During her career, Mary Seawell Metz ’58 has served as a professor, president and trustee at colleges from one coast to the other, affording her an appreciation of university life that few enjoy.
Among the most critical operations, she said, is faculty development. Nothing has brought that into sharper relief than the coronavirus pandemic, as faculties everywhere scrambled to manage challenges such as class disruptions and remote learning.
Metz has committed $1 million to endow the director position of Furman’s Faculty Development Center.
“I always thought that being outstanding in the classroom was at the heart of the university,” she said, “and that developing an excellent teaching faculty is really important.”
The center’s executive director, Diane E. Boyd was “excited and humbled” by the gift.
“As an accomplished educator and leader herself,” said Boyd, now the Mary Seawell Metz ’58 Executive Director of the Faculty Development Center, “Mary’s recognition of the direct link between faculty vitality and student success through her investment in the Faculty Development Center makes the gift that much more significant.”
Metz’s connection to Furman has come full circle.
Her father, Columbus Jackson Seawell ’56, dropped out of The Citadel during the Great Depression so his younger sister could finish school, resolving to someday finish his degree. Years later, after launching an accounting firm in Anderson, South Carolina, he decided to attend Furman.
Around the same time, Metz had graduated from TL Hanna High School and was offered a full scholarship to Furman. So father and daughter were students together for about one year.
Though Metz took the required science classes, laboring through first-year chemistry convinced her that wasn’t the path for her.
“I loved all of the humanities, and I was taking every course I was interested in from world religions to English literature to French language classes,” she said. “Finally, the registrar called me in and said, ‘Mary, you have to declare a major.’”
She majored in both English and French, graduating summa cum laude in 1958.
Metz and her husband, Gene, a Clemson alumnus and architect, married during her senior year and settled in Anderson.
At first, she recalls, she assumed the traditional role of the era and kept house. But after two months, she’d had enough and began teaching French and English at Hanna.
Eventually, the couple decided to attend graduate school, though they didn’t have much money.
“We made a plan that I would go first because I could not earn enough as a woman with a baccalaureate degree to put him through grad school,” she said. “But with an advanced degree, I could earn more.”
They left for Louisiana State University, where Metz completed her Ph.D. in French, graduating magna cum laude, while her husband joined the architecture faculty.
She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to France and then took a teaching position at LSU, becoming one of very few women on the faculty at that time.
Subsequently, Metz served as provost and dean of the faculty at Hood College, president of Mills College, dean of the University of California Extension, and president of the S.H. Cowell Foundation in San Francisco.
Furman presented Metz with The Distinguished Alumni Award 1977 and with an honorary Doctor of Humanities in 1984. She currently serves on the Furman Board of Trustees.
“My long life has sort of begun and ended with Furman at the center,” she said.
Along the way, she and her husband adopted a daughter, and when they moved back to South Carolina, they parlayed the proceeds from the sale of their California home into gifts for their alma maters.
Boyd said the gift ensures that faculty will have ongoing support to help them build vital, purposeful academic careers.
“The faculty was so supportive of me, and I wanted to honor them as well,” said Metz. “I did this because of my great admiration for and love of Furman.”