VisCom's Terry Eiler: Retiring, But Not Really

Ohio University VisCom director Terry Eiler. Photograph by Megan Westervelt
Ohio University VisCom director Terry Eiler. Photograph by Megan Westervelt

ATHENS, OH (March 20, 2013) – Terry Eiler, the director of Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, has announced that he intends to step down from his post on April 15 and take "early retirement."

But that doesn't mean he intends to stop teaching at OU's VisCom.

He just won't have to do the committee work and other administrative duties that come with the director's job.

"I'll no longer have to push paperwork and be the director," Eiler told News Photographer magazine today. "I'll get to teach for one semester a year, minimum, and be a faculty member and, eventually, a faculty emeriti if the board of regents approve. I'll continue to teach a magazine class and graduate seminars and those kinds of things."

Eiler, 68, said his decision was based on the state of Ohio's retirement system. 

"I've been part of the university's retirement program for 38 years now. I've maxed out my returns on retirement. By going to 'early retirement' I don't lose any more money," Eiler said. 

For a job that was intended as only a one-year appointment as a "favor" to the dean in 1974, Eiler's career at Ohio University worked out pretty well. 

"In 1974 I agreed to teach photography in the art department," Eiler said. He had been freelancing for National Geographic and other magazines, and was working in Arizona on a project when he came east to do two stories on the Revolutionary War and the Lake Erie Islands. "I took on a one-year class as a favor, and never left."

Two years after that, Chuck Scott returned to teaching at OU from the Chicago Tribune in 1976 and was in the Journalism department while Eiler was in the Art department. 

"Both of us being competitive, we were both trying to get the same talented students. So in 1978, Chuck and I joined together to form the Institute for Visual Communication. It was a successful collaboration between two colleges and two faculties, and it became its own stand-alone school in 1986. He was the first director, and I was the associate director."

The Institute was held between the two colleges, Eiler said, until the mid-1990s when they switched to what is now the Scripps College of Communication. "We have five schools in the Scripps College," Eiler said, "and VisCom is one of them."

Scott retired in 1994 and Eiler continued on as associate director until Larry Nighswander resigned the director's post in 2004. Eiler has been VisCom's director since.

Eiler says the administration has known for some time of his intention to take "early retirement" and intended all along to make his announcement in mid-March of this year. "Everyone knew it here," Eiler said today, "it was the worst kept secret."

On Thursday, the faculty will meet and they will be asked to make a choice between searching for a new VisCom director inside OU or look for outside candidates, Eiler said. "If they decide to do it from inside, then someone will have to put their name forward," he said today.

Eiler says he intends to "step back" for the summer and maybe take Scott, his father-in-law, to Maine for some fishing. Scott is recovering in a rehabilitation center after having a pacemaker replaced and Eiler says he expects for him to return to his own home very shortly. Then, after a summer break, Eiler says he'll come back to OU and teach a class next fall semester.

Among the classes he's been teaching recently at VisCom are the courses Documentary Photography, Interactive Media, Newspaper Picture Story, Advanced Publication Photography, and graduate seminars. He's also taught at OU's Scotland Field School in Documentary Photojournalism. 

Eiler is NPPA's Best Of Photojournalism Contest Committee chairperson, and he was the recipient of NPPA's Robert F. Garland Educator of the Year Award in 2006. Twice he's been named University Professor for his teaching excellence, and 1993 was presented Ohio University’s Alumni Teaching Excellence award. His wife, Lyntha Scott Eiler, is a freelance documentary photojournalist as well as an adjunct teaching instructor for various VisCom programs. 

As a publication photographer, Eiler produced material for the National Geographic Society’s books and magazines over a 20-year period. His work has been featured in GEO, Sunset, Paris Match and National Geographic. As a documentary photographer, he has been involved in Project Documerica, the 1970 project funded by the EPA to record the state of the environment prior to major air and water legislation. 

Eiler has also been a field researcher on four Library of Congress American Folklife Center projects, the Calvert Marine Museum project on the Patuxent River Watermen and a project documenting the people of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley for the American Folklife Center. His work has been the visual anchor of five books (Life in a Narrow Place, 27 & 1, The fun of basketball is winning, Working the Water, the Patuxent River Project, Blue Ridge Harvest, and David L. Hostetler, the Carver).