Retiree tribute: Professor John Shelley
THERE’S PROBABLY NO BETTER send-off for a Furman professor heading into retirement than to be presented the Alester G. Furman, Jr., and Janie Earle Furman Award for Meritorious Teaching.
Just ask John Shelley. The religion professor received the teaching award at the 2013 Commencement — fitting recognition for 33 years of exceptional service to the university, and for his continuing ability to connect with undergraduates.
Shelley has influenced countless students, many of whom now teach in colleges and universities around the country. Each year his departmental colleagues have looked forward to his return from the Society of Christian Ethics, when he shares news from a number of Furman ethicists for whom he has been a role model and mentor. His “Faith and Ethics” class has been one of the major’s core courses throughout his years at Furman. And he was the co-founder and first coordinator of the university’s poverty studies program, which has become one of the most popular interdisciplinary minors at Furman — and provided the perfect place for him to merge his passions for teaching and social justice.
Ten years ago Shelley, author of numerous scholarly articles, penned one of the best-received stories this magazine has printed. “The Gezork Incident,” from the Spring 2003 issue, described the politics surrounding the dismissal of religion professor Herbert Gezork in the 1930s and revealed how the controversy ensured that academic freedom would be protected at Furman. It prompted tremendous response from readers and helped inspire one of Gezork’s former students to endow a lectureship in theology and philosophy at the university.
All of this from an honors graduate of the electrical engineering program at Clemson University whose skills were so valued that he was courted by the likes of Stanford and MIT for graduate study, and was offered jobs by IBM and Bell Laboratories. Instead he entered Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree and studied under Edgar McKnight, later a colleague at Furman. He went on to complete a doctorate at Vanderbilt, focusing on theology and ethics.
He made his way in 1980 to Furman, where he served as a model of integrity, compassion and teaching excellence.