SPU’s director of honors program plans retirement

After over 20 years with the university, Dr. Chaney accepts faculty buy-out offer

Ella Beth Sessions, Staff Writer

Christine Chaney (Courtesy of Christine Chaney)

Christine Chaney, the current honors director and professor of English at Seattle Pacific University, recently announced her plan for early retirement starting in 2024. Chaney, one of the long-term faculty offered participation in SPU’s Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, accepted the offer after an initial rejection.

“With the amount of layoffs that are going to happen, I increasingly had the sense that there’s no reason for me to stay for a couple more years while somebody who’s 40 with kids and a mortgage loses their job,” Chaney said. “I’m not retirement age, but I’m close enough.”

The honors program has recently gone through changes in structure and curriculum, directed largely by Chaney. The new and improved program received praise and positive reviews after launching, making Chaney feel able to step back.

“It’s time to have the next, younger generation of faculty run honors. It’s like a chapter change,” Chaney said. “The way the river is moving, I think this is probably the right time.”

Jeffrey Keuss, professor of Christian ministry, theology and culture at SPU, is a former director of the honors program. Keuss occupied the seat before Chaney and has watched the program grow and change under her leadership.

“Dr. Chaney has been the ideal honors program director: deep passion about the liberal arts, a commitment to diversity and equity and a curiosity and winsomeness that finds joy with students,” Keuss said.

The curriculum with which students earn an honors liberal arts degree contains a variety of courses in history, philosophy, neurobiology and more, all centered around the question “what does it mean to be human?”

“If you are the kind of person who is excited by ideas and has ambitions of any kind, this community is an ideal place to be nurtured and mentored,” Chaney said. “I believe in this program.”

Chaney’s leadership and personality make her a favorite for many students, including senior physiology and honors major Julia Austin.

“She cares so much and actively wants you to succeed. As busy as she is and as many emails as she gets, she will work to get everything together,” Austin said. “She’s quirky, silly and really fun to work with.”

Students and faculty alike will miss Chaney’s professional, personal and academic presence on campus.

“Her lectures on ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ for honors students are legendary, as are her office hours where conversations move quickly from Victorian prose to David Bowie,” Keuss said.

Sophomore Lainey Mendoza, an ecology and honors major, considers Chaney’s retirement untimely.

“She is a very respected mentor, and I feel rather disheartened that she is leaving,” Mendoza said. “It feels premature.”

As discussion around potential candidates for the soon-to-be-empty position commences, the honors program faces further change.

“It’s been kind of a moving target,” Chaney said. “There is a really tragic process of layoffs and program reductions going on in the academic side, so we’re going to wait until those pieces have moved.”

The process will include a listed job description, advertisements, hiring committees and more, similar to what Chaney herself went through in 2016. Candidates will be considered on both external and internal levels.

“The current honors faculty are likely candidates and would be great,” Chaney said. “I do think it would be good if it is someone who taught in and knew honors.”

Whoever fills the position, Chaney’s plans for retirement stay constant: lots of reading and writing. Even after a full career, Chaney’s plans also include, characteristically, more working.

“I’ve been working on a book, and I have an affiliate appointment at the University of Washington that I’ve been involved in for almost 20 years,” Chaney said “But I’ll start with 1000 books I haven’t had time to read. I’ll be an independent scholar, as they’re called.”

Throughout her career at SPU – as it began and as it ends – members of the SPU community appreciate and will dearly miss Chaney’s signature intellect and twinkling smile.

“Students who have had her know her laughter, her passion for literature and seeing the integration of faith into learning as a liberative, freeing and ultimately life-giving reality,” Keuss said.