Three vice presidents to retire before 2021



From Left to Right: Christine Hughes, Peggy Ings, and Bill Gilligan, three of the college’s 12 vice presidents.

By Charlie McKenna

Three of Emerson’s 12 vice presidents will retire by the end of 2020 after opting into the college’s early retirement program. 

Christine Hughes, vice president and general counsel, who has been with Emerson for 16 years, plans to retire at the end of the month. William Gilligan, vice president for IT, and Peggy Ings, vice president for government and community relations, will both step away at the end of December. Gilligan and Ings have been with the college for 36 and 26 years, respectively. 

The college launched the early retirement program in July to give full-time employees, except deans and assistant vice presidents, the opportunity to resign and continue receiving their base salary for a period of time contingent on how long they have been employed. Applications for the program opened on July 24 and closed on Aug. 21. 

The plan falls under the college’s Human Resources department and is part of the effort to mitigate the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which administrators said could result in up to $76 million in losses. Details on the college’s typical retirement plan were not immediately available. 

Hughes is the only one of the three with a clear succession plan in place. Assistant Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Meredith Ainbinder will assume the position following Hughes’ departure. Replacement plans for Ings and Gilligan will be developed over the course of their remaining time at the college, according to the Emerson Today post that announced the retirements. 

Gilligan, who began his career as a faculty member, teaching computing, before moving into the IT department, said he feels his greatest achievement at Emerson is building relationships with his coworkers. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the reputation and the quality of work that the people I work with do,” he said. “IT, [media technologies and production], and WERS all have very good reputations both inside the college and outside the college. The thing I’m most proud of is the quality of the staff I’ve been able to work with.”

The shift from faculty member to vice president meant Gilligan was no longer interacting with students on a regular basis, something he said he misses and looks forward to getting another chance to do by getting back to teaching. 

“This early retirement program came up out of the blue, so it wasn’t something I’d been planning for, but I think doing some teaching is in my future,” he said. “I’m not sure how soon I’ll go back to it, but it’s always been my first love, and it’s always been something I’ve planned to go back to.”

Gilligan said the chance to spend more time with his family influenced his decision.

“There’s a whole combination of things somebody has to weigh,” he said. “Not just the work situation but also the home situation, the aging process… but it’s a combination of life decisions and family decisions that made it a very difficult but also simple decision.”

Hughes also cited wanting to spend more time with family as a reason for stepping away from the college. 

“My partner and I have a new grandson who is all of two months old, and they are local,” she said. “[His parents are] going to find as they have their newborn an extra pair of hands coming in pretty handy.”

As general counsel, Hughes served as the college’s lawyer, representing Emerson in several high-profile cases, including two Title IX lawsuits brought by students against the college.

Hughes said she was proud to have never lost a case in her time at the college. 

“We’ve pretty much won every case that we’ve ever had, so that’s a nice record to retire on,” Hughes said. “[The Title IX cases were] vindicating just because we always felt from the beginning that we had done the right thing by our students responding to their claims of sexual misconduct and sexual assault, and to have two separate federal judges say essentially ‘Yes, Emerson, you did the right thing’ was really gratifying.” 

In 2014, two former students sued the college, alleging that Emerson improperly handled their Title IX complaints. 

Hughes said she will miss interacting with students and seeing their unique passion. 

“I don’t know any other workplace where you get to ride the elevator with so many energetic, engaging, feather-boa-wearing, purple-haired students,” Hughes said, “There’s always been this tremendous sense of energy from these students that really helped me remember what we were really all focused on, which was to take care of students and make sure this was the best place for them [as] possible.”

A next act in teaching appeals to Hughes as well, who said she wants to teach English as a second language.

“When I first moved back to Boston, I did some volunteer work teaching English as a second language to an immigrant and it was an enormously rewarding experience,” she said. 

Ings could not be reached for an interview prior to publication.