An Accountable Purpose
INAUGURAL ADDRESS BY
JOHN A. HOWARD, PRESIDENT ROCKFORD COLLEGE
April 30, 1960
This was Dad’s first speech at Rockford College at his Inauguration as President.
Mr. Williams and Trustees, distinguished delegates and guests, members of the faculty, students and friends of Rockford College: In the House of God and in the presence of this company I accept the office bestowed upon me. I solemnly pledge my devotion to the cause of education, and to the advancement of that cause at Rockford College. I pledge my earnest efforts to uphold the high traditions of this institution and to seek the means to provide increasingly effective service to our students and to our community. I further pledge our College to carry on and extend the cooperation and mutual reinforcement with other educational institutions which my predecessors have had the wisdom to develop. This assemblage attests our common mission.
We have witnessed the solemn rite of the academic procession, an inspiring spectacle, ancient and honored. Down this aisle have passed scores of delegates each bearing the regalia that marks his institution. They have gathered here this afternoon to join our students and trustees and faculty in a service of tribute. It is not a tribute to an individual for which they have come, nor is it a tribute to a college. The procession would have formed regardless of the individual to be inaugurated, and it would have marched whatever the name or the size or the age of the college. This ceremony honors the human arts of scholarship and teaching and learning. It glorifies the divine atom in man’s nature that stirs him to build a bridge to the next island across the seas of ignorance and fear and distrust.
In our country we have cast off forms and rituals to such an extent that outside of church services, our encounters with pageantry have been largely reduced to the mere spectacle of the Rose Bowl or the presentation of the Academy Awards. We have prided ourselves on the excision of links with the past, perhaps under the misapprehension that in so doing we were but freeing ourselves from prejudice and out-moded ideas.
There are times, however, when the public acknowledgement of tradition is wholesome and inspirational. No man could stand here under these circumstances and experience mere personal gratification in the office with which he has been invested. The academic ceremony engraves onto his total consciousness the ineffable responsibility now his, to carry on the quest for knowledge and to contribute to the effectiveness of the process known as education.
That responsibility is even graver in an era when there is mounting and unanimous pressure to provide more education without a comparable pressure delineating content or purpose. Education is taken for granted as a part of our culture. The necessity for education is too often given priority over its nature and its results.
In America our culture is a mosaic, pieced together of bright and durable jewels of incredibly diverse origin. Like a mosaic, its effect is something altogether different from the native source of the particles, and like a mosaic, the ordering of its parts leaves something to be desired if left wholly to chance.
The American celebration of Christmas includes wreaths and trees, stockings by the chimney, Santa Claus and reindeer, a creche, bright lights on the eaves. wassail, carols, mistletoe, greeting cards and the exchange of gifts. The source of each of these customs is almost forgotten. The relationship which each may once have had to the celebration of Christ’s birth is lost in the routine celebration of the holiday season. The degree of religious emphasis depends on the individual, but the season is celebrated by Christian and skeptic alike.
There is, I believe, a parallel situation in the observance of the educational season, from September to June with time off for Christmas and Easter. We have inherited from a variety of sources many goals for education and many techniques for education. Those that have caught on have accumulated into an aggregate of practice which has its own momentum and moves along unchallenged and unquestioned by most of us.
The schools of America have been expected, variously, to transmit the knowledge of the ages, to hold at bay that old deluder, Satan, to insure good government by creating an informed citizenry, to protect the nation against class struggles by equalizing the conditions of men and to insure us against crime by instilling morality into our youth. Overlaid on these objectives of promoting the general welfare there has arisen a new scale of aims for education, those directed to the needs and development of the individual student. The schools have been asked to maximize the effectiveness of the individual mind by making it a storehouse of knowledge on the one hand and by training the separate mental skills of memory, judgment, observation, and reflection on the other. Social and emotional growth and vocational competence have also become accepted points of emphasis in the process of schooling.
Colleges and universities provide for their student’s experiences which bear on many or all of these purposes. Too rarely are priorities assigned to them. Too frequently each faculty member considers his own intellectual discipline justified in itself, with little concept of or concern for its relationship to the total educational program provided in the institution. The result is that in the absence of an accountable institutional purpose the educational experience of the student is not the sum of its part s.
A study made recently at a very respectable university revealed that students and faculty were interested in different results from the college education. The faculty placed greater emphasis on intellectual growth than did the students, and the positions were reversed in regard to social development and vocational preparation. The student who thus works at cross purposes with his professors encounters understandable difficulty in integrating the separate elements of his college experience and in justifying his attention to what is supposed to be the central activity of education, the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Lacking thirst, he only makes ripples on the surface of the Illyrian spring.
In Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens provides a deft illustration of the problem and the product which concern us. One of the characters, a Mr. Sparkler was enormously impressed by Miss Fanny’s allusions to Dante. Mr. Sparkler’s education left something to be desired. His own recollection of the Italian poet was based on a picture rather than on the poetry and therefore he thought of Dante as “an eccentric man … who used to put leaves round his head and sit upon a stool, for some unaccountable purpose, outside the cathedral at Florence.”
Mr. Sparkler at least had the wit to recognize that there must be a purpose for the leafy headgear, unaccountable as it was to him. Without a clearly defined purpose, an educational program mass-produces Mr. Sparklers who are only dimly aware of what they see and what they study. What they remember will be odds and ends impressed on their minds by some particularly congruous or particularly incongruous relationship. The laurel wreath, Dante, the stool and the cathedral will add up to eccentricity unless the artist’s symbolism is clear. The student and the teacher must share a common purpose, or the student will not go beyond surface impressions of what he encounters in class.
Plato observed that all men desire knowledge, but not all men desire the labor of learning. For any project that requires labor rather than good fortune in its fulfillment, an accountable purpose is a prime requisite. Without it, one must expect that students will rate social growth higher than other elements of the college experience. Actually the term “social growth”, as many students interpret it, is little more than a happy rationalization for having a good time, and student motivation in that direction needs no support from the college staff.
On a national scale the mosaic of educational purpose is a jumble rather than a well-defined image.
There are, fortunately, a number of colleges and universities which have well-defined purposes resulting in a common bond among the faculty members and a shared goal between faculty and students. It is at these institutions that the students work up to the level of their mental capacities and from which they emerge well educated and confident people.
Within this group of institutions, the principal objective of one may be quite different from that of another. The significant feature is that there is one common accountable objective within the institution, recognized by all who are affiliated with it.
In Chancellor Kimpton’s last annual report on the state of the University of Chicago, he avowed firmly and conclusively that the overriding consideration of that institution is the extension of the limits of man’s knowledge, the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
This principle is one that has animated many of the great European universities for centuries. At the Sorbonne, one of the most notable professors of the Nineteenth Century phrased the same point in a memorable statement. Greeted with an ovation in class the day following his election to Parliament, he rebuked his students in these terms: “We come here to treat of pure, unmingled science, which is essentially impartial, disinterested and estranged from external occurrences, important or insignificant. Let us always maintain for learning this exclusive character.”
It is a worthy concept and we honor Monsieur Guizot and Chancellor Kimpton for their devotion to it. It is at universities like theirs that scholarship flourishes and the limits of our knowledge are extended.
There are, however, other worthy missions for institutions of higher education. The classicist, Professor Whitney Oates, in an address last January, pointed out that it is pertinent to ask the question, ” Knowledge for what?” His answer to his own question was knowledge for the benefit of mankind.
As I read the history of Rockford College and try to assess the particular genius of this institution, I am convinced that it is the concept of knowledge for the benefit of mankind that has animated our curriculum, that has been the distinguishing mark of our faculty, and that has led to the achievement of our students.
It is my purpose today to reaffirm that concept as the philosophical basis for our decisions and the unifying principle we seek to provide for our educational program.
In an effort to identify the conditions under which man may fulfill his nature, one is irresistibly reminded of the aspirations which President Roosevelt set forth when he was trying to prepare this nation for its fight against Nazi and Fascist absolutism. The four freedoms which he designated embodied his judgment of conditions essential to man’s proper development, but man does not automatically respond to the favorable conditions of freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech and freedom to worship when they exist. A program of knowledge for the benefit of mankind must include a commitment both to extending the conditions favorable to man’s development and to bringing about a responsible reaction to those conditions. I believe that we must match the four freedoms with four faiths, which actually are but one. The four are: faith in God as a supreme and omniscient being, faith in man’s potential for goodness, faith in man’s ability to make valid judgments and faith in the power of an individual to have an impact on the world around him.
Almost all of the independent colleges and universities of this country were established by one church group or another. Some of the earliest of these institutions were intended primarily to train men for the ministry. Others provided studies in a variety of fields, but in the beginning the students were predominantly members of the parent sect and the program was heavily weighted with religion.
During the present century the religious affiliation of many of these institutions has been reduced to an historical curiosity. God has been eased out of the campus place of honor, and, as has been indicated, we are sometimes not too sure of who or what now occupies that place. The transition from religiously committed to religiously indifferent institutions is partly a reflection of a society that has come to believe that success and prosperity are sufficient in themselves and that they result from our own efforts.
The debilitation of religion on campus is also due in part to the apotheosis of academic research. Wide credence is given to the idea that doubting is the only sound position for the true scholar. There is a taint attached to affirmation in academia. Faith is not an acceptable substitute for fact, and tradition obscures truth. Many conscientious people in our profession hold faith to be antithetical to the pursuit of truth, and their influence on college policy and on impressionable students is not inconsequential.
One other element in the campus divorce from the church is the result of a paradox of democracy. In this country each person is free to practice his own religion. Freedom of worship was the lure that attracted thousands of refugees whose religious faith brought them persecution in other lands. One might suppose that religious freedom would lead to widespread and unselfconscious manifestations of religion in the public as well as the private lives of the citizens. The reverse seems to have happened. We include the Almighty in our pledge of allegiance (a recent correction of a slight oversight), we inscribe “In God We Trust” on every coin, and yet we all but prohibit religious expression at public gatherings in order to safeguard the religious views of the individual. To make the nation safe for religion, we confine the practice of religion to the church building and we stunt its growth. A good many colleges have shared in this backward advance. We have protected the flower from the wind, but we have also obstructed the sunshine.
The independent colleges that have thus forfeited their birthright have discarded one of the basic elements that sets them apart from the public university where religious practices are curtailed by law or custom.
At Rockford College we affirm our abiding faith in one supreme and omniscient God. We commit ourselves to seek the way of the Lord in our decisions and in our actions. If any calling is in need of divine guidance, and divine love, it is that of the teacher. His profession is a presumptuous one, for he influences human lives for better or for worse, often more by his example than by his lectures. It is a callous man who lightly bears the responsibility for his effect upon his students.
Beyond our commitment to try to live in God’s service, we pledge ourselves to encourage our students to take religion into their daily lives to an ever-greater extent. I use the term encourage for we do not anticipate that every teacher will become a preacher or every class session a sermon, but we shall continue to increase the opportunities for our students to add to their understanding of the broad field of religion and of their own faith or denomination through formal and informal activities Ultimately, however, the greatest contribution we could make to their faith would be to win their acceptance of service to mankind as the guiding principle in life.
This brings us to the second of the four faiths, man’s potential for good, for we take as our definition of goodness in man the quality of rendering service.
We believe that everyone receives a spiritual satisfaction as well as a sense of psychological well-being and self-respect, when his acts serve a cause greater than himself. Skeptics may term this reaction enlightened self-interest, but even they recognize it as a human characteristic. We accept it as evidence of man’s relationship with God, and as that element of man’s makeup which brings him closer to God as it grows stronger. A life of service is the fulfillment of God’s commandment, Love Thy Neighbor. It is the application of faith in God to the affairs of daily living.
The third faith to which we make affirmation is in man’s power to make judgments. If you cannot believe in man’s power to judge, any effort to serve others must be directed by whim, intuition or chance. Foolish, indeed, is the life or the venture so guided. Man’s judgment is undeniably fallible, and yet judgment is required of us unendingly through our lives. We believe that with a conscious reliance upon the best knowledge we can obtain, judgments leading to action are both necessary and justified in the cause of service. This statement may seem to be so self-evident that it amounts to nonsense, but it has a particular relevance to education.
The stress placed upon objectivity by many in our profession may be self-defeating. Objectivity, when it becomes an end in itself, leads to inactivity. The scholar can afford to defer judgment indefinitely as he seeks further knowledge, but the responsibilities that most students will face after graduation will not permit them a similar disinterest. The educational program characterized by an over-emphasis on man ‘s fallibility and the incompleteness of our knowledge will graduate scholars, but in most other callings, the same people will become a race of Hamlets, doubtful and dilatory. We cannot afford to have our college graduates withholding judgments for the sake of scientific objectivity while people with less understanding of the world are making the decisions that govern our society.
It is the faith in man’s judgment that gives both meaning and urgency to liberal arts studies, to the kind of program which Rockford College offers. The student has an opportunity, in fact a required opportunity, to obtain fundamental knowledge about man and how he functions, about what he has accomplished and failed to accomplish, about his hopes and fears, and about the various states and conditions of contemporary nations. He also learns about the physical constitution of the universe and its relationship to human life. In our complex society we are confronted with the necessity to make judgments bearing on all of these matters. The effectiveness of our service to mankind will depend in large measure on the range and accuracy of the knowledge upon which we must make judgments.
It will depend, also, on one other product of the curriculum, our skill in communication. However wise our judgments, if we are incapable of conveying them to others, they are of little use. This brings us to the fourth point, faith in man’s power to have an impact on the world around him. As our population swells and becomes more urban and more industrialized, it is increasingly subject to a sense of anonymity, and to a feeling of the unimportance of the individual and of the futility of trying to change the currents of society.
A sense of anonymity leads to relaxation of personal standards of integrity and honesty, as a sense of futility leads to an indifference to matters of government and law. Even in the pragmatic view we cannot afford to let either attitude prevail. The spread of dishonesty and of political unconcern will inevitably cause all of us to suffer. In the affirmative program dictated by faith the individual is important, and he can exert an effective influence.
The point needs no elaboration in this ceremony which brings to an end our celebration of the Jane Addams Centennial. That one dedicated woman could generate so many activities all directed to the benefit of mankind, that one slightly crippled, small town girl could inspire beggars and kings with the will to join her efforts, that one common citizen from northern Illinois could leave a name that stands as a symbol of service around the world, is full justification for our faith in the power of the individual.
Jane Addams, of course, is herself the very embodiment of the entire range of this statement of faith. That she rebelled against the religious services offered on campus in her own day in no way vitiates the fact that the source of her own humanitarian ideals was religious. She rebelled against a rigidity which has no place on today’s campus, frankly open in a pluralistic society to a variety of forms of religious and ethical commitment, but commitment there must be.
Before I close, I would like to interject into my prepared remarks a personal view. We have heard a variety of statements this weekend made by people devoted to Jane Addams and to the causes she espoused, interpreting the acts of her life and suggesting the ways she might have reacted to circumstances of the present, I have never been one to remain silent in a discussion and I do not propose to begin my formal term of office by becoming taciturn.
The characteristics of Jane Addams that earn my devotion and respect are twofold: first, her total dedication to improving the conditions of life in this world, whether working for peace on an international scale, or in a neighborhood to eliminate poverty, filth and degradation: and second, her wisdom in recognizing that man’s lot is not improved except as he is enabled to take responsibility for himself. The effect of her efforts at Hull House as elsewhere was to provide to the downtrodden the self-respect which comes from improving his lot by his own efforts rather than through a continuing handout. Indeed, the point I was making before this digression, Miss Addams’ objection to the religious service at Rockford College, amplifies this point, for she felt each person must choose forms of religious expression himself rather than having them imposed on him. Jane Addams understood that the central fact of improving human conditions was enabling the individual to accept proudly the responsibility for himself so that he may then move to the fulfillment of the divine elements of his nature, that of serving others, too.
Armed with faith – faith in God, faith in man’s potential for goodness, faith in man’s judgment when it is based on knowledge, and faith in the power of the individual to influence his fellow man, we commit ourselves to the education of young men and women in that knowledge which will lead to rich and satisfying lives directed to the service of mankind and of God. This, I pledge to you, will be the accountable purpose of Rockford College in the years ahead as it has been in the past.
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