After $100,000 gift, professor is losing job and department

In Room 118 in Christopher Newport University’s Ratcliffe Hall is a sports-science laboratory of modest proportions – the mark of a longtime professor who wanted to leave a lasting impression.

Bob Cummings sold one of the seven houses that he’d saved for retirement to raise $100,000 to pay for the room. A grateful CNU named the lab after him.

It was a personal and professional triumph for the professor, a first-generation college graduate whose parents never went beyond ninth-grade – a man who spent more than a quarter-century at CNU.

The equipment for the room began arriving in August, in time to help fall-semester students.

Two months later, Cummings learned that the lab would last only through the summer.

“I wanted to leave a legacy to the university,” says Cummings, who teaches in the recreation, sports and wellness management department. “I’m remorseful about it. I’m also bitter. I invested my life here.”

The 2003 class will be the first and the last to use the lab. CNU eliminated Cummings’ department and two others, in what officials say was a difficult cost-cutting move.

“When the government and the General Assembly cut us by $7 million, the university had to make some decisions and priorities had to be selected, and these cuts were all unfortunate,” says Jack Simms, a university vice president and executive director of the Education Foundation, CNU’s fund-raising arm.

“It’s a difficult time, and a difficult time for any professors who have lost their jobs.”

The room seems crossed between a hospital and gym. A $33,250 egg-shaped “Bod Pod,” which measures muscle mass, looks like an empty spaceship in one corner. Stationary-bicycle, curl-bar and computer carts take up another.

The equipment is the future of sports science and indicates how far the department has come during Cummings’ tenure.

The 65-year-old Cummings is divorced, with a grown son and daughter and grandchildren. He paces around campus with the authority of a head coach. He coached soccer, but football players call out in recognition.

Cummings used soccer to plow his way out of inner-city Baltimore, where he grew up the son of a steelworker and a housewife in a blue-collar neighborhood.

“Nobody went to college,” Cummings said.

But Cummings earned a soccer scholarship to the University of Maryland, where he became an honorable-mention All-American. He went on to earn a doctorate in physiology.

He arrived on the Christopher Newport campus in 1976, when the recreation department was a physical-education program with five instructors and offered no degrees.

In 1979, as department chairman, Cummings helped lobby the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia for a major to offer students. But because nearby universities already issued physical-education degrees, Christopher Newport was granted leisure studies.

The new major allowed the college to issue degrees with concentrations in recreation and tourism, sports and wellness, and exercise science, a program that Cummings created.

Over the years, he helped develop the department from one that fulfilled electives to a program that helps students become exercise physiologists, nutritionists, dietitians, physician’s assistants and physical therapists. More than 150 have graduated since 2000.