Beloved English Professor Fran Davidson retires after 30 years

in CAMPUS by
Fran Davidson
Fran Davidson, with her Honors Poetry class in 2011.

English Professor Fran Davidson is retiring at the end of this semester after 30 years of service to Mercer. She began as a part-time adjunct instructor back in 1985, and went on to work in Developmental Education. She was then hired as a full-time English professor, and was well known for teaching the poetry seminars. Prior to coming to Mercer she had taught in both private and public high schools.

Immediately after graduating from Douglass Women’s College, which is now a part of Rutgers University, Professor Davidson moved with her husband to New Orleans, where she taught her first class:  Modern American Poetry.  In an interview with The VOICE she described going to the Tulane University Library to learn about modern poets.

“Poetry was really exploding into new areas—this would have been in the 70s.  Not too long ago, I came across my notes from those early years and it was interesting to read through them.  That’s sort of my first love—poetry.  I’m glad I was able to end my career at Mercer doing the same thing.”  Davidson told The VOICE.

Her current project –her last one before she’s officially retired– is adapting the Honors Poetry class so it can also be offered an online course.

Rachel Levitt, a second-year Women’s and Gender Studies major at Mercer, says she was  not the “biggest fan of poetry” before taking Prof. Davidson’s class, but the class shifted her perspective.

“[Prof. Davidson] will be missed. No one else could teach poetry the way she does.” Levitt says.

For second-year Liberal Arts major, Axel Ortiz, what stood out about Davidson’s poetry class was: “the way she encouraged her students –and I’m only speaking from our poetry class– to ‘listen’ to the text.  We all come with different experiences so we’re all gonna have varied reactions to different poems, so it was all about what words spoke to us, and why.”

Prof. Davidson says it took her time to grow to truly love teaching, but now, having been out of the classroom and moved in to her new home in South Carolina, she says: “it was like losing a piece of my identity when I stopped [teaching].”

Prof. Davidson explains that her connection to students has been one of the most meaningful aspects of career.

Fran Davidson“I’ve enjoyed developing friendships with students over the years… It’s hard because you naturally lose touch after they leave.”  However, she says she has kept in touch with some students over the years, including several of her international students–one in Germany, one in Brazil. Students like Axel Ortiz have gone on to share some of their own poetry with her since taking her class.

Prof. Davidson’s colleagues have warm memories of her time at Mercer.

Marge Archer, the Student Advocate for Liberal Arts and an adjunct in the English department who has substituted for Prof. Davidson in the past, and says that “she loved working with international students in English Composition classes.  She loved helping students in any way possible, and now loves being a grandmother for the first time!”

Prof. Jack Tabor, a fellow English Department faculty member, remembers that Prof. Davidson was on his hiring committee eight years ago, and says she was “such a wonderful colleague who did really good work.  She was smart, kind, and generous with her students.  Of all the faculty members, she had a sensitivity to the world around her–and such graciousness.  When she announced her retirement, I was like, ‘No!  You can’t leave!’”

In considering the changes at Mercer in the last 30 years, Prof. Davidson says she sees great potential in the new crop of professors, including the part-time instructors who teach the majority of classes in the English and Foreign Languages department.

“We have got a really fine adjunct faculty here, many of whom I’ve gotten to know personally.”  Davidson says.

Prof. Davidson and her husband Don, a retired lawyer, moved to South Carolina to be closer to one of their two sons and his family, including their first grandchild, Wesley, who was born in December. With her new free time she says she plans to travel more –her other son lives in Prague– go hiking, and perhaps take some classes in Art History.

Don Davidson told The VOICE, “Fran misses her old life and friends at Mercer, but is loving being only 15 minutes from baby Wesley. She is also working daily on her sabbatical project and can’t wait to teach her poetry course on line.”

She also looks forward to “reading again—just picking up novels!”  As she puts it:  “It was my friends who weren’t teachers [who] would ask, ‘have you read this really great book?’ and I’d say ‘no I haven’t gotten to it yet!’”