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A 'retired' McConnell-Ginet as busy as ever with Potter prose, prison program, local theater ... and eggplant

Wands and wizardry, teaching math in prison and discussing sexuality in Hong Kong -- such pursuits have become possible since Sally McConnell-Ginet retired as professor emerita of linguistics in 2007. Add updating her 2003 book "Language and Gender," working on several articles and a new book on meaning, planning an eggplant cookbook (because they are "visually stunning and culinarily versatile") and being actively involved in local theater.

And even that's not all: She and colleague Molly Diesing, both intrigued by the "speech-acts" of casting spells in the "Harry Potter" books, are collaborating on an academic paper, "How to Do Things With Words and Wands: The Pragmatics of Magic."

It's no wonder McConnell-Ginet says, "You can be as engaged and involved after retiring as before."

McConnell-Ginet joined Cornell in 1973 with a dual appointment in women's studies and philosophy, after earning an M.S. in mathematics from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Rochester. She has served as chair of Modern Languages and Linguistics, director of Women's Studies and founding co-director of Cognitive Studies, and has been president of the International Gender and Language Association and of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA). In 2008 she was elected a fellow of the LSA and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

After retiring, McConnell-Ginet was asked to help develop a mathematics curriculum for the Cornell Prison Education Program at Auburn Correctional Facility that would meet the math requirements for a degree from Cayuga Community College. "It's amazing how much this means to these guys," says McConnell-Ginet, who now serves on the prison program board.

Going farther afield, McConnell-Ginet recently returned from a month in Hong Kong as a Fulbright senior specialist, where she gave talks on semantics, language, gender and sexuality at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Helped by the Internet, Chinese people now talk about issues they would not have earlier, she says, but "some topics -- such as one's sexual orientation -- are [still] not openly discussed." She expects to return to China in 2011 to give the keynote at a conference in Beijing.

And as if she's not busy enough, McConnell-Ginet has become involved in the Kitchen Theatre and is a board member of the Hangar Theatre. "Theater's immediacy," she says, "can be compelling and even transformative, enriching our imaginations and deepening understanding of ourselves, of others, of life's possibilities." She and husband Carl Ginet, retired professor of philosophy who acted a lot in college, now have time to indulge their shared addiction to live theater.

It's clear that McConnell-Ginet savors the opportunity to pursue interests beyond her professional commitments. "Retirement is like a long sabbatical," she says, "because you have freedom to choose how you spend your time. You don't have to go to committee meetings or deal with the day-to-day responsibilities that would take away from the time you wanted to spend writing and thinking -- and sometimes playing."

Retired faculty, she says, "can continue pursuing long-standing intellectual passions, but the beauty of retirement is the freedom it offers, and some retirees choose to follow completely different paths."

While retired faculty are no longer involved in the day-to-day life of their departments, McConnell-Ginet says that the Cornell Association of Professors Emeriti can help them maintain connections to campus and develop new directions. She has helped coordinate the CAPE lecture series, which, she notes, is not just for retirees. "So far no wizards or witches at the podium, but stay tuned," she says.

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Blaine Friedlander