The $12,000 Man

When Jim Southerland first walked on the Brenau campus 44 years ago, he says “I thought I had slipped back in time.” The school and its old buildings and a campus surrounded by a hedgerow, it felt stuffy and a bit closed in. The late Paul Hemphill, the one-time writer-in-residence, later would refer to Brenau in one of his books as “a sleepy little school,” which Southerland says made a lot of people mad when Hemphill wrote it “but was pretty close to what I encountered” in the late 1960s.

Southerland had completed all requirements for a doctorate in history at the University of Georgia but his dissertation. Southerland recalls that in his interview with William D. Clark, the Brenau College president “kept mentioning the self-study” and the need for the school to get more Ph.D.’s on faculty. To that end he was prepared to of offer Southerland the princely sum of $10,500 a year salary – but verbally committed to $12,000 if Southerland would hurry up and finish his Ph.D.

In the talks about the self-study, Clark was referring to the ongoing accreditation review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “I never paid any attention to that,” says Southerland, who was happy to land a job. “I thought I’d find out later, and boy, did I.”

Shortly after his arrival, SACS slammed Brenau with probation – partly because not enough faculty had doctorates – that would dog the college for at least the next decade, Clark resigned and the $12,000 promise was gone. So it was sort of cathartic that the college’s longest-serving faculty member as virtually his swan song presided over the most recent SACS review, which was its most successful ever.

Southerland planned to retire in 2008, but put it off at the request of current President Ed Schrader to serve as provost and vice president of academic affairs during the final years of the SACS review. With that completed and the new provost, Nancy Krippel, in place, Southerland returned to teaching and, in an office in Overton Hall with glass doors that open into Sorority Circle, working on his memoir.

He will read from the book Oct. 4, during activities celebrating Brenau’s 135 years. But you can get a preview at in a video of Southerland’s animated and passionate reminiscences about what he has learned about Brenau and teaching over more than four decades – Exhibit A in making the case that the mild-mannered historian has been one of the university’s most popular teachers in the last third of its history.

One Response to “The $12,000 Man”
  1. Lisa Pursley Smith, Class of 1988 (WC) says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Southerland. You are the best professor ever. I wish I could attend the reading on October 4th. If I weren’t travelling at the time, I’d be there.

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