The President's Corner
Dr. Lawrence D. Czarda
18th President of Greensboro College
"Champions of the Liberal Arts"
Founders Day Remarks, Jan. 19, 2012
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Noting our institution’s 173rd year from our initial founding in December 1838, we begin our 174th year and begin in earnest to prepare for the remarkable milestone of our 175th year, which we will celebrate during academic year 2013-14. In the broad spirit of a New Year’s resolution, in the United Methodist Church, and right here in this chapel last week, members at this time of year recommit to the Wesley Covenant, and so here today in this beautiful campus chapel, the Greensboro College community reflects on and recommits to where we have been, where we are, and where we must go – and, perhaps most importantly, who we are as an institution.
In his remarks earlier in this service, Walter Newton mentioned those seven words we sometimes use as shorthand to describe the nature of our institution -- small, private, church-related, liberal-arts college. An annual gathering that I have been privileged to attend the past two years is the Presidents Institute of the Council of Independent Colleges. We met just a few weeks ago -- 600 member institutions, with 250 presidents in attendance, and more than 800 total attendees. The “bigs” do not usually attend: the Ivies, Stanford, USC, Vandy, Duke, etc. But otherwise it is a very diverse group. Institutions with enrollments ranging from 500 to 10,000; HBCUs; single-gender institutions; urban and rural campuses; and those institutions affiliated with literally all faiths that have such connections in this country. The theme of the 2012 institute was “Champions of the Liberal Arts,” and those champions are not just the presidents, but also faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and students.
What does it mean to be a Champion of the Liberal Arts? In no way was there any sentiment of being opposed to or discounting the importance of our nation’s current policy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math – STEM. Indeed, almost all of the colleges and universities offer many programs that can be described within the STEM template. But all these institutions were founded and rooted in the liberal arts.
This conference had more than a bit of the aspect of being more than a meeting. It was, perhaps, more a rally or even a revival. The first keynote speaker, who is so well known in North Carolina and to many of you, was current Princeton scholar and former Duke University president Nannerl Keohane, and I give her full attribution for much of what I will relate next and know it is worthwhile to share today. Her remarks were based around five points--yes, indeed, five fingers on a hand, five points of a star, but these are Nan’s, not mine!
Here is her vigorous case as to why the liberal arts remain so current today.
1) A liberal arts education is the best possible preparation for success in the learned professions -- law, medicine, academics, business, finance and even IT innovation.
2) They hone the mind, teaching focus, critical thinking and ability to express oneself clearly, both in speaking and writing (which skills are also a foundation for any career or any path in life).
3) They are the best education for citizenship in a democracy like our own. The founding fathers connected the liberal arts to the preparation of informed, independent and sympathetic citizens. Democracies need complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize traditions, and understand the significance of other peoples’ suffering and achievements. We demonstrate this attribute right here in chapel each Thursday, when we see the statement on the screen that implores students to “question their answers.”
4) She quoted French essayist Michael Montaigne, who used the image of a “back room of the mind” -- that he thought of his own mind as a kind of a “tower library” to which he could retreat even when far from home. This library was filled with thoughts of wise people, experimental thoughts, jokes, anecdotes, and was a place where he could keep interesting company with himself. Montaigne suggested that we all need to build these “back rooms in our minds,” and that the most valuable and attractive people we know are those who have rich and fascinating intellectual furniture in those spaces, rather than a void between their ears (or perhaps a space filled, without challenge, by the dictates of others).
5) A liberal-arts education admits one to the community of scholars, both professional and amateur, spanning the ages.
She closed her remarks by stating that the liberal arts make us better citizens, not only for our community and our country, but for the world and all humankind.
Another keynote speaker at the Institute was Ron Ehrenberg, a scholar at Cornell University. His remarks were titled “The Economy and the Future of Independent Colleges.” I have used Dr. Ehrenberg’s work often in the past when I have taught graduate courses in higher-education finance, in particular one of his articles that I used as a foundational piece, titled “The Awkward Economics of Higher Education.” But it was not any of the portions of his remarks dealing with economics or finance that I reference, but rather his strong position that there is ample longitudinal data and evidence that the liberal arts, finely honed over the past two centuries in American private colleges, provides a crucial cultural and societal human infrastructure in three fundamental ways. The liberal arts have:
1) Refined the practice of critical thinking.
2) Heightened the ability to synthesize across disciplines.
3) Prepared a platform for informed leadership.
Leadership. One word, three syllables. A word that means so much and is so exceptionally complex. There are numerous leadership studies, degrees in leadership, certificates, and even, right here in Greensboro, the world-acclaimed Center for Creative Leadership. Allow me the simplicity today of using leadership in one sector of our society to make a point -- elected leadership; political leadership.
Leadership is on many minds in this season, in which Greensboro city elections have just been completed, the North Carolina gubernatorial election is on the horizon, and of course with the vortex of positioning for the presidential election of 2012 ongoing. Consider the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, POTUS. How have our presidents, our leaders, been prepared to lead and by what academic and professional experiences? How many in the liberal arts? How many in the STEM fields? How many in other ways?
An admittedly cursory review of all of our U.S. presidents over the past two centuries-plus indicates that there has been one engineer -- Herbert Hoover -- he also held other public offices. There has been one in the nuclear navy -- Jimmy Carter -- but he also is a farmer, philanthropist, author and church leader and was educated at one of the best liberal-arts institutions, the U.S. Naval Academy. More? No, not really. There were five career military officers, as well as a number whose preparation was in business, journalism, publishing, and academia. There were a number of farmers, ranchers, and land owners. There was one movie star, albeit with a B.A. from a small, private college. And, of course, many trained in the law. I suggest if one takes the same look at the educational preparation at the level of the U.S. Congress, statehouses and local offices, the pattern would be much the same.
Yes, there are some with STEM, technical, or vocational backgrounds, but the large majority of leaders are prepared for their roles in programs and courses of study that are part of the liberal-arts tradition. New Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins, who was here just a few days ago as our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service keynote speaker, is a successful commercial real estate broker who was a scholar-athlete with a B.A. in history and religion from a sister United Methodist institution, Duke University.
Do we, here at Greensboro College, produce these kinds of leaders? Those whose education provided a sufficient foundation for leadership and service? Indeed we do. A quick survey of those who are currently in office or who have recently held office include two members of the Greensboro City Council, Trudy Wade and Mary Kay Abuzuaiter; two members of the Guilford County School Board, Nancy Routh and Kris Cooke; the former mayor of Salisbury, who also served as state director for Senator Elizabeth Dole and is a Greensboro College trustee, Margaret Kluttz; the former Charlotte mayor pro tem and City Council member Betty Chaffin Rash; and the Honorable Carolyn Maloney, member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Manhattan in New York City. And there are more, but I think I have made my point.
A Greensboro College education, based on the 174-year legacy of the liberal arts, is a proven platform for leadership and success. Career data studies often show that those prepared in the STEM fields, technical fields and even vocational fields do very well initially in earning income. Often these studies and reports show that those so prepared “outearn” those who pursued liberal-arts degrees. But we need to look a bit deeper and a bit more critically into this matter. Many other perfectly reputable research studies indicate that the longitudinal data lines eventually intersect -- that over time the liberal-arts graduate actually does “outearn” the technically prepared graduate -- usually after 10 or more years as they become managers, leaders, CEOs, and even U.S. presidents.
I had the privilege recently of attending a dinner with and talk by the well-respected New Yorker writer and author Malcolm Gladwell. He is always engaging, thought-provoking and provocative (although presenting as an intellectual version of the comedian Carrot Top!). In his remarks, he made this distinction and statement regarding incompetence and expertise. He said that “as a society, we have a well-developed disdain, even revulsion, for incompetence.” He went on to point out that our society simply must learn to fear and beware what he termed the “tyranny of expertise.” He explained that the tyranny of expertise involves those who are so well experienced and who are so successful that they believe in their own infallibility. They are so sure and they think they know so deeply, that they do not see or recognize what is a new and different reality. Based on the foundational work of psychologist Baruch Fishoff, Gladwell uses the construct of “creeping determinism,” which he defines as the sense that grows upon us – in retrospect – that what has happened was actually inevitable. He builds the case with his always erudite descriptions and explanations by using examples such as Nixon’s visit to China, meeting Mao Tse Tung, the fall of the Soviet Union, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Wall Street crash of 2008, the Lehman Brothers debacle, and others. Creeping determinism -- that, while in no way definitively true, what we say, say, say, we then begin to accept, and then we believe, whether evidence-based, true or not.
Belonging to the Council of Independent Colleges and holding up the banner of being champions of the liberal arts means we cannot allow creeping determinism to inform an opinion that the demise of the liberal-arts college was or is inevitable. It is not and will never be. Greensboro College has entered its 174th year and along with 600 other CIC colleges continues to survive and thrive.
Greensboro College was founded shortly after the clarion call of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s General Conference of 1820, directing the establishment by the church of literary institutions. Much has changed … and much has not. The “gen-ed” requirements of Greensborough Female College at its founding included courses in English, Latin, Greek, music, chemistry, botany, astronomy, history, religion and philosophy. Tuition and board? $70 for each five-month session (which, of course, the financial-aid office immediately discounted to all eligible students by 40% to $42!). The college had to suffer the public editorial outcry of the city newspaper of the times (The Greensborough Patriot) that there was no use for such a college, its course of instruction or degrees for women. Yes, we have all heard this before. The paper opined about what degree such a college would award: an MPL? Mistress of Polite Literature? Mistress of Petticoat Law? Quite the laugh in the 1830s, I’m sure.
But founded we were, and with the support of those faculty, staff and others, the vision and dream of the Rev. Peter Doub is manifest here still today and is most undeniably demonstrated by those seniors who are invested in this chapel this Founders Day 2012. Their preparation has been honed for 17 decades and is based on the rigorous and broad liberal arts--with gen-ed requirements still including, as they were back at the beginning, English, mathematics, language, science, religion, the arts, and history. The 2011-12 GC undergraduate catalog lists five (yes, another five fingers of a hand or five points of a star) outcomes that our students will demonstrate and I summarize. They will learn to read, write, speak, reason and think critically.
We are rooted in centuries-old tradition, yet in no way are we stagnant. The curriculum is always evolving, always emergent. Over the past 173-plus years, we have become integrated, become co-ed, and added study abroad. We offer many varied extracurricular opportunities in the fine arts, service, athletics, religious life and more. Here in 2012 many faculty are committing invaluable time to our academic program review, which is already well launched —and the college evolves. Just in the past year, new developments have been added to areas of our curriculum including in the visual arts, international business, birth-kindergarten education, adapted special education, exploratory studies, human factors, an institute for church leadership, the Campbell Service House, women’s golf, men’s swimming … and more.
All of us here – are here – as we are champions of the liberal arts. We are here 173 years and counting, and it is our time to guide this college, founded on principles that we still honor and champion today. It is not for the money, the glory, or the buzz; it is because we believe in what we do and our product withstands the test of time. Why do we continue to do what we do, especially with the continued challenges and with our own ongoing need for continued progress in what our board of trustees supports as Year 2 of a 5-year plan?
One of the most famous philosophers in all of Meldavia, Lecturer Lileel, of the Genulus Institute of Technology, once said the following regarding repetition: “While it may be true that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome, it can also be said that there is nothing more beautiful than the repetition of something beautiful with slight variations on each repeat.” (Thank you, Professor David Fox.)
Now, I speak directly to our seniors, whom we have invested today. In this very chapel, on a regular basis, the Rev. Dr. Robert Brewer, our campus chaplain, will say from his heart and soul that we are here because we truly believe that our students … as they have been developed and prepared on this campus for a life meaningfully lived … that our students—you--can change the world. Retired broadcaster and author Tom Brokaw made a similar remark at a graduation speech a few years ago. He said, “You are educated. Your certification is on your degree. You may think of it as a ticket to the good life, but let me ask you to think of an alternative: Think of it as your ticket to change the world. Our world.”
I close with a bit of a test -- a tradition started by the class of 2010. We have not yet practiced this tradition, the class of 2012 and I. It is to give voice to the class itself at college ceremonies. But why not? Let’s give it a try! The Class of 2012, please stand.
God is good (all the time); all the time (God is good). And …
For 173 years, we have been … and … we are… One Pride!
All please rise and remain standing for the singing of our alma mater.