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James Tinney

Phillip Summers
IU Department of Psychology

Last modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Former Vincennes University president teaching at IU

University presidents often stay in touch with their students by teaching a class. But how many retired university presidents teach two classes, on two campuses about 100 miles apart?

Phillip M. Summers may be the only person in that category.

Summers, who served for 21 years as president of Vincennes University, joined the faculty of Indiana University's Department of Psychology after his retirement in 2001. Retirement, however, is a relative term for Summers. He continues to teach an 8 a.m. introductory psychology course at Vincennes. After finishing there, he drives to Bloomington, where he also teaches introductory psychology.

"I have always enjoyed opening the door to psychology to new students," said Summers, who received his bachelor's and master's degrees from IU and his doctorate from Indiana State University. He received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from IU in 1996.

Summers connects with his students on a personal basis, despite the typically large size of his introductory classes.

IU Professor James Craig, director of undergraduate programs in the Department of Psychology, said, "I have been most impressed with Phil's commitment to his students. For example, I was in Phil's office when he was looking over the results from one of his exams. As he scrolled down the list, Phil made comments such as, 'I'm glad to see that Aaron is doing better. I know that he had three exams last week.' Or 'Maybe those review sessions have helped Jennifer.'

"He commented on more than half of his students, indicating that he knew about their individual academic progress. For an instructor to take the time to learn that much about his or her students in a class of 50 or 60 would be noteworthy. The fact that Phil does that with his class of over 200 students is extraordinary."

For all his years as a university administrator, Summers is equally experienced as a classroom teacher. He taught classes throughout his long tenure as Vincennes president.

"I had decided I wanted to step aside and do something new when I turned 62," Summers said. So he contacted Joseph Steinmetz, IU Psychology Department chair. Summers received an appointment as an adjunct professor for three years, beginning last fall.

"This has been a very good thing for me. I've really enjoyed being back at IU," said Summers, whose first administrative job was as assistant to the dean of what was then an IU night extension program at Vincennes.

It didn't take him long to get back in the swing of things upon his return to Bloomington. In fact, he was the one who was driving his prized red '62 Corvette in the IU Homecoming parade.

"Associating with students was always very important and enjoyable to me as a president at Vincennes. I always attended every student function I could. But I thought it was important to step back and give my successor (Bryan Blanchard) the chance to establish himself," Summers said.

Summers does continue to play a prominent role as president emeritus at Vincennes in directing the fund-raising effort for the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center and Museum. The legendary comedian was born and raised one block from the V.U. campus, and Skelton's widow is working with organizers to locate his memorabilia in the proposed facility.

There are other parts of his old job, Summers acknowledges, that he doesn't miss. Those include dealing with the legislature during the budget process and the hectic schedule that every college president must keep.

"When you are retired, you only go to the meetings you really want to go to," Summers said.

Phillip Summers will be featured on "Profiles" on Sunday (April 14) at 7 p.m. on WFIU Public Radio.