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Lambuth, One Year Later
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Lambuth, One Year Later

Nestled in a small neighborhood in Jackson, Tenn., near fertile farmland and just a stone’s throw from where U of M President Shirley Raines grew up, the Lambuth Campus is flourishing with increased enrollment and expanded facilities.

By Laura Fenton

In May 2011, Lambuth University philosophy professor Dr. Manning Garrett III was teaching on borrowed time, a period he likened to the Great Depression. As a huge financial crisis loomed over the small, private school that had been in existence since 1843, Garrett had chosen to teach for a deferred payment, not knowing the end of the Lambuth story after the school’s board of trustees voted to cease operations in June 2011. Aware there could be little or no compensation at all, Garrett and other professors taught May and summer courses anyway so the final class of Lambuth University could graduate.

"We are teachers. We are professors. We are here for the students," says Garrett, now a U of M Lambuth Campus professor. "That’s what we said all along, and I think we proved it to ourselves, to the community and to the students."

Garrett saw the situation with some irony. He had heard stories of Lambuth professors who during the Depression had taught for half their salary or had bartered to live free on campus in exchange for teaching.

"Part of the reason we were flourishing (before the 2011 financial crisis) was because of their sacrifices," Garrett says. "Well, some people are saying that the sacrifices (faculty) made back then, that the faculty who made sacrifices in 2011 were also demonstrating the same commitment to students."

With the school set to close for good June 30, the University of Memphis quickly teamed up with the city of Jackson, Madison County, West Tennessee Healthcare and the Jackson Energy Authority to revive the campus before the fall 2011 semester began. After a busy transition, the school opened in August with about 300 students.

Garrett and others lost tenure in the transition, but none of the events have hindered his love of teaching and dedication to the students and to Lambuth.

"I told my wife, ‘I’m committed right here,’" he says. "I want to be a part of what’s going on right here. There are new challenges, but there is also the opportunity to be a part of something that in a few years is going to become very, very successful in meeting needs in West Tennessee and around Jackson."

New beginnings

The U of M Lambuth Campus is nestled in a quaint neighborhood, a place where houses have whitewashed front porches. No vast parking lots. No big-city bustle. No high-rise buildings. Just a tranquil campus with a simple brick entrance sign that still says "Lambuth," an intentional move, states Dan Lattimore, dean of the Lambuth Campus and dean of the University College.

"The name ‘U of M Lambuth Campus’ is very valuable," says Lattimore. "That tells Lambuth alumni and people who live in the Jackson area who have been a part of Lambuth for years that we want to include them in everything we do."

This fall, the campus is home to about 550 total students. According to Lattimore, "About 20 to 25 percent of those come from Memphis." The goal is to have overall enrollment at 1,000 by the four-year mark. To accommodate the increased enrollment, more housing, a dining hall, bookstore, fitness center and more classrooms are opening for student use this fall.

Several familiar faces dot campus.

The University of Memphis Lambuth Campus, formerly Lambuth University, celebrates the completion of its first year this fall. The campus now has more housing, a dining hall, bookstore, fitness center and more classrooms open to accommodate students enrolled for fall.
The U of M Lambuth Campus, formerly Lambuth University, celebrates the completion of its first year this fall. The campus now has more housing, a dining hall, bookstore, fitness center and more classrooms open to accommodate students enrolled for fall.

"Being from Jackson, I understood what Lambuth meant to the community, because I was part of the community," says Dr. Renee Murley, current Lambuth Campus faculty member and former U of M Jackson Center faculty member. "It was sad knowing that it wasn’t going to be Lambuth (University) anymore, but then it was rewarding to know that the U of M could continue that relationship with the community."

Candy Donald changed her mindset on the first day of her "new" job.

"I may be going to the same building, the same office, but this is a whole new job," says Donald, coordinator of student services and operations for the Lambuth Campus. "I had to make a clear distinction that first weekend that Lambuth was my old job, and today I start a whole new job. It’s a whole new university, it’s just the location is the same."

Only the educational necessities were available last fall. No housing, bookstore, campus recreation center or dining hall were open. The University could not renovate any of these areas until December 2011 when the official deed was transferred to the U of M. The campus had been leased to the University until that point.

All students transferring from Lambuth University were given credit for every course taken at Lambuth so as not to delay progress toward graduation. The process was slow, but students were patient.

"It was chaotic the first part of the semester," says Dr. Kelly Mollica, Fogelman College of Business & Economics faculty member and former Jackson Center faculty. "I would have thought there would have been complaints from students about things not being available, things not being in place yet, the hours of the computer lab, those sort of things, but students have been very supportive and, in fact, grateful that we’re here."

Brandi Pruitt, a freshman in nursing, says the allure of small classes and a rural school with "the backing of a big university" drew her to Lambuth, but the lack of campus housing meant she had to commute 30 miles from Lexington, Tenn., for classes.

"Now that we have campus housing, I feel like I’m more involved and know what’s going on," Pruitt says.

Students Stephanie White (back) and Brandi Pruitt (front) live in the Lambuth Campus residence hall.
Students Stephanie White (back) and Brandi Pruitt (front) live in the Lambuth Campus residence hall.

Staying involved in campus life is one of the initiatives made possible through the Campus Life Grant, which is available for the fall 2012 semester to full-time students (freshmen and transfer students) choosing to live on campus. The grant covers all living expenses in exchange for students who agree to become leaders in campus organizations and activities.

Like Pruitt, Valarie Lewis decided to commute to school each day, but her drive was a bit longer. Lewis, a nursing student, commuted from Memphis each day and found "it was worth it."

Now that students can live on campus, Lewis enjoys dorm life and is a resident assistant for the Oxley Commons residence hall.

"Your teachers know you, they pretty much know if something is wrong and they know who you are as a person, as opposed to just a person in the class," she explains.

The tradition lives on

Sidney Burngasser, an August 2012 graduate and former Lambuth student, mourned the loss of Lambuth University by practically buying out the bookstore before it closed.

Burngasser is a member of the first graduating class of the U of M Lambuth Campus. The campus has always felt like home, especially since he grew up four streets away from the school.

"It’s a really beautiful place that’s full of tradition," he says. "I was so connected to this campus and the student body that it felt like this was where I needed to stay. This was home."

U of M employee Lisa Warmath, a former 20-year Lambuth staff member, says Lambuth remains true to its mission.

"I made a very conscious decision a couple of years ago to stick things (out) to the end for the students," she says. "That’s honestly what got me through some of the most difficult times. That’s what we’re about – the students. When you keep that in focus, it helps you do what needs to done. I knew, in my heart, the worst thing was to have this place be boarded up."

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Last Updated: 8/22/12