1600 Grand Ave
St. Paul MN 55105
at the Class Of 1961
Golden Scots Induction Ceremony
By Darwyn E. Linder
First, congratulations to the Class of 2011. We know what being a Macalester grad has meant to the Class of 1961, and we hope it will have a similarly deep meaning in your lives.
Thanks to the college: Collectively, for putting on this wonderful celebration; historically, for being the unique place it was for us as students; presently, for a lasting commitment to excellence in liberal arts education; and especially, especially for the biographies that are found in our Memory Book, and even as say that I am profoundly saddened by the list of departed classmates that Elise just read, who’s biographies are not in the memory book, but in our hearts.
The biographies, collectively, illustrate the impact of the Macalester experience of 50 years ago on the lives we have lived. I encourage the Class of 2011 to read them, not as a model for your lives; you will confront a different world and a different set of challenges. No, read them to understand how we dealt with adversity, how we continued to learn and grow, and how we engaged with the communities in which we worked and lived.
“Community engagement,” “global engagement,” were, and are, bywords at Macalester; when we were on campus, more so today, and even more tomorrow. But remember what Buckminster Fuller said, “Think globally, act locally.”
But what are the tools that we can use for effective community engagement and how are they acquired?
I think there are three important tools and I believe they are developed in liberal arts education, regardless of your major:
Rationality – our discourse is relies on logic and reason.
Empiricism – broadly defined, not simply statistics; our discourse is based on facts.
Civility – we engage in discourse respectfully, and we listen!
How are these qualities learned in liberal arts education? At Macalester, circa 1957-61 they permeated the intellectual climate; more prominent in some classes than others and especially prominent in extracurricular activities: Community Council, Religion in Life Week, model U.N., Toastmasters and MacChatter Clan, and yes, in Green Mill seminars, although the rationality may have been a bit diluted by the favorite beverage we consumed.
When we disagreed we were not disagreeable. We learned to be rational, empirical and civil, and I’ll bet the same atmosphere is pervasive on campus today.
Now you might ask, “What about passion for my cause?” “What about being angered by injustice?” Passion, anger, even outrage are the energy sources that power our rational, empirical and civil response.
Now I want to tell you a very short story. Well, short for me anyway. About 13 years ago I was serving as President of the Academic Senate at Arizona State University and, consequently, as a member of the Arizona Faculties Council, which represented the faculties of the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona and Arizona State. We interacted regularly with the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) at their bimonthly meetings, and less often with the state legislature.
ABOR and the legislature became concerned about faculty teaching loads. “Why do we pay these people so much money to teach six hours per week?” was the standard way of framing the issue. The media jumped in and published a lot of inflammatory quotes from the politicians. The faculty were angry and wanted to fight back.
I wrote a monthly column in our Senate newsletter and some of the faculty wanted me to throw a few brickbats right back at the politicians. Instead, I wrote a column in which I described the effective response just as I have here; rational, empirical and civil, even though part of me just wanted to say to the faculty, “Don’t get into a hissing contest with a snake. The snake is better at it!”
Then I made Powerpoint my sword, used data to show what a faculty work week actually looked like (55 hours, on average), and I didn’t shout!
We arrived at a workable compromise with ABOR (thank you Dr. Mitau), and the legislature went on to other issues. I learned once again, that rational, empirical and civil discourse is a powerful tool.
Two quotes for you to think about:
“Facts are negotiable, but opinions are rock solid.” Eddie Basha, Arizona Regent (and he was mostly on our side).
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democratic U. S. Senator from New York.
Now here is a discourse in which I hope all of us will engage, ’61 and ’11 and everybody else. Higher education in America is like a threatened species. The economic ecosystem that sustained American higher education has been seriously compromised. Public higher education budgets are being cut in almost every state. Endowments for institutions like Mac took big hits in the recession (because of wise management Mac was not hit as hard as most comparable schools).
The value of higher education to our society is incalculable, for the knowledge and expertise it nurtures, but also for the ability of citizens to conduct the kind of rational, empirical and civil discourse I have described. Only that kind of discourse leads to wise decisions and good policy making, and higher education, almost uniquely, produces citizens who can conduct that kind of discourse.
So, 50 Years and Forward. The Class of 1961 will remain engaged with communities of all sizes, some of us on grand, international stages, like Kofi, as well as others on smaller but critically important stages like town meetings, caucuses, boards and committees, city councils and state legislatures, either elected, serving as staff or as concerned citizens. That’s what we do, and we hope the Class of 2011 will join us and all the Macalester alumnae and students who are so engaged. See you out there! Thank you.