
Right after getting his Ph.D. in history at Indiana University, Michelson looked at jobs at Taylor University and LeTourneau University before eventually joining the faculty at Huntington College.
“For one reason or another, this one to me looked more interesting,” he said. “I applied, they invited me up for an interview. I liked the people I met who seemed serious but fun loving.”
Michelson joined Jack Barlow, Ph.D., in the history department. The two were the only history professors at that time.
“For a very small school, Huntington had a lot of hard-working but first class people – people who were here obviously for the teaching side of it and who were active in their fields,” he said.
He had four conditions that he wanted the institution to always meet – a commitment to faith and learning, a Christian liberal arts curriculum and a commitment to scholarship and to students.
“The institution supported scholarship in a way that was actually, in some cases, superior even to larger schools,” he said. “In return, Huntington College would gain some notoriety from the fact that people from Huntington are showing up, giving papers in these meetings, becoming officers in these associations.”
Michelson quickly made an impact on campus. In 1976, he joined a committee set out to greatly improve campus.
“There was a vision,” he said. “I think we all felt we were ready to move up a stage. Five years later, [President] Gene Habecker was hired by the board specifically to take the institution to the next stage.”
“For a very small school, Huntington had a lot of hard-working but first class people – people who were here obviously for the teaching side of it and who were active in their fields.” –Paul Michelson
The committee helped raise money to build the RichLyn Library and Baker Hall. They also helped establish a new Wright Hall and rerouted College Avenue from going through the middle of campus.
Michelson also helped develop the campus loop that circles campus.
“Kind of symbolically, the library is at the center of campus which means you see the importance of scholarship in terms of the … library being central to that,” he said.
Michelson also played a role in developing the Merillat Centre of the Arts.
In return, the student body grew tremendously and in 1984, the institution had its first 10-year accreditation. Michelson wrote the accreditation report outlining what the school was accomplishing.
“A lot of things happened, I think, primarily for the good,” he said. “We’ve always been needing to be on our toes because admissions is always an issue. Fundraising is always an issue, and I think the idea that somehow you would get to stage where you wouldn’t have any problems just isn’t gonna happen.”
But Michelson never considered leaving the institution.
“Occasionally, opportunities came up,” he said. “I don’t think I was ever close to leaving. I think sometimes when there were things happening here that might have made one think ‘Well, O.K. are we gonna give up on some of these things that were important?’ … If we stopped being a Christian liberal arts institution, probably I would’ve been out of here.”
Michelson said the state of the university today is “not bad.”
“I think morale has not been good say the last five years,” he said. “Obviously with the new president, it’s gone back up. That’s important. When we were facing various issues in the 70s and 80s, morale was always ‘O.K. we can get a handle on this. We can do it. We’re working together.’”
He said “morale took a hit” in 2008 and 2009 because of budget cuts and the removal of the Spanish program by then-president G. Blair Dowden, Ed.D.
“On the other hand, we have pretty decent facilities,” Michelson said. “We need to maybe clean some of them up again. … The basic plan hasn’t worked out too badly.”
President Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., said the professor exemplifies the mission of the university.
“Dr. Michelson and his wife, Jean, exhibit the very definition of ‘Christ, Scholarship and Service,'” she said. “The Huntington University community has been richly blessed by their faithfulness to calling, vocation and Christian ministry.”
After retirement, Michelson will continue conducting research once his other commitments end. He has served as the president of the Society for Romanian Studies, secretary for the Conference on Faith and History among various roles in the Alpha Chi honor society. He has been secretary for the Society for Romanian Studies for 36 years.
Dwight Brautigam, Ph.D., Michelson’s co-worker for 27 years, said the university will not be the same without its long-term history professor.
“He cares deeply about students and wants them to become the best Christian thinkers they can be, a pretty noble and significant goal if there ever was one,” Brautigam said. “Of course, all of this comes in a package of sometimes bizarre humor, but it’s easy to tell when that’s happening because Dr. M. cracks himself up as much as anyone else with his jokes and quips. … I hope he comes around campus often enough in retirement to spread his own particular brand of joy, or HU is going to be a duller place than it is now.”
Jeff Webb, Ph.D., said Michelson will be “dearly missed.”
“In many ways, Michelson is a legend in our department and on the faculty, but more than that, his presence marked an era in the history of HU,” Webb said. “He leaves an imprint on the institution in a bunch of different ways … He will be greatly missed as a colleague, mentor and faculty leader.”
The history department will hire a new faculty member once Michelson retires. They are still in the process of advertising the open position and Michelson is involved in the process.
“I think it’s good to have turnover,” Michelson said. “I am hopeful the department will hire somebody who will bring new ideas and make contributions in areas that I wouldn’t have done and wouldn’t have done when I was younger necessarily.”
Tim Smith, Ph.D., another co-worker of Michelson’s in the history department, also said he would be missed.
“Winston Churchill once quipped – ‘we are all worms, but I am a glow worm,'” Smith said. “Paul Michelson is our glow worm – a true scholar, an eccentric and a friend.”
Michelson and his wife Jean primarily plan to visit their grandchildren more often in retirement. But Michelson said he is still focused on this school year.
“I’m not sure I’m thinking a lot differently,” he said. “I’m not sure there’s a lot of positive in thinking about what you’re going to do when you have things you got to do. To some extent, I’m probably doing what I’ve wanted to do, namely to be a professor. I’m not necessarily looking beyond that very much.”
Looking back, Michelson said he would do it all over again.
“Certainly I’ll miss contact with students,” he said. “I think that a person who teaches at an institution like Huntington is primarily here for the students. … Would I do it over again? I think so.”