2011 State of the College: Hearts in Harmony
Good evening to you all, dear colleagues. Speaking for Anne and me, thank you once more for welcoming us to Concordia with such a generous spirit, and with such skill as we are introduced to our new work with you. In particular this week, as events in our home have begun, we want to thank everyone in facilities who has made 709 South 8th Street so beautiful, outside and in.
Though it is early days, I have already been on the road and in the air a lot, and my most frequent companion has been Rasmus Bogstad, author of The Early History of Concordia, an account of the "academy" turned college from 1891 to 1910. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Bogstad's book, and particularly his story of his becoming a member of the college staff. He had been pastor of a fledgling congregation in Kindred, North Dakota, when he received a "call" to come to Concordia "as professor of Norwegian and Religion at a salary of $600" (22). After some hesitation and more negotiation, he gave up his parish work and arrived in November of 1891, reporting to the office of the head of school, Principal I. F. Grose, who was, like Bogstad, a Luther College graduate. Bogstad describes the scene like this, writing about himself in the third person:
Did they have many students in Religion and Norwegian? [he asked Grose.] Yes, the whole school took religious instruction. He [Principal Grose] was teaching the [Religion] class himself. Only a few had enrolled for Norse language, . . . and a student lately arrived from Norway was teaching that. . . .
"Well," said the new professor, . . . "you don't need any help then. I had better return to Kindred where there is plenty of work to do."
"Oh no," [replied Grose], "we will find lots of work for you. The executive committee of the board of trustees met the other day to appoint someone to solicit funds, of which we are very short." (24)
And so, to conclude the story, Bogstad hit the road, writing years later "he had left [his pastoral call] to accept a professorship and turned out to be a beggar" on behalf of the college (25).
Bogstad calls himself "former teacher and president," a title I quite like, and it is from him that the title of my talk tonight-Hearts in Harmony-arises. (I can assure you that I did not find it on a Hallmark card.) Late into the night on April 14, 1891, three pastors who had attended the incorporation meeting for the Northwestern Lutheran College Association earlier that day sat together, seeking a name for the school they envisioned. They were in the library of Pastor J. O. Haugen, and with him were Bogstad and Pastor J. M. O. Ness. Bogstad writes that
The fertile brain of Pastor . . . Haugen is entitled to the honor of suggesting [the name Concordia]. "Concordia" is the goddess of harmoney [sic], concord, the opposite of discord. Literally it means hearts together-working in unison. (19)
Writing about this night long after his retirement as Concordia's first president, Bogstad notes that the name was originally meant to memorialize the union of the three synods that joined in 1890 to create the United Norwegian Lutheran Church. Given the dis-cord that marked much of the early days of the school-disputes about location, and then more seriously in 1902, about curriculum, the name may have felt at times more vision than reality, but living into that name remains an expectation worthy of our labors. That will be my theme tonight.
Bogstad's account of the naming of our college cites its classical origins, but to this I want to add the understanding of heart that comes from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Though in scripture heart can sometimes mean "the seat of the emotions," it rarely if ever is evoked in a contrast between "heart" and "head," between feeling and thinking-a contrast familiar to us heirs of the 19th-century Romantic tradition but alien to the writers of the Bible. It means, rather, the whole of a person, to quote a scholarly definition, "the innermost springs of individual life, the ultimate source of all its physical, intellectual, emotional, and volitional energies, and consequently the part of a [person] through which he [or she] normally achieved contact with the divine" (Interpreter's Dictionary 5490). Bible readers will recall that the figures there are often described as thinking in their hearts, as when Mary has heard at Christ's birth the shepherds' story of the angels' singing and "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2: 19). It is this understanding of the heart that informs a book that the Concordia cabinet has been studying this summer, The Heart of Higher Education, by the Quaker writer Parker Palmer and physicist Arthur Zajonc of Amherst College. Palmer writes of the heart "as that core place in the human self where all our capacities converge" (20) and argues for a vision of learning "that embraces every dimension of what it means to be human" (20) and that leads us to "educate our students as whole people, . . . [so that] they will bring all of who they are to the demands of being human in private and public life" (153).
What would it mean, in this time and place, to be our name, to live into it in daily practice and in the story we tell of Concordia inside the house and out? I suggest that it would mean, among other things, these three actions:
* To remember our history, not failing in our eagerness for harmony to note the conflicts we have wrestled with as we have fashioned our college from its founding forward.
* To recognize with the clear-eyed intelligence that so brightly shines through all the work of President Pamela Jolicoeur the great challenges that stand before us in the scramble for resources and market share in higher education.
* To claim our mission with courage and imagination in ways that create not a forced "unison" but a harmony of hearts, striking chords of thought and action that draw us together across the boundaries of space, time, faith, and culture that so often fragment our lives.
First, remembering: Within its first decade, Concordia faced a crisis: its second head of school, Principal Hans Aaker, sought to set aside the broad range of classical studies in favor of a curriculum devoted solely to what was then called the "commerce" course. It wasn't a self-evidently foolish idea: many more students were enrolled in this course than in classical studies, and educating those men and women not destined for ministry, law, or medicine was a pragmatic commitment and true service in the pioneer days of the Red River Valley. But the narrowing that Aaker championed was a deep error, a failure of vision not only about the benefits of a broader education essential both to individual flourishing and the public good. Professors Bogstad and E. D. Busby, who argued for what Busby called a "higher institution of learning for the Christian culture of young men and women" (Engelhardt 41), prevailed in Concordia's first great curriculum debate, and Aaker left to found his own school. For the record, Bogstad did not seek to undermine pragmatic studies, but he saw them in relation to the larger scope of learning that the college was founded to offer. You will find me, in this at least, to be a Bogstad man.
It interests me that in the very years when our college mission statement, authored by physicist and dean of the college Carl Bailey, that a plan appeared, a "Blueprint" whose purpose was "to establish a general framework within which the development of the college may be most intelligently and fruitfully guided" ("Blueprint" 2). The first declaration of the 1962 Blueprint is the statement of mission now known to everyone who lives and works here:
The purpose of Concordia College is to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life. (3)
Having declared that fulfilling this faith-inspired mission requires nothing "less than the best scholarly work" and a refusal to "impose any restrictions on our discourse" (3), the Blueprint goes on to declare, "we insist that [all students], regardless of whatever specialized work [they] may pursue, should encounter the fundamental studies which show [them their] own nature and the nature of the world, give [them] the tools and attitudes required for further learning, equip [them] to serve society as valuable citizen[s], and give [them] the inner resources required for stability and happiness. That is what we mean by saying that our . . . aim is to produce thoughtful and informed men and women" (3-4).
Never has this insistence been more important. The 21st century in higher education must be the century of the liberal arts because it is through them that our graduates will gain
* the analytical prowess that enables citizens and professionals to discern and solve problems,
* the rhetorical skills to communicate ideas with grace and power,
* the flexibility to triumph in a continually shifting economy and job market,
* the scope of understanding that engenders good judgment,
* and in my judgment, most important of all, the imagination to connect those things whose deep relationship makes possible human health, joyfulness, and peace-as biologist and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai saw the connection between planting trees and reducing civil strife in her native Kenya and enlisted women among the rural poor to lead a renewal of natural resources.
We remember who we are: a liberal arts college founded out of radical faith in the liberating love of God.
Second, recognizing the resource and market challenges before us. These challenges are not the less real for being familiar:
* Declining numbers of college-age students in our traditional recruiting grounds
* The assumption among many that larger, state-subsidized universities can "deliver" just as good an education at far less cost than we
* The high stakes game of financial aid, in which aspirations for more academically ready students compete with aspirations to make our college a place where those without the advantages of wealth can afford to attend
* A worrisome national and world economy that makes the climate for philanthropy highly challenging exactly at the moment when we need such support the most.
Add to these resource challenges the need to articulate our distinctive story in a thicket of market of public and private institutions, to prospective students and families who are bombarded with viewbooks, email and social media contacts, and a sales pitch that sounds as if every college in America has hired the same consulting firm.
These challenges are why we have strategic plans. I understand why such plans provoke skepticism in academe, and even some derision, as in the book written by Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. Ginsberg writes
Until recent years, colleges engaged in little formal planning. Today, however, virtually every college and university in the nation has an elaborate strategic plan. Indeed, whenever a college hires a new president, his or her first priority is usually the crafting of a new strategic plan. As in Orwell's 1984, all mention of the previous administration's plan, which probably had been introduced with great fanfare only a few years earlier, is instantly erased from all college publications and Web sites. The college president's first commandment seems to be, "Thou shall have no other plan before mine." (excerpt; Chronicle, July 17, 2011)
Ginsberg's mockery is funny because it has some basis in fact. Strategic plans are a kind of Enlightenment project that assumes we know enough about how things work-here, "things" include the economy and how people will behave in the midst of it-to control them. 2008 put paid to much of that, and any review of any plan underway at that point-including our own-will provide examples of the limits of such exercises.
But these limits must not prompt us to stop making plans. Instead, as we do we must take the time to remember who we are, to draw again and again from the well of our abiding identity, and (instead of jettisoning past plans with the arrival of new leadership) keep faith with what the wisdom of prior guidance has led us to discover. To that end, I have directed the president's cabinet to discern with me and with you (a) what we have already achieved under the plan for 2010-15, (b) what we can implement as intended, and (c) what requires more thought and/or more resources before we decide to do it, to change it, or to drop it. Expect to be engaged, this year and beyond, in that effort. Plans matter when they compel us to confront the realities around us, and when they unite our collective imagination with our fidelity to mission.
And now I reach my third and concluding recommendation, the one I confess I have been pondering for many months now: To claim our mission with hearts in harmony, as the very name of our college calls us to do. If we are to thrive in a time of stretched resources and crowded markets, we must claim that mission boldly, thinking beyond the credit accumulation model of the American baccalaureate that has come to dominate American education and made so many undergraduate programs look so much like the rest. We must take with a new seriousness and an active imagination the fact that our college claims to integrate the experience of learning with the whole self and the whole world. Ours is not to be a place of what the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called "inert ideas" (1), in which knowledge is doled out in discreet lozenges of one subject after another, where history has no relationship to biology, physics no connection to literature, or to reach across 8th Street, where intellectual discovery stands apart from life in community, or where commitment to Lutheran worship offers no avenue to the people of other faiths who make their lives in Fargo-Moorhead and in the places around the world from which our students come.
We are on firm foundation grounded. Raymond Jacobson's Arvegods, the sculpture that stands between Academy and Old Main, its two figures (aka Lena and Ole) rising above a strong base, is engraved with words from Ephesians, words St. Paul used to declare the oneness we have as the liberated children of God. I am going to add the words immediately preceding those engraved on Jacobson's foundation:
You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:19-20, NRSV)
Gathered together in that strong household, we can be bold to open its doors, to open its doors inside and out, practicing hospitality of intellect and faith that will enable us
* to seek common ground of discovery and creative purpose across the disciplines of the liberal arts, revealing to our students (and to ourselves) that academic study is deeply connected to the whole enterprise of human being
* to recognize the common ground of stewardship we share with everyone in the Red River Valley and with our neighbors around the world, all heirs to the same air, water, land, and sky
* to break the barriers of misinformation and suspicion that too often divide the academic world from the worlds of private enterprise and public policy, worlds on which it deeply depends and whose future leaders it must work to frame in good judgment, cultural knowledge, and ethical commitment
* to do more than welcome those who stand outside our Lutheran tradition, but rather, deeply rooted in our faith heritage, actively to seek dialogue across our different faiths, becoming a center for intellectual exchange and inspired service among those who may be separate in traditions but who are united in love of God and in a longing for the redemption of all that God has made.
To this end, you will soon receive from me an invitation. An invitation to come (in smaller groups) to 709 South 8th Street for conversation about what it means in this place and time to be a liberal arts college. I will want to learn what this has meant to you-what you have hoped for, how your hopes have been fulfilled or thwarted, how your work has been transformed-and what you believe it must mean for all of us together, not always of the same mind, but hearts in harmony.
It is the custom for state of the college addresses to cite the achievements of the year just past. There are many: individual and team triumphs in varsity athletics; skilled work done in facilities, dining services, student support, and in IT; a celebratory launching of the Offutt School of Business and a striking accomplishment to garner resources to build and endow it; and most of all, the day-to-day transformation of students' lives in our classes, labs, studios, concert halls, residence halls, athletic fields, and places of worship and service. To these I will add just two more for now: First, the remarkable work of Jim Hausmann and everyone engaged in enrollment, work that will, I can declare, lead us comfortably to meet our goals for admissions, for retention, and for net tuition revenue. Expect to hear more detail once we have reached the census date, when the fuller implications of this success can be determined. Second, I call before us the devoted and wise leadership of President Paul Dovre, who returned to a college stricken with grief at the sudden loss of Pamela Jolicoeur, dearly beloved of this community, a president whose legacy we will carry forward with gratitude even in the midst of our sorrow. Dr. Dovre, and Mrs. Dovre, our abiding thanks.
We have a wonderful history, not without conflict and not without pain, but it is a history that reminds us of who we are as "the trustees of the life of the mind" in this place of faith and learning (Berry). Our faith, affirmed from 1891 through this present day, and our continually renewed devotion to the liberal arts, call us to draw our hearts in harmony, trusting-as our founders did-that there are plans for us that will unfold as we keep the faith and sustain the devotion. Jeremiah wrote these faithful words to the exiles in Babylon. We are far from exile, but his vision applies to us still:
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and hope. Then when you call upon me, . . . I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. . . . (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV).
Concordia College. Hearts in harmony. Soli deo Gloria.
"A Blueprint for Concordia College." Moorhead: Concordia College, 1962.
Bogstad, Rasmus. The Early History of Concordia, College: A Record of the School from 1891 to 1910 (np: nd), Concordia College Special Collection.
Buttrick, George A. The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962.
Ginsberg, Benjamin. "The Strategic Plan: Neither Strategy Nor Plan, but a Waste of Time." Excerpt of The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). http://chronicle.com/article/The-Strategic-Plan-Neither/128227/
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version.
Engelhardt, Carroll. On Firm Foundation Grounded: The First Century of Concordia College (1891-1991). Moorhead: Concordia College, 1991.
Palmer, Parker, and Arthur Zajonc. The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Whitehead, Alfred North. The Aims of Education and Other Essays. New York: Free Press, 1929.