Presidential Inauguration: Inaugural Address
Pamela B. Gann
October 23, 1999
(As prepared for delivery)
I greet those who are assembled here today: Chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Lowe and members of our Board of Trustees; delegates of sister institutions; members of the platform party who provided their greetings; former President of the College, Jack Stark, and his wife, Jil Stark; Presidents of the other Claremont Colleges; faculty, students, staff, and friends of Claremont McKenna College; and my own personal friends and family. I thank you for being here today.
We are assembled here to celebrate the origins and history of this College and to look ahead to our future. It is fitting that we assemble in Bridges Auditorium. Almost exactly 53 years ago, on October 6, 1946, 86 students and seven new faculty gathered in Bridges Auditorium, with trustees and presidents of the other Claremont Colleges, for the opening convocation of the Claremont College Undergraduate School for Men, the founding name of our College. These first students, many just returned from the war, did not have very far to walk to participate in the convocation, for most of them were housed in a quickly thrown together, barrack-fashion dormitory set up in the basement of this very auditorium. In order to provide some aesthetic relief, the basement was ingeniously decorated with potted palm trees, so the students called the new Bridges dormitory the "Coconut Grove."
I want to speak to you about our founders, my presidential predecessors, and Claremont McKenna College as a community. I bring to you our founders and presidential predecessors in their own words.
What was in the original thinking of the founders? We were a company of people devoted to the creation of an educational instrument on the highest level of influence. A company of people dedicated to a strategy of educating a select few. . . .
I regret that Claremont is called the Oxford of the West. Our development was entirely indigenous. We are not formulated on Oxford. We are patterned on the United States of America. Individual colleges are individual states, united together to do certain things in common. . . .
When I came to Claremont, Marston Quadrangle was a rye field; we had an architectural drawing of what the future might be . . . .
We look back, but I knew what the future was going to be. No one with half a sense could fail to see it. Millions of feet were restless to move westward. California was on its way to its birth. Put your hand to your ear, you could hear it. No risk, no gamble, it was a certainty. 500 acres and see what has happened. It is great to live by the future. One never gets tired of a vision. . . .
Dr. James A. Blaisdell, President of Pomona College 1910-1928; initiator and founder of the group plan of colleges in 1925; president of The Claremont Colleges, the central coordinating institution and Graduate School of the group of colleges 1925-36. These words are taken from his last speech to the Joint Meeting of Trustees of The Claremont Colleges, November 5, 1953.
A college for men in Claremont was originally a feature of the group plan in the late twenties. In general it was to be identified with education for business responsibilities, though its broad, liberal character was expected to distinguish it from colleges of commerce as generally established in university centers. . . . As events have turned out, its founding was delayed . . . .The nature of the educational problem with which we had originally been concerned seemed actually to have been altered . . . . Our perspectives on the human scene have been gravely altered by the developments of the past decade. Revolutionary change is upon us and, unless design is introduced into the pattern of events, catastrophe is in the law of change. The control of non-moral forces now released in our world can no longer be expected from an education whose primary purpose is to prepare men with techniques for the exercise of business and of public authority. . . . A larger and more dynamic sweep must feature our thoughts for leadership tomorrow. . . .
Moved by these considerations we seek to draw together in the curriculum of this proposed institution those elements which ought to be the common possession of men who aspire to leadership of corporate activities, public and private. Such material will be drawn from the reservoirs of literature, philosophy, the social studies and from broad basic studies of man's experience . . . . It is our feeling that the educational experience of students in this institution must be liberal, informal and intimate. It should proceed in an atmosphere charged with ethical and spiritual concern . . . The theoretical and the practical should be mated.
Russell M. Story, Professor of Political Science, Pomona College, and President of The Claremont Colleges 1937-1942. These words are taken from his remarks on the Men's College Project, April 2, 1941.
In 1945, with the war obviously drawing to an end, the G.I. Bill promised to pay for the education of returning veterans. It did not take a genius to figure out that now, if ever, was the time to start a college.
Observations from the Memoirs of Donald Carnegie McKenna, Trustee of the Board of Fellows, Claremont College, and one of the key founders of Claremont Men's College.
[The college is] a corporation . . . with all those potentialities which for better or worse we have in these later days bestowed upon that institution. . . . Men die fortunately or unfortunately. Corporations do not. . . . And of all corporations the "college" seems to be the most immune from any form of fatality. Characteristically a college binds the centuries into its dominion. It shapes lives. It fashions generations into its dominion. It makes history. . . . [T]he risks in creating a college outrun description. But the opportunities are beyond any telescopic discovery.
Remarks by Dr. James Blaisdell, May 15, 1947, Bridges Auditorium, on the celebration of Claremont Men's College as the newest member of the group plan.
These were our founders.
The First Three Presidents
It is easy to pin a label on a man, but it is hard to describe (or to circumscribe) his ideas with real accuracy. And yet, as a college president, I must be aware of the basic balance of our faculty members' views. Many presidents are not aware, and do not believe it is their business. But I differ. In the first place, Claremont is a special kind of college, dealing with the ideas where the life and death of the world is at stake. We dare not ignore the vast ideological conflict. . . . Underlying all of this talk about 'balance" is another point . . . . At a great college, a student will come into contact with all kinds of ideas. . . . What he gets from his professors, his fellow students, his books, is a combination of the safe and dangerous.
George C.S. Benson, President, Claremont Men's College, 1946 to 1969. Excerpt from President George Benson's "Balance on Campus," May 1967.
The students weren't at all sure they liked it when, twelve years ago, we broke the news that all of them must take four years of humanities. "Scripps College for Men" was one scornful response. Some didn't see why men who majored in economics and government needed heavy doses of liberal arts. But we insisted.
Excerpt from President George Benson's "Decisions in Darkness," July 1961.
[M]an's greatest freedom is the freedom to choose how he will respond to his circumstances. . . . [W]hat . . . is true of one man, must be true of a community of men - our College. The choice must be made as to how to respond to the circumstances of the 1970's, this last third of our Century. . . . These students currently enrolled will have inherited the responsibilities of managing our society by the year 2000. They will be and will have been the teachers, the executives, the Boards of Trustees, the lawmakers and the men who set the policy.
Remarks by President Howard R. Neville at his installation as the second president of Claremont McKenna College, March 21, 1970, Garrison Theater.
It is the relationship of independence and interdependence among the colleges that makes Claremont an exciting and promising educational center. I think homogeneity is a problem with the total academic structure of the nation. All colleges and universities have strong pressure to conform to a single mold. Claremont must strive to withstand that pressure.
Acting President Jack L. Stark, opening convocation, September 24, 1970.
Miss Evans typifies the student Claremont Men's College strives to admit. She is goal-oriented and highly motivated. We are delighted she will be attending CMC in the fall.
Comments by President Jack L. Stark to the press on the occasion of the admission of Kathleen Evans as the first woman student at Claremont Men's College, in March 1976. President Stark considered the admission of women among the most important decisions in his presidency and in the history of the College.
The future of this college is truly unlimited if it remains true to its founding mission and resists the temptation of self-satisfaction.
Remarks by President Jack L. Stark, opening convocation, September 1, 1998.
Our founders and our first three presidents through their words: we have listened again to their motivations, teachings, and vision.
Claremont McKenna College is a college like no other. It possesses a special mission in the context of liberal education. It sits in the midst of The Claremont Colleges, with its indigenous and unique vision of combining educational intimacy through numerous colleges with the overarching resources of a university.
Mr. Chairman Robert Lowe and other Trustees, I accept the responsibility that the Board of Trustees has bestowed upon me. I am proud to be the fourth President of Claremont McKenna College, to lead this College as one of the splendid colleges within The Claremont Colleges, and to represent you in the larger company of educated men and women who pursue teaching and scholarship as their primary role in life. It is clear that this College has, in such a short time, joined the ranks of colleges richly endowed in human and fiscal resources, and is now poised to make its presence felt even more forcefully on the landscape of higher education.
On this occasion, I am reminded, however, of an observation made by humanist, President of Yale, and baseball commissioner Bartlett Giamatti: "Being president of a university," he opined, "is no way for an adult to make a living. Which is why so few adults actually attempt to do it. It is to hold a mid-nineteenth-century ecclesiastical position on top of a late-twentieth-century corporation." Although there are grains of truth in this opinion, I have decided it must not hold true for Claremont, California, for as President Emeritus Jack Stark always noted, we have in Claremont more presidents per student enrolled than anywhere in the world.
I am fortunate to arrive at this College, unlike my predecessors, when no issue of financial security exists, and no great social or political crisis grips our country or this particular institution. We therefore have the luxury for an extended and deep conversation about our future. Conversation is at the heart of a fine liberal arts college and education, and it is also at the heart of useful collegiate self-examination. Let me make some suggestions about topics for that conversation, involving a vision of the College as a community.
The College As an Intentional Community with a Unique Mission
Claremont McKenna College has always been an intentional community. By this, I mean that it is clear with respect to its special mission to be a liberal arts college with a focus on educating leaders for business, the professions, and politics and public affairs. The founders and the first president emphasized both, indicating that future leaders in public and private life would be grounded in the humanities and in the studies of the great and enduring questions for humankind. In parallel, the founders and the presidents have also stated that they wanted a college that combined the theoretical with the practical. Our College's motto also is designed to capture this duality. Crescit Cum Commercio Civitas - or civilization increases with commerce. Thus, they have chosen a path that combines the duality of educating liberally and culturally, along with both the theoretical and pragmatic.
These combined purposes will always create inherent tensions in this college. I personally do not disagree with this combination as a philosophy of undergraduate education, for education is always, in part, an instrumental good designed to prepare students for careers and economic undertakings. The difficulty lies in the fact that American parents and students have become increasingly pragmatic in their expectations about the educational aims of college. Highly talented students enter our very finest colleges and universities, worried on the first day about preparation for a career and their first employment. In such an environment, they will discount the incontrovertible values of a liberal education and, therefore, discount the values of liberal arts colleges, which by characteristic and mission champion liberal education.
Because this College so clearly values, as part of its mission, the pragmatic and instrumental part of education, and our present culture places such a high value on these attributes, I fear that our students, and even some of our faculty, may undervalue the role of the humanities in our students' education. Through the humanities, we keep before our students some of the most fundamental questions about human existence, identity, values, and beliefs. The humanities preserve and transmit our culture. The humanities also keep before us questions of epistemology and questions about what knowledge is worth knowing. They also are largely responsible for the most basic content of a liberal arts education: The ability to read deeply and to interpret, whether it is text or art; to reason and think critically; to marshal an argument and a counter-argument; to master writing and oratory skills. Leaders of business and government most often rely upon speech, deed, and judgment, grounded in culture, history, and human understanding. Their movement up the career ladder may well depend upon modern technocratic skills learned through the majors in natural sciences and the social sciences, but their exercise of leadership will require grounding in those understandings and skills mastered through serious study of the humanities. I am concerned that our students, indeed most undergraduates, do not adequately associate the humanities and their importance to the world of business and public affairs.
The College as a Scientific and Technological Community
Claremont McKenna College faces another interesting challenge in undergraduate education, which is how to formulate the study of science and technology to the majority of its students who will not major in the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering. This problem confronts and confounds educators everywhere. I ask everyone in the audience to recall your own experiences with science and math classes. If you were a non-science major, were you taught in a way that makes sense to you today?
The question of how to teach these courses to students who do not major in them is a particularly profound question for our college. Science, mathematics, and engineering provide much of this country's comparative economic advantages; they lead to discoveries that improve our health and safety and overall quality of life; and they produce the military goods and services that provide for our national defense. Incontrovertibly, our graduates will lead scientific and technology oriented businesses and will become state and national legislators who must shape our public policy choices.
For these reasons, it is simply unacceptable for any students at this College to profess a lack of interest in science, mathematics, and technology. Yet, if we impose upon them this responsibility, in subjects that are unforgiving and demand much from the learner, then, we have a corresponding responsibility to invest in the faculty, facilities and related resources to really engage them in the scientific enterprise. Instruction should include active learning opportunities and research with faculty; the development of the conceptual understanding of science; the understanding of experimentation; and interdisciplinary courses linking the sciences to philosophy, ethics, history, and the social sciences.
What are the aims of such an educational program? Our students who do not major in science should obtain a rational and lasting impression of science and its interplay with society. It is a cultural imperative that we appreciate the scientific enterprise. It is a practical imperative that we appreciate the application of science. Without widespread public understanding and appreciation of science, our democratic society may fail to invest optimally in the public production of basic knowledge in science and technology to assure their continued vitality. Moreover, many of our graduates will participate directly in the decision-making process on societal issues having a scientific basis. It will be impossible for them to reach some independent judgment; rather, they must be educated to the appropriate uses of the scientific methods and opinions of scientific experts.
For these reasons, we need to pay even more attention to developing the best educational practices for favorable impact on student learning and development in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.
The College and the Information Community
Most of us now have a cyberspace address. Everyone in our family, except my parents, has such an address. We are so farsighted about the Internet that even our family dogs, Justin and Topaz, are not only AKC registered, but also have Internet domain-registered names, "Justin.com" and "Topaz.com," that are engraved on their dog identification tags.
We live in the so-called information society and the "new networked economy." Our College needs to grapple with issues that arise out of this fact. The simplest question concerns the importance that we place on educating students about information technology skills and a basic understanding of computing. I believe that we must place as much importance on these areas as we place on reading, writing, communications, and critical thinking. Information technology tools are ubiquitous in the workplace. Moreover, endless amounts of digitized information exist for research and teaching, politics, business, and entertainment. Soon, we can expect students to conduct virtual teamwork projects in cyberspace with peers in foreign universities and prepare a senior thesis in the form of a multimedia work that is far more effective than word-processed thoughts on a white piece of paper.
A harder question is how the application of information technology will change the nature of teaching and learning, and whether it poses some particular threat to the intimacy of the student and teacher relationship that we so justifiably preserve in our liberal arts colleges. I discern nothing unique about this question of pedagogy for liberal arts colleges. The focus on cognitive sciences and the brain should improve our understanding of how students learn and, therefore, improve all of our teaching methodologies. I also discern no threat from the application of information technology to the basic educational efficacy of residential liberal arts colleges. Educational efficacy for the impressionable and maturing youth, still depends on personal interaction for both learning and acquiring the associative values of studying with peers. In fact, a broader use of information technology generally in higher education to provide mass education more cheaply will most likely add increased value to those relatively fewer who have the opportunity to acquire an education in our small and intimate setting. I see therefore a threat only if we abandon the basic characteristics of intimacy and individual attention in our educational model.
An immediate and difficult question is how the existence of the information economy and the information society impact our choice of whom to hire and what to teach. In other words, how are these new fields to be reflected in the scholarship and teaching at our College. Let us consider just a few examples. Surely, our economists cannot ignore the information economy and information economics. Multimedia works will yield new means of expression and human interaction to be studied by the humanities. Information technology permits instantaneous cross-border communications, and is thus creating interesting questions about democracy and politics and about different national political and cultural attitudes toward freedom of expression and censorship. These are topics for our humanists and political scientists. The ongoing disputes about antitrust policy and the government's role in our information economy should interest our social scientists. These issues deserve our immediate attention, for our students are graduating now, not at some time out in the distant future, into this information society in which they must make choices and decisions about their work, their careers, and their personal lives.
The College and the Global Village
No college of our quality, ambition, and mission can ignore the impact of globalization. In particular, it should not be ignored by a college with a mission to educate leaders for business, the professions, and politics and public affairs. Moreover, our geographical location in southern California makes the topic natural for us to address. Dr. Blaisdell said to cup your hand to your ear and you could hear the masses moving westward, but you could also hear the masses moving north from Latin America and east from Asia. This college is located in a global village, a palimpsest of neighborhoods gathering onto our shores the culture and languages of their homelands. Los Angeles is also an economic gateway to and from Latin America and to and from Asia. Culturally, politically, and economically, we are participating in one of the grandest human experiments ever undertaken anywhere. We should work to capture this global village into our research, teaching, and the associative experiences of our students.
Americans tend to be inward looking, and our political races, even for a president, are largely about local and domestic issues. Nevertheless, many of the most serious problems for human kind are global in nature. We are increasingly connected globally by capital markets, trade, and information, yet we are breaking up into more nation states. We are at peace in the world, but we have a very large number of deployed peace-keeping forces in troubled spots around the globe. Human beings in the first world are enjoying economic prosperity, while billions of human beings become relatively poorer and suffer from a lack of basic health, nutrition and educational goods and services. While we fragment into more nation states, international organizations play increasing roles in organizing our global relationships. Examples include the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, the European Union, and the International Court on War Crimes at The Hague. Also, private non-state actors also play an important role. Examples include Medécins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), our latest Nobel Peace Prize winner; but examples also include cells of dangerous and intentional terrorists. We confront serious collective action problems in areas of the environment, health, and global security. Humankind can still inflict deliberately planned and executed, immoral deadly force on one another, while we in America pursue an optimistic culture of rationality and scientific discovery and a belief that humankind can constantly be improved.
Too many Americans and their offspring in colleges are not seriously enough engaged in the study and analysis of global issues. America will gradually lose its relative economic, military, and political weight in the world, while it also becomes more economically integrated and exposed to external environmental factors that will be increasingly more difficult to control. Today, we are educating some of the most talented students attending any college in the United States, and in 25 to 30 years, they will be our politicians and government elites, and the heads of critical businesses and not-for-profit organizations, all involved with global issues. When they graduate from this College in 2000 and 2001, will they be prepared to assume global leadership in private and public spheres? Under the lens of critical self-evaluation, we likely will conclude that we are certainly making significant and intelligent efforts in this regard, but that we fall short of meeting the needs of our students and of our society for global leadership. Our seal contains a map of the world. Let us more profoundly incorporate that vision into our mission.
The College and Civic Community
Our students will not be prepared for global leadership if we inadequately prepare them for civic leadership and responsibility more generally. Educating good citizens was the basic responsibility of the earliest colleges of the Republic. Today, American research universities, with their significant attention on rationality and scientific progress, and with significant numbers of students living off campus, have moved away from this older tradition of the aims of an education. Yet, this original role of the early American colleges is still especially well suited to the liberal arts college environment.
Why is this so? We create the most intimate residential and learning environments in higher education. Nearly every student resides on the campus for the entirety of her college experience. We do have small classes and frequent interaction between students and faculty. We place a high premium on significant student involvement in associations of students, whether it is student government, athletic teams, club sports, debate unions, performing arts groups, or student newspapers. At this College, 25 percent of our students play varsity-level sports, and we field champion debate teams. Our faculty and student affairs professionals still incorporate the doctrine of in loco parentis frequently in their work. In such an environment, the habits of civic virtue are likely to be learned.
In our residential communities, students understand their dependency on others for producing desirable outcomes that no single individual can achieve, whether it is the hotel functions of the college in providing rooms and food, or a winning sports team, or a successful choral performance. Today, most students arrive in college having never shared a room at home with a sibling. Often living with a roommate for the first time teaches that a student must unselfishly subordinate his or her individual needs at times for the advantages of others. Close and frequent interactions in the diverse settings of our colleges teach us that we need to practice tolerance for the habits and viewpoints of others, and to solve disputes by orderly and civil discourse and processes. These outcomes may sound very rudimentary, but they are indeed useful lessons learned in the intimacy of a liberal arts college where no one is a stranger and each student faces repeated interactions with other students and faculty throughout an academic year. These associative values are of inestimable worth in the preparation of youth for their adult roles in a democratic and civil society. We must do all that is within our reach to preserve these aspects of our College.
In addition to these types of attributes, our faculty contributes to students' preparation as good citizens by creating teaching environments in which students become comfortable with being made to feel uncomfortable. What do I mean by this? In the intimate liberal arts setting, strangers do not exist. Students know one another, and the faculty become deeply acquainted with their students. Faculty create safe havens in the classrooms, free from intolerance and prejudice, for students openly to study and discuss the most complex and contested issues of the day. The greatest education will be one that, in this safe haven, is intellectually disruptive and demanding for the individual student. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones said, "I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse." Well, I wish for our students, protected by this safe haven, to get their fair share of intellectual "abuse" through tough and analytical dialogue, while developing the habits of tolerance, openness, civility and generosity of spirit. I ask whether we as a faculty do enough of this in our teaching? If we succeed at creating this type of classroom environment, our alumni will be well prepared to participate in our less virtuous and intolerant public forums. These aims of education are among our most precious contributions to our civil society.
The College and the Community of Learning
One of the most wonderful characteristics of a college that creates a community of learning is that every day is a new day for members of that community. On a given day in Claremont, a teacher prepares a different method for teaching an old text, a scholar writes another four pages of her book, a student masters a theory that provides intellectual coherence to a subject, the football team learns a new offensive play, a pianist masters a difficult cadenza.
Similarly, a college, as an institution of learning, should subject itself to continual self-examination and renewal. Although a college is justifiably traditional because one of its greatest commitments is to preserve and give continuity to learning and culture, it is also intellectually innovative through its search for basic knowledge and incorporation of new knowledge into its research and teaching. A college is intellectually innovative because it addresses urgent and large questions for our society, such as those pertaining to our information society and our global village. A great liberal arts college maintains its original function to educate men and women for good citizenship, but it is innovative in preparing them for unparalleled local and global diversity. Such a college knows institutional integrity because it has the self-knowledge of its mission, subjects itself to self-criticism, and sets new directions.
Such an ambitious college invites into its fold only students who want to work on the questions of largest import. Such a dynamic college takes seriously its obligation to graduate alumni, liberally educated, prepared to join the company of educated men and women throughout the world who will address the great questions and problems of their day.
Such a college reaches beyond the work of its founders, reaches beyond the span of any single individual, and is the collective work of generations.
Claremont McKenna College is such a college. Claremont McKenna College is a college like no other.
I am delighted to be here today with so many people who care so very much about this unique place and who are dedicated to capture the opportunities of our splendid future.