Monday, June 30, 2008, marked a milestone at Clayton State University, a milestone that dates from 32 years ago… the retirement of an individual who has brought much credit to the University.
Just as the first decade of the 21st Century has been a time of change and growth for Clayton State, so, too, was the eighth decade of the 20th Century. One of the most significant developments that took place in the ‘70s was the coming of an extraordinary group of young history professors. In particular, a group of four who would spend the next 30+ years shaping the University’s academic future. They were (in alphabetical order), Drs. Gene Hatfield, John Kohler, Brad Rice and Bob Welborn.
Now, the two remaining members of that group, Welborn and Hatfield, are retiring, Hatfield on June 30, 2008. As the outgoing Chair of the Clayton State Social Sciences Department and the Director of the American Democracy Program, Hatfield has been a part of many changes since joining the Clayton State faculty in 1976. Indeed, as an historian, he has a rare perspective on the development of the University and its students over the years.
“At times, change seems slow and meandering, but then, when one looks back, it is possible to see the magnitude of the change, which, often at the time, went largely unnoticed,” he says. “I have watched Clayton State move from a junior college to a university offering graduate programs. In itself, the process of becoming a university represents dramatic change.”
“I remember Jim Baker, a student I taught in my first semester at Clayton Junior College, whose name is now on the largest building on our campus. While few of our students have enjoyed the success Jim has enjoyed, we have had thousands go on to productive careers in their communities empowered by the education they received here.”
Although change has been a hallmark of the University, Hatfield also notes that two very important characteristics of Clayton State have continued from the beginning, the quality of the faculty and the natural beauty of the Clayton State campus.
“Over the years we have had outstanding teachers on our campus and that continues true today. I am very impressed with our young faculty and their commitment and enthusiasm. They work with our students both in and out of the classroom,” he says. “I have always thought being available for students outside the classroom was of utmost importance.”
“The second characteristic has to do with the natural beauty of our campus. It has been such a pleasure to come to work in the morning on campus which is landscaped so beautifully. Our visitors invariably comment on the natural appearance of the campus even though we are in the midst of suburbia. I think we all respond positively to a pleasant and uplifting environment.”
Hatfield’s impact on the Clayton State student body, as epitomized by Baker himself during his address at the November 2005 naming ceremony of the James N. Baker University Center, has been manifest throughout the years, but perhaps never more so than the 10 years that he directed the Clayton State Honors Program, an on-going institution that the university that he founded along with Rice in 1995. It was, in fact, the high point of his 32 years at Clayton State.
“Serving as director of the program for its first 10 years is the high point of my career at Clayton State. In some cases, the students in the program would have come to our campus with or without the Honors Program. In a significant number of instances, however, the students were drawn to our campus by the Honors scholarship and the opportunity to participate in the program,” he says. “We had so many outstanding students and leaders in the program during that time. I would mention the Demond sisters, the Lawrimore sisters, Devon Carson, Fred Hicks and Rachel Nebergall.”
“We emphasized academics to be sure, but we also emphasized service to campus and community. Many events that have become fixtures on campus originated as ideas from Honors students and are still carried on by students in the Honors program. The Thanksgiving Dinner for International Students and Faculty and the Red Cross Blood Drives are two of the most significant. I have no doubt that we will hear many good things in the coming years from students who have come out of our Honors Program. It was a privilege to work with our students.”
Service to the community is a subject Hatfield knows well. In addition to his academic career, he has been arguably the most publicly active member of the Clayton State faculty since the early 1980s, most notably in local Democratic politics, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the Georgia Civil War Commission (he was an original member) and the Friends of the Georgia Archives. The past Clayton County chairman of the Democratic Party, chairman of the Sixth District Congressional Committee, and a member of the State Executive Committee, Hatfield was also elected delegate to two Democratic National Conventions - 1984 in San Francisco and 1988 in Atlanta. He also had thoughts of running for Congress in the 1990s, and was in fact asked to do so by Dick Gephardt and John Lewis.
Appointed to the ARC in 1990, he’s been reelected on a number of occasions and is currently the longest serving member of the Commission, with a current term that runs until 2010.
“I have had a front-row seat on Atlanta’s development in recent years. I witnessed close-up the preparations for the Olympics, the dramatic growth which has occurred throughout the period, the emerging problems of clean air and adequate resources, and the growing congestion in our transportation system,” he recalls.
Currently serving as chairman of the Friends of the Georgia Archives, Hatfield is a charter member of that group, in addition to being the first and only president.
“Our biggest project has been the south side’s largest book sale, but we have also provided resources to assist the Archives in a variety of ways,” he notes.
In all these activities, Hatfield says, “I have always been conscious that I represented Clayton State and done my best to bring credit to the institution. I think it very important that a public institution like ours be visible in the community.”
Hatfield has been more than visible in the Clayton State community, where he has brought much credit to the History program, and where he sees more good things happening in the years to come, in both history and archival studies.
“We have always had excellent historians at Clayton State. I remember particularly Hardy Jackson, Elizabeth Marshall, Brad Rice, John Kohler and Bob Welborn,” he recalls. “It is very gratifying as Bob Welborn, R. B. Rosenburg (who replaces me as Social Sciences chair) and I watch younger historians like Adam Tate, Chris Ward, Marko Maunula, and
Kay Kemp take our places. They are committed to teaching and their students just as were those who came before them."
“I am very pleased that Adam Tate, a member of our department, now directs the Honors Program. I think it outstanding that four of our historians either have a book to their credit or one which is under contract and will be published shortly. Randy Gooden has done a fine job in his joint position at Clayton State and the Georgia Archives. His work as `Georgia’s Circuit Riding Archivist’ has allowed him to make numerous contacts which will be helpful as Clayton State moves forward with its proposed master’s level program in archival studies.”
After graduating from the prestigious McCallie School in Chattanooga and later Washington & Lee University, Hatfield entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill following his service in Vietnam. He recalls it with a Dickensian quote, “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was an exciting time to be in graduate school and study history against the backdrop of great events like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.”
However, he also points out that a lot of other aspiring historians felt the same way and that the market in the mid-70s “had many more historians than it had jobs.” As a result, he was pleased to find a job at the then-Clayton Junior College, especially since it was midway between his home town of Chattanooga and wife Carol’s home town of Macon.
“I planned initially to stay a few years and move on to a larger school. However, we fell in love with the area. I enjoyed my colleagues and somehow we just never got around to leaving,” he recalls.
As he prepares for an unsurprisingly busy retirement, including family (two young granddaughters), travel (a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Santiago with the Kohlers and the Welborns), plus research and writing, particularly on several Civil War subjects, Hatfield fondly remembers his 32 years at Clayton State.
“I have loved my time at Clayton State. I have enjoyed my colleagues. We had a good group, and working with them has been very rewarding. I have been gratified by the growth and development I have been a part of.However, I look forward to retirement. The time is right.”