Core Values at the College of Wooster
by David Clark Brand (Class of 1963)
One Saturday afternoon in November, 2004, in the very stadium that now bears the name of my former co-captain, I became a Wooster Scot fan. The excellence of this year’s team combined with my recent return to Ohio has surely made my fanaticism understandable if not inevitable. I must hasten to add, however, if I may speak like a true Scotchman, that Wooster’s marching band was itself worth every penny of the $5.00 ticket.
While education may not be totally wasted on the young, in my case it was not fully appreciated at the point of its painful reception (though “reception” may be a bit of an exaggeration). The stretching of the mind was almost too much to bear for a college freshman whose high school success was a study in self-absorption–an athlete being catered to, a valedictorian whose mind was barely tested, a son whose most loyal fan would suffer a stroke on the day before the son was to report for preseason football training. Before long the intellectual rigors of James Conant, the Huxleys, and the case of Sacco and Vanzetti would be sandwiched between team excursions to places like Jamestown, New York, and Adrian, Michigan. Like the contents of an over-stuffed sandwich, much of the educational experience got squeezed out.
Little did I realize the historical stature of a elderly, white-haired man in a wheelchair to whom Coach Phil Shipe introduced me one evening after a long day of football practice. “Prexy” Wishart, the man who handed William Jennings Bryan his final election defeat in a contest for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, had made his mark, not only on the College, but on American church history as well.
While my athletic life was interfacing with history, my social life was quickly tested when I had to make a choice between hearing a lecture by world-renowned archeologist W.F. Albright and attending the main “rush” event of the section where most of the “jocks” hung their proverbial . . uh . . . hats. Soon I was to admit to a friend, however, that my social life consisted of banging forearms each afternoon with the likes of little All-American LuDavid Wims. I did put a good hit on the roll blocking dummy one day sending it over the bar to the amazement of myself and my teammates resulting in the termination of that drill. Senior end Jim Dennison was wide-eyed and kind enough to let me know I had done something unusual. Of course, the downfield roll block was outlawed in collegiate football the following year seriously undercutting my football career!
In recent years I have become aware how much the “school we love,” was modeled after Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, and my academic engagement with it was more than a little bit overwhelming if not unnerving. You remember Francis Bacon, the guy who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. By the way, do they still teach Shakespeare on “the hill,” or has Shakespeare’s representation of true womanhood become his undoing, as is the case in recent years at some other bastions of higher learning (Simon 1996)?
Such chapel luminaries as poet Robert Frost, coach Duffy Dougherty, nuclear physicist Arthur Compton, at least two seminary presidents, and Wooster’s witty, homespun, legendary Mose Hole etched lasting impressions on my memory. And who could forget President Lowry’s Passion Week chapel presentation consisting entirely of the words of Christ selected from the Gospel of John, or the moment of silence following the tragic death of English professor Dr. Bradford? The mere recollection of my French professor’s disposition has enabled me to cope with the subtleties of French-American politics in the modern world.
I had been forewarned, and eventually the moment came when I was taught all the “mistakes” in the Bible in Old and New Testament Survey classes. But I was reassured by President Howard Lowry that for him the bottom line was the resurrection--there could be no compromise on that.
Recently I have tried to come to grips with the history of the College posted on the College webpage. Several statements have caught my attention which call for reflective comment. The first is as follows:
Wooster was a college born of a faith, a faith that education ought to be concerned with the total implication of things, both with those questions which may be empirically tested and those for which there are no definitive answers. Wooster has always possessed a strong Department of Religious Studies as well as the conviction that there is something beyond men and women which may confer a sense of proportion and worth on their lives and give them purpose and direction, a faith which Arthur Compton defined as "the best we know, on which we would willingly bet our lives" <www.wooster.edu>.
The above statement divides the educational experience, as it relates to faith, into two categories of questions which are its proper concern: (1) that “which may be empirically tested”; and (2) those “for which there are no definitive answer.” The reader is left to guess what it is that lies “beyond men and women which may confer a sense of proportion and worth,” as well as “purpose and direction.” Arthur Compton’s designation of Wooster’s faith as “the best we know,” however, surely indicates it is not something that is second-rate. And if it is a faith, as Compton put it, “on which we would willingly bet our lives,” surely it is does not fall entirely into the second category of questions “for which there are no definite answers.” To suppose such an absurdity would hardly consist with another noteworthy statement concerning Wooster’s longstanding educational commitment:
The aspiration to join the ability to think logically with the ability to act morally, to link science with service, to educate the heart as well as the mind, was present from the beginning and continues to inform the College and its graduates today <www.wooster.edu>.
To “think logically” and “to act morally”would be inconceivable unless we are operating within a universe that is inherently subject to rational inquiry and to moral law. Empirical observation, therefore, plays a critical role in discerning moral law much as it does in distinguishing between mushrooms and toadstools. It does not preclude, however, that realm which transcends human rational inquiry. That is precisely the point of Wooster’s “Department of Religious Studies” and the College’s “conviction that there is something beyond men and women which may confer a sense of proportion and worth on their lives and give them purpose and direction.”
Notwithstanding the College’s careful avoidance of the “G” word here (perhaps to avoid offense to the non-“G” group), the statement remarkably coheres with the College’s religious tradition. The “faith” to which Compton (and Lowry as well) adhered was unique. When Compton stated it was “the best we know, on which we would willingly bet our lives,” he was undoubtedly affirming what is empirically obvious to students of world religion, namely that there is no other known religion on the face of the earth in which “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13) to the degree that it occurs in the Christian faith, and no teacher that is equal to its Founder.
Howard Lowry was right to underscore the resurrection, for there has been no other religious event known to men which is as empirically verifiable as the resurrection of Christ. One of Wooster’s emeritus history professors was reported to have declared in the classroom that, speaking strictly as an historian, he had to accept the resurrection as an historical fact. The evidence was too compelling to do anything less. As an alumnus, I am deeply grateful for the integrity and courage of that history professor, though I was never privileged to be in one of his classes. My deprivation, however, has not kept me from alluding to his comments over the years.
Further, I am taken by the statement from President Lord that scientific discovery could “give silent but eloquent witness to the uncreated and infinite” <www.wooster.edu>. In keeping with the modern Intelligent Design argument, which, incidently, is as old as Aristotle, I look back with esteem for an administration and faculty who were secure enough at times to allow the examination of other scholarly positions regarding the origin of the universe than the prevalent evolutionary theory which the College itself endorsed.
Similarly, I appreciated the administration’s willingness to allow guests to the campus representing other scholarly conclusions concerning the authorship of the Pentateuch than the documentary hypothesis. W. F. Albright and other renowned scholars have long since affirmed their support for the essential Mosaic authorship of the Bible’s first five books in the face of the 19th-century Graf-Wellhausen theory.
When I express my gratitude for an administration and faculty that allowed and even encouraged other expressions of the Christian faith than were represented by the appointed College spokespersons, I do not mean to diminish in the least the contribution of those religious spokespersons in regard to anything they taught, for of such things a liberal education consists. I am sure they were honest scholars in the sense that what they were presenting they believed to be true. From their perspective, those “errors” in the Bible were the honest-to-God truth!
It was one thing for President George Wishart to defend the right of a church-related liberal arts college to examine and even embrace a theory of evolution. Fanaticism must not be allowed to triumph over reason, and a mind that is compelled against its will is of the same opinion still! It is quite another thing, however, to elevate a theory to the status of dogma ignoring or refusing a fair hearing to other scholars in the field who have reached differing conclusions in their assessment of the same data. Surely this was not what Bacon envisioned for his New Atlantis.
Francis Bacon wrote, "There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error; first, the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power" (Kennedy 1994, 97). Echoing Bacon’s confidence, Wooster’s President Lord insisted that scientific discovery provided “eloquent witness” to that share of being that is “uncreated” and “infinite.” If President Lord was right and scientific discovery bears such “eloquent testimony,” is it too much to suppose that simple logic itself would corroborate that testimony? If we may tip our proverbial hats to Francis Bacon, the man who is credited with developing the scientific method, should we not also give due respect to the man whom Will Durant designated “America’s first philosopher” (1926, 365)? This is all the more important if we are to live out our core values, namely, “the aspiration to join the ability to think logically with the ability to act morally, to link science with service” <www.wooster.edu>. Of course, I am speaking here of Jonathan Edwards that Puritan stalwart whose entire works Yale is publishing and who himself became the president of the College of New Jersey (later called Princeton). Following Edwards’ penchant for logic in the Nature of True Virtue, our argument might proceed as follows: If true virtue consists in consent to “being in general,” or the “universal system of existence” (and who would dare to claim that his own private interest should take precedence over “being in general”?) then that portion of “being” or “existence” which is “uncreated” and “infinite” should be entitled to the greatest proportion of our consent to the degree that the glory of the “infinite” and “uncreated” exceeds the glory of the creature (Edwards 1879, 1:122-123; cf. 1:98). Simply put, therefore, the true scientist’s discoveries are a priestly work; hence Marconi could do nothing less than use the “G” word when he exclaimed following his first transatlantic message, “Behold what God hath wrought!”
Resuming the Edwardsean logic, we see that a true sense of proportion would dictate that the portion of being which is “uncreated” and “infinite” should be regarded as the chief and most essential share by a margin of an infinite landslide, and therefore entitled to the greatest honor by the same margin. Before that Being the nations of the world would be less than dust on any supposed scale capable of measuring their relative weight or worth. It hardly needs to be stated that the Supreme Being Himself of whom we speak, infinitely the greatest and best, would hold the scale (Brand 1991, 85). Surely He, and none other, is worthy of the “G” word. If, as a college community, we are to foster “the aspiration to join the ability to think logically with the ability to act morally, to link science with service,” dare we shrink from the “G” word when speaking of Him “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Jonathan Edwards the Puritan philosopher who became a college president can assist us if we will but reflect on his logic. Modernity has maligned the Puritans. We should not forget that the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, founded in 1660, began in a Puritan college. In 1663, 62 percent of the membership of the Royal Society were Puritans at a time when Puritans were but a small minority in England (Kennedy 1994, 98).
If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is “the greatest story ever told,” as Lowry well knew, it dare not be a lie, or we are just whistling in the dark. But we need to take this point a step further. If the resurrection is true, it logically follows that the words of the Resurrected One are true. The whole of the Old Testament which He verbally affirmed and to which He Himself was bound (Matt. 5:17-18), if we are to be consistent, must also be a true and reliable testimony. And this, rather than being viewed as a “fetter” to the mind, ought to inform The Mind’s Adventure ( to speak in Lowry’s terms); for it has enormous implications for the study of the physical sciences. Otherwise A=non-A, our education is rendered meaningless in proportion to our illogic, and we stand in danger of becoming fools, even damned fools.
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Lowry, Howard. 1950. The Mind’s Adventure. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.