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Service before self
Nov 7 2016
In 2016 President Glotzbach was honored by the education foundation of the Saratoga Springs Rotary for helping lead Skidmore in engaging with the community. Here are his remarks at the ceremony.

Thank you, Charles, for your kind remarks. Thank you to Rotary Education Foundation President Greg Grieco and to the Marketing Committee and the Foundation Board for this honor.

Congratulations to Kari Cushing and the Franklin Community Center. Kari, thank you for your leadership in enormously important work to help the less fortunate members of the Saratoga region.  kidmore College is very happy to support the Community Center through the annual Skidmore Cares initiative and in other ways throughout the year.

And let me say it is a very special honor – and quite a humbling experience – to share the stage today with Florence Andreson.  Florence is a proud and incredibly supportive Skidmore alumna; she is an Emerita Trustee; and she has served in a number of volunteer roles at the College across many years. Throughout her time in Saratoga Springs, she has provided extraordinary service to our community and to the Rotary Club, in particular. Congratulations, Florence. You are one of my all-time heroes.

My own resume does not obviously fit the profile of those who are recipients of this award. When Marie and I came to Skidmore, fourteen years ago, we created a division of labor in which she concentrated more on the relationship between the College and the city, and I kept my focus on organizations that support higher education. (Indeed, Marie received this award several years back, and I'm just now catching up. This is, in fact, the typical situation in our house: I'm used to being the trailing spouse.)

But each of these areas of endeavor is important to us. We deeply respect and cherish the Saratoga Springs community, both as a place to live and as a wonderful location for Skidmore College. Marie has worked – and continues to work – to ensure that Skidmore is a good and supportive neighbor. And the many opportunities for volunteer activity that Saratoga Springs affords are important to our students, faculty, and staff.

By contrast, my service has been focused more on supporting the enterprise of higher education itself – especially in small liberal arts colleges such as Skidmore – through national higher education associations.  hese organizations help to shape the broader conversation within the higher education community about how best to do our work of teaching and learning. They also engage legislators and others on topics as diverse as accreditation, other forms of regulation, and student aid (such as Pell Grants). And finally, they provide professional development opportunities to college administrators, helping them better understand the challenges we all must address and enabling them to perform at higher levels in their positions.

These things are important, because college and university administrators support the central work of educating our young people, which I believe is some of the most important work that there is to do. All too often today, our colleges and universities are tarred with the general cynicism and suspicion that currently attaches to so many once-venerated institutions. There is an image of college life that is epitomized in popular culture in images of football, fraternities, frivolity, and their sometimes more serious consequences.  Fun is certainly a legitimate part of the undergraduate experience (though Skidmore does not have a football team, and I am very glad that we do not have fraternities or sororities). And some of the internal disputes in higher education can seem downright silly when caricatured in the press. 

But I would be the first to admit that there are indeed things that happen on our campuses that legitimately prompt hard questions and merited criticism. Colleges and universities face many difficult vexing issues that reflect deeper troubles in our society and that we are all working hard to address. So let me just say two things about why the primary educational work we do is so important, and why so many of us see what we do not just as a job but as a vocation – a calling:

First, it is not an exaggeration to say that everything we have learned as a species across nearly four millennia of recorded history – the accumulated knowledge, cognitive skills, and wisdom of the human race – must be transmitted from generation to generation if it is to be preserved and, ultimately increased. This process of transmission, when everything we human beings have learned over time is carried forward from one generation to another, reaches its peak in the moment of an undergraduate education. Not that undergraduates can master this enormous body of knowledge by commencement day, but rather they have to learn to appreciate the breadth and depth of these human achievements, and even more importantly, they have to learn how to learn – so they can keep learning, preserving, and adding to human knowledge over their lifetimes. As a college president, I attach the highest value to this educational project, and I feel a deep corresponding responsibility to help carry it forward.

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Secondly, our society is increasingly prone to evaluating the worth of who we are and what we do in purely economic terms. David Brooks, for one, has written insightfully and critically of this tendency. In my world, this concept of value manifests itself as an unexamined narrative that views a college education entirely as a personal good measurable purely in economic terms – as a personal investment with a monetary return that accrues primarily, or perhaps even exclusively, to the individual who earns a degree. Of course, a college education is and should represent a personal economic good. It should lead to a good job and a meaningful professional and personal life, and the actual data demonstrate that, by and large, it does.

But at the same time, we need always to remember that a college education is also intended to be a SOCIAL good, one that should accrue value to the larger society and not just to the person earning the degree. This is why Skidmore"s mission statement includes the aspiration that we prepare our students to be "informed, responsible citizens."  This commitment means that we expect our graduates to contribute – to give back – to their communities, their nations, and ultimately to the world in ways that increase the general good. 

Every fall at Skidmore's Opening Convocation, when we welcome our new students, I challenge them to live up to this part of Skidmore"s mission: to find their own cause – their particular way of leaving the world a better place than they found it. We try to keep this idea alive throughout their four years at the College and in our graduates" continuing lives as alumni. In my own work with higher education organizations, I have tried to advance these values as well.

And here the mission of Skidmore College, my own service within higher education, and the guiding principles of the Rotary organization perfectly align.  With the many community projects the Saratoga Springs Rotary Club sponsors and supports, both in Saratoga Springs and around the world, and through the scholarships you fund, you demonstrably increase the overall measure of social good.

Your good work exemplifies Rotary International"s commitment to "encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of a worthy enterprise" – always emphasizing "service before self." Today more than ever, it is enormously important that each of us actively support this understanding of service as a primary value, and defend the underlying concept of social good, because, sadly, it is under attack from all sides – most especially from those who see the world solely in terms of their own gains and losses and who do not acknowledge the basic fact that a civil society depends upon mutual good will and the sharing of common concerns, not just for ourselves alone but for all our fellow citizens together.

"Service before self."  What would our nation and, ultimately, our world look like if this imperative were more broadly celebrated and embraced than it currently is? Let us continue to work together to find out.

Thank you, again, for this wonderful award.

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Connection and Continuity
May 22 2016
There is much to celebrate today about what you have done to reach this point in your life, and there is much to anticipate about what you will do tomorrow. The paths you choose will be uniquely your...

Connection and Continuity

Good morning. On this beautiful spring day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, family members, Trustees, members of the faculty, and honored guests in attendance at this celebratory event: Skidmore College's 105th Commencement. Above all, to the members of the Skidmore College Class of 2016 – to those receiving Master's degrees, bachelor's of arts and bachelor's of science degrees today, heartfelt congratulations!

You have just heard from Ms. Linda Toohey. Today is a graduation day of sorts, for her as well. Linda has served for fifteen years as a Trustee of Skidmore College and for the last four years as an accomplished and transformative Chair of the Board. Today, Linda is stepping down from that leadership role and retiring from the Board of Trustees. I ask that we give her a sincere round of applause to thank her for her outstanding service to the College.

We invest important life transitions in symbolism: In addition to the American flag, there are 32 other national flags arrayed on either side of the stage, representing the homelands of those graduating seniors who have traveled far to learn with us and who, in turn, have enriched the Skidmore community with their presence and their perspectives.

The bagpipers who led most of you into the Opening Convocation in September of your freshman year reappeared today to herald your final moments as Skidmore students. Then, at the end of this ceremony, they will lead you out into your new lives as Skidmore alumni. Four years ago, at that Opening Convocation, those of you seniors who were new first-year students wore green class t-shirts with '2016' in purple numerals. Those shirts signaled both the bonds you would soon establish with your classmates and your goal of completing a course of studies that would bring you to this day. Now, four years later, your academic robe and accompanying flourishes serve as outward signs of your hard-won accomplishments. I hope that each of you is proud of what your cap, gown, and honor cords say about what you have done during your time at Skidmore. And by the way, your gowns are made of recycled materials, as one more symbol highlighting our commitment to environmental sustainability.

The array of ornate regalia in evidence here today connects each of us to the rich and abiding history of higher learning. This form of dress hearkens back to the medieval university and reflects a continuity of tradition extending across nine centuries. It also reminds us that yours is just one of many generations of young people who have come to the academy seeking preparation for productive and meaningful lives and, I trust, some measure of wisdom. Those of us on stage wear our own academic robes to signify that we too have made similar journeys. This is your moment of transition, triumph, and no doubt, some trepidation, but you can take a measure of encouragement in the fact that we and countless others have traveled this path ahead of you.

Your own personal journeys will be shaped, in part, by larger social forces that act upon all of us. In fact, your generation already has been forging new relations to society and to one another in a time when traditional social structures are themselves in considerable flux. Yours is the most diverse generation in American history, and the range of perspectives represented across your cohort reflects what the Pew Research Center describes as "a myriad of views on many of the important issues of [your] time."1 You have come of age in a world marked by social media, and you are highly connected in the virtual realm. At the same time, your generation is much less attached than previous ones to political structures – e.g., traditional political parties – or organized religion. And yet, the Pew data also show that your generation remains optimistic about the future. I sincerely hope that each of you shares that sense of optimism.

I also hope you will place a value on social connection that is rooted, in part, in your college experience. In this past year, we have shared the profound experience of coming together as a community of respect, trust, and care. This was especially true on the two sad occasions when we gathered to commemorate the loss of Michael Hedges and Will Golden – who tragically were taken from us. As seniors, few of you personally knew these members of the first-year class. Even so, you too gathered with your fellow students and other members of the community to stand in sorrow and solidarity; you too felt a sense of loss born out of your membership in this special institution. And at the same time you felt the support of your fellow students who were united in facing these challenges together.

Now, as you prepare to leave this close-knit campus community and move forward in your own lives, let me leave you with just two more thoughts about the world of work you are about to enter – whether through a job or by pursuing advanced studies in graduate or professional school.

First, even in these challenging economic times, don't settle for work that just enables you to survive but seek out work that speaks to you in a deeply personal way – ideally, something that engages your creative spirit, something you find so fulfilling that you will be amazed that someone is actually paying you to do it. We human beings intrinsically seek to create meaning across all the many dimensions of our lives. My hope is that you find meaning in your work-life and that you are able to regard what you do as important. It doesn't have to be if-I-do-this-right-I'll-win-a-Nobel-Peace-Prize important, but your work should be something about which you honestly can say (to yourself), "What I am doing is valuable. It makes a difference." And the good news is that you get to decide what is important – to determine just what kind of difference you want to make in the world.

Second, in a recent broadcast of the National Public Radio program "Studio 360," host Kurt Anderson interviewed the acclaimed theatre, film and television actor Frank Langella.2 At one point in the interview, Mr. Langella recounted a bit of advice he received as a young actor, just 24 years old, from a director who said to him, "Try to, in your career as an American actor, associate your name with the word 'quality,' and you will survive." I hope that you will approach your own work with a similar determination. And if you combine that determination with your creative spirit, you will do much more than survive – you will thrive, and you will lead. Certainly, if you regard your work as meaningful and important you will want to do it well. And I trust that you've already learned that performing at a high level, no matter what you are doing, is intrinsically satisfying.

There is another more extrinsic aspect of all this to keep in mind as well. Even though you will have left our campus to seek your own path through the professional world, your Skidmore degree connects you to a larger community of perceived value that includes all Skidmore graduates past, present, and future. In short, the Skidmore brand is now inextricably part of the brand called 'you'. Your degree gains this extrinsic value, in part, because of what other Skidmore alumni have done and how well they have done it, for the world now will associate you with them.

Conversely, the important work you do well helps to create value for your fellow alumni. Our new Strategic Plan includes the expectation "that when potential employers or admissions deans of graduate and professional schools see 'Skidmore College' on a resume, they will think, 'This is someone who will elevate our organization.'" If you strive, through your own work, to associate your name with the word 'quality', you will fulfill this expectation. Similarly, as we work together to continue to improve the educational opportunities we offer to successive generations of students at the College – and as Skidmore's reputation continues to improve as a consequence – your degree becomes more valuable as well. In short, we all remain connected through the extended Skidmore community in a web of both intrinsic and extrinsic value.

There is much to celebrate today about what you have done to reach this point in your life, and there is much to anticipate about what you will do tomorrow. The paths you choose will be uniquely yours. And at the same time, you will always be connected, in so many ways, first of all to everyone in the Class of 2016 but also to everyone in all those classes that have come before you, as well as those yet to come.

Be mindful of those connections, embrace them, and nurture them.

Congratulations, and may the force be with you. 

 

1 Pew Research Center, "Millennials in Adulthood" 

2 "Studio 360" 

 

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Community, Connection, and Friendship
May 16 2015
Good morning. On this wonderful day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, family

Good morning. On this wonderful day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, family members, trustees, members of the faculty, and honored guests in attendance at this celebratory event, Skidmore College’s 104th Commencement. Above all, to the members of the Skidmore College Class of 2015, both undergraduates and those receiving master’s degrees today, heartfelt congratulations!

In addition to the American flag are 33 other national flags arrayed on either side of the stage, representing the homelands of those graduating seniors who have traveled far to learn with us and who, in turn, have enriched the Skidmore community with their presence and their perspectives.

We clothe important life transitions in symbolism: The bagpipers who led the majority of you into the Opening Convocation in September of your freshman year today reappeared to herald your final moments as Skidmore students; and then, at the end of this ceremony, they will lead you out into your new lives as Skidmore alumni. Four years ago, at that Opening Convocation, those of you who were new first-year students wore green class T-shirts with “2015” in orange numerals. Those shirts signaled both the bonds you would soon establish with your classmates and your goal of completing a course of studies that would bring you to this day. Now, four years later, your academic robe and accompanying flourishes serve as outward signs of your hard-won accomplishments. I hope that each of you is proud of what your cap, gown, and honor cords say about what you have done during your time at Skidmore. And by the way, your gowns are made of recycled materials, as one more symbol highlighting our commitment to environmental sustainability.

The array of ornate regalia in evidence here today connects each of us to the rich and abiding history of higher learning. This form of dress hearkens back to the medieval university and reflects a continuity of tradition extending across nine centuries. It also reminds us that yours is just one of many generations of young people who have come to the academy seeking preparation for productive and meaningful lives and, I hope, some measure of wisdom. Those of us on stage wear our own academic robes to signify that we too have made similar journeys. This is your moment of transition, triumph, and, no doubt ,some trepidation, but you can take a measure of encouragement in the fact that we and countless others have traveled this path ahead of you.

For the past two years, we have focused special attention on a fundamental question about the College: What kind of community do we want to be? We have consistently answered that we are determined to be a community of respect, inclusion, and excellence. And we deeply believe that the excellence we want to see in the lives of our graduates is most likely to be fostered in a respectful, caring, and supportive campus community. We know that we sometimes fall painfully short of achieving that ideal.

Sometimes I worry that we talk too frequently about community and the connections I hope we all feel to the College and to one another. These ideas are too important to be devalued by overuse; we need to keep them fresh and crisp in our consciousness. So let me shift for a moment and speak of another and related form of connection, but one we don’t talk about quite so often: friendship. A college community is a place where we forge what are often our first adult friendships—ones that, quite literally, will last across our entire lifetime and that grow more meaningful with each passing year. Marie and I frequently meet alumni from decades past who have maintained their Skidmore friendships for 40, 50, 60 years, or more. And I cannot tell you how many times we have heard about Skidmore friends who were there to give care and compassion at the end of a life.

The importance of friendship within human affairs is hardly a new insight. The deep bond that joined the warriors Achilles and Patroclus is a major motif in Homer’s Iliad, and writing four centuries later, the Greek philosopher Aristotle thought friendship to be so important that he remarked, “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”1 But as the pace of contemporary life speeds up and technology increasingly tempts us to replace face-to-face interactions with virtual connections, it can be easy to feel friendships—and even the understanding of what friendship means— slipping away. Indeed, in the Facebook universe, “to friend” has become a verb that refers to a trivial activity that is light-years removed from what it take, and what it means, to become a genuine friend to someone. So in this world of clicks and swipe-rights, it is worth reminding ourselves of what it truly means to be a friend in the highest sense of that term.

One of the best expressions of this deeper meaning that I have encountered comes from an unlikely source, Robert Tyre Jones. Better known as Bobby Jones, he was one of the greatest golfers of all time and became a national sports hero in the 1930s, at a time when the country desperately needed signs of hope in the midst of a crushing depression. Later in his life, on an occasion when he was receiving what he regarded as a signature honor, Bobby Jones spoke the following words to those in attendance:

When I say that I am your friend, I have pledged to you the ultimate in loyalty and devotion. In some respects friendship may even transcend love, for in true friendship there is no place for jealousy. When I say that you are my friends … I am at once affirming my high regard and affection for you and declaring my complete faith in you and trust in the sincerity of your expressions.2

Pause for a moment and think about your own very closest Skidmore friends, many of whom, no doubt, are here with you today. I hope you could say to that small number of persons that you too have “pledged to [them] the ultimate in loyalty and devotion.” And I hope you would affirm that the connections joining us one to another in our deepest friendships represent one of the highest expressions of human interaction.

We could say that the ensemble of one’s friendships constitutes a kind of micro-community. At a time when the world can so easily break one’s heart on matters that are truly important or even those that are trifling in the larger scheme of things, we can always turn to the members of that micro-community for affirmation, for support, for a reminder that community matters and that there are other people who absolutely will stand with you. They always will have your back. See to it that, as a true friend, you stand with your friends and always have their back as well.

As a human institution made up of imperfect beings, Skidmore College may never arrive at that omega point that would perfectly realize all the values we cherish and espouse. But I do believe that we are a community where genuine friendships occur and the values associated with authentic connections are respected. In part because of these relationships, we are better than some of what we have seen this past year would indicate, and we can and must continue striving to be better tomorrow than we are today.

That’s why, at the Opening Convocation referenced above, I challenged the members of the new entering class to discover your own way to leave the Skidmore community better than you found it. As we gather here today, many of you should feel pride in the different ways you accepted that challenge. And your college is definitely better for what you have done during your time here.

The strength of a community is often revealed in how it responds when it seems most deeply challenged. I want to assure the members of the Class of 2015 that those of us who will remain here after you have departed will rise above the challenges of this past year. We will continue the struggle to make Skidmore the kind of place in which all of us understand that even though we cannot all be friends in the highest sense of this concept, we nevertheless can stand with one another; we all can have one another’s back. Within our community, we should be able to question one another’s position on any issue, to disagree vigorously on occasion if necessary, but we also should remember that, at the end of the day, we are all on the same team.

Those of you receiving degrees today have become one community within the larger community of communities that upon your graduation will comprise more than 37,000 current Skidmore alumni. I hope your special identity as members of your graduating class is important to you. Do not underestimate the value of the friendships you have made along the way; they are one of the key forces holding your community together. Continue to care about one another and strengthen your relationships. Continue to care about the College and feel pride in the progress we will continue to make. Stay connected to one another; continue to build both your own community and the extended Skidmore community at large.

Stay connected to the College, and help us stay connected to you. Let us continue to support you through Skidmore’s professional networks and our Career Development Center—which is available to you for the rest of your life—and, above all, through all the relationships you have forged throughout your time here with professors, coaches, members of the staff and administration, and others. Cherish and build upon all these connections, for Skidmore is now an indelible part of your personal identity— of who you are today and who you will become tomorrow.

To each of today’s proud recipients of Skidmore College degrees, I wish for you the full blessings of good fortune and good friendships.

1 Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics,” W. D. Ross, trans., in The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard Mckeon, ed. (New York: Random House, 1941).

2 Quoted in The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf, Mark Frost (New York: Hachette Books, 2004).

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May 17 2014
Before we send you out into the world wrapped in the hopes and dreams of your parents, other family members, and good friends, let me offer just one hope of my own for your future: I hope that, in you...

Words

Commencement Remarks
17 May 2014

Philip A. Glotzbach
President
Skidmore College

Good morning. On this wonderful day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, family members, Trustees, members of the faculty, and honored guests in attendance at this celebratory event: Skidmore College’s 103rd Commencement.

Above all, to the members of the Skidmore College Class of 2014 both undergraduates and those receiving Master’s degrees today, congratulations!

The seventeen national flags arrayed on either side of the stage represent the homelands of those graduating seniors who have traveled far to learn with us and who, in turn, have enriched the Skidmore community with their presence and their perspectives.

We cloak important transitions in symbolism: The bagpipers who led the majority of you into the Opening Convocation in September of your Freshman year today reappear to herald your final moments as Skidmore students and then, at the end of this ceremony, to take you out into your new lives as Skidmore alumni. Four years ago, at that Opening Convocation, those of you who then were first-year students wore your red class t-shirts, representing the bonds you would establish with your classmates. Today you have made friendships that will remain with you for the rest of your lives.

Your academic robe and accompanying flourishes serve as outward signs of your hard won academic accomplishments. I hope that each of you is proud of what is represented by what you wear today. And by the way, your gowns are made of recycled materials, as one more symbol highlighting our commitment to environmental sustainability.

The ornate regalia in evidence here today connects each of us to the rich and abiding history of higher learning. This particular form of dress hearkens back to the medieval university, representing a continuity of experience extending across nine centuries. It also reminds us that yours is one of many generations of young people who have come to the academy seeking both wisdom and preparation for productive and meaningful lives. Those of us on stage wear our own academic robes to signify that we too have made a similar journey. This is your moment of transition, triumph, and (no doubt, some) trepidation, but you can take a measure of encouragement in the fact that we and countless others have traveled this path ahead of you.

Before we send you out into the world wrapped in the hopes and dreams of your parents, other family members, and good friends, let me offer just one hope of my own for your future: I hope that, in your time at Skidmore, the comments of your professors, along with your own work in traversing our curriculum, have impressed upon you the power of language. If you were to take just one primary lesson from your liberal education this realization would be a very good one: Words have meaning. Meanings do evolve over time in living languages, but words nonetheless carry with them the sedimentation of past usages that can be discovered and invoked, and that should not be lightly ignored. We are creatures who make sense of things through the narratives we construct about our world and our lives. It is simply not possible to overstate the importance of this aspect of human affairs.

Consider the following fable that is embedded in Marcus Zusak’s lyrical and poignant novel The Book Thief1, which tells the story of Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II who falls in love with reading and writing. It is written by her friend Max, who is a Jew hiding from the Nazis.

There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:

  1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
  2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
  3. He would one day rule the world.

The young man wandered around for quite some time, thinking, planning, and figuring out exactly how to make the world his. Then one day out of nowhere, it struck him – the perfect plan. He’d seen a mother walking with her child. At one point, she admonished the small boy, until finally, he began to cry. Within a few minutes, she spoke softly to him, after which he was soothed and even smiled.

The young man rushed to the woman and embraced her. “Words!” He grinned.

“What?”

But there was no reply. He was already gone.

Yes, the Führer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany. … It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

That is the end of the fable.

The words planted by Adolf Hitler (and many others) did indeed grow until their shadow threatened to occlude the sun across the entire world. The vision those words described was opposed by many courageous Germans and by people of other nations as well – the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the British political leader Winston Churchill come immediately to mind. But such critical perspectives were too often drowned out by the voices of too many others who either were indifferent or simply failed to understand the implications of what the Nazis’ were saying.

In the end, the narratives of anti-Semitism and unbridled nationalism that took hold in Nazi Germany led to horrific actions that had to be opposed not only by words but also by actions. Millions of lives and much treasure were sacrificed before the rest of the world overcame the effects of those words. And unfortunately, they still hold sway over too many minds even today.

I apologize for dwelling, on this day of celebration, upon an unhappy example of the power of narrative to affect human lives. So let us also be reminded of the power of words to inspire us to make our world a brighter place. Consider the following sentences:

We hold these truths to be self-evident ...

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

I have a dream today.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. (Nelson Mandela)

When you know better, you do better. (Maya Angelou)

Because of the explosive growth of social media – from Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr to Pinterest (yes, your President knows what these are) – and other electronic means of communication, our capacity to create and disseminate narratives has increased exponentially. As a result, today words of all kinds are being planted across the world at an unprecedented rate:

  • words about climate change,
  • words about who gets to shape our political discourse and who gets to vote,
  • words about the kind of education your children will receive in their schools,
  • words about the fundamental principles that should guide the formation of a government in those parts of the world undergoing massive political change,
  • words about what constitutes the good life for a human being,
  • words that ultimately will define the kind of world you, and your children, and your grandchildren will inhabit as the years go forward.

Your Skidmore education should help you understand the importance of what we say about these and other topics of note, especially in our political discourse.

On a more personal scale, as the young man in Zusak’s fable discovered, words can hurt or soothe. This past year, some of you graduates participated in projects such as “On the Record” and “I Too Am Skidmore,” pointing out, yet again, that words spoken on the Skidmore campus can help to build up our community or tear it down. Words have power. And through your words, you students who created these projects have reminded us of our deepest values as an educational community – principal among them, the requirement always to treat one another with respect, even when we disagree or approach the world from different perspectives. I applaud you for your efforts and for your attention to the narratives that define the Skidmore community.

So, members of the Class of 2014, as you chart your paths toward the realization of your own dreams, pay attention to the words you choose to plant along the way – what you say to your friends, to those you love, to your colleagues at work, to total strangers. Words have meaning. Arguments have logical (or illogical) structure, and they depend upon factual claims that can be verified or refuted. These meanings and structures need to be interrogated and, in many instances, challenged. Our political leaders – and ultimately all of us as citizens of a democracy – need to be held accountable for what we say. As beneficiaries of a liberal education, you possess the intellectual tools to do this crucial work. My hope is that, in your lives as informed responsible adult human beings, you will use those tools and pay close attention to the words that you and others are planting across our land and across the globe.

Winston Churchill once remarked that “we build our buildings, and then they build us.” My point is that we construct great structures of words in which we also dwell. These linguistic structures can be as invisible to us as the air we breathe. Or we can choose to see them – to make them visible, to understand how profoundly they shape our lives, and take full responsibility for our own role in creating our own narratives and contributing to the greater human story. Plant and cultivate your own words carefully. And notice what others are sowing as well. Words have meaning. Words have power.

Thank you for your kind attention.

1 Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).

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May 18 2013
Good morning. On this splendid day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, family members, Trustees, members of the faculty, and honored guests in attendance at this celebratory event: Skid...

Social Justice and Liberal Education

Commencement Remarks
18 May 2013

Philip A. Glotzbach
President
Skidmore College

Good morning. On this splendid day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, family members, Trustees, members of the faculty, and honored guests in attendance at this celebratory event: Skidmore College’s 102nd Commencement.

Above all, to the members of the Class of 2013, both undergraduates and those receiving Master’s degrees today, congratulations!

The 22 national flags arrayed on the stage represent the homelands of those graduating seniors who have traveled far to learn with us and who, in turn, have enriched the Skidmore community with their presence and their perspectives.

For most of you graduates, today marks an important way station in your personal journey from adolescence to adulthood. We human beings have learned that such significant moments of transition come deeply invested with meaning born, in part, of their inherent ambiguity: Inevitably there is a sense of loss, as you leave behind the now familiar campus, your friends, professors, coaches, mentors, and others who have shaped this community as you have experienced it. And yet these feelings are offset by an awareness of the broad horizon of possibility that opens now before you.

As a way of highlighting their significance, we cloak important transitions in symbolism: The bagpipers who led the majority of you into the Opening Convocation in September of your Freshman year today reappear to lead you through your final moments as Skidmore students and then, at the end of this ceremony, out toward your new life as Skidmore alumni. Four years ago, at that Opening Convocation, you wore your blue class t-shirt, representing the bonds you would establish with your classmates. Today you have indeed made friendships that will remain with you for the rest of your lives, and your bachelor’s gown and accompanying regalia serve as outward signs of your hard won academic accomplishments. The same is true for those receiving Master’s degrees. I hope that each of you is proud of the accomplishments represented by the regalia you wear today.

Donning the ornate trappings of academia also reminds us that we participate in an activity that has a richly sedimented and abiding history. This form of dress hearkens back to the medieval university and represents a continuity of experience extending across nine centuries. It also reminds us that yours is one of many generations of young people who have come to the academy seeking both wisdom and preparation for a productive and meaningful life. Those of us on stage wear our own academic regalia to signify that we too have traveled this path. This is your moment of transition, but you can take a measure of encouragement in the fact that we and many others have gone this way before you.

Just as you have changed over your time at Skidmore, so too is the College a different institution than it was when you entered. Like the individuals it serves, a College follows its own path of self-discovery and self-realization. Over the past several months, you students have prompted numerous important conversations about our values and how well we do or do not live up to them. We value diversity and inclusion. But are we as inclusive a community as we wish to be? No we are not – not yet. We are working on it. We have invested considerable time and resources to improve our institutional practices and attitudes. We have made progress. But there is more to be done, and you can be assured that this work will continue.

Our recent community conversations have invoked the concept of social justice – certainly an important notion for any college that focuses above all else on liberal education. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that at the root of the concept of liberal education stands the Latin term ‘liber’ – free. A liberal education is a course of study appropriate to a free person – someone who is responsible for what he or she thinks and how she or he acts. But at the same time, it is meant to be a freeing education – one that liberates the individual from the bonds of ignorance, ideology, and the undue influence of uninformed social pressure. In helping to create free individuals, liberal education necessarily concerns itself with the question of what constitutes social and political freedom. What does a society require to enable free people to flourish? What kind of political, economic, social, and cultural structures should it cultivate?

The notion of social justice belongs squarely in these conversations. The concept arose out of a religious context. The term ‘social justice’ was first used by the 19th Century Jesuit priest Luigi Taparelli, and it remains an important and ongoing concern of the Jesuit order today. Over the next one and one-half centuries, it became the subject of numerous Papal writings, and it finds both antecedents and resonances in the other great religions of the world – for example, in the Jewish notion of Tikkun olam, healing the world, or the Islamic injunction to give alms and care for the poor, to cite just two examples.

The contemporary philosopher Martha Nussbaum approaches the concept of social justice through another notion that also has long been a central theme within liberal education: human dignity. She writes,

Human beings have a dignity that deserves respect from laws and social institutions. This idea has many origins in many traditions; by now it is at the core of modern liberal democratic thought and practice all over the world. The idea of human dignity is usually taken to involve an idea of equal worth: rich and poor, rural and urban, female and male, all are equally deserving of respect, just in virtue of being human, and this respect should not be abridged on account of a characteristic that is distributed by the whims of fortune.1

And here, Nussbaum asks her own questions:

But what does it mean to respect the dignity of a human being? What sort of support do human capacities demand from the world, and how should we think about this support when we encounter differences of gender or sexuality? What types of legal and political treatment are required to treat people as dignified and equal in the modern world…? How, finally, should we think about each other across the divisions that a legacy of injustice has created? How, we might ask – given the ample grounds history gives people for suspicion, anger, and even perhaps, hatred – might we overcome hatred by love?2

These questions are decidedly non-trivial. To the contrary, they are challenging and difficult to answer in the context of a complicated and increasingly interconnected world.

They also point toward the deep connection more and more of us see between a commitment to social justice and the urgency of developing ways to achieve a more sustainable relationship between human beings and the planetary ecosystem that makes all life on earth possible. Understanding and acting on this connection is given even grater urgency by recent scientific findings that the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million – a level not seen for millions of years, at a much earlier time when the climate was warmer and ocean levels were dramatically higher than today. If we are unable to take concerted, worldwide action to limit – and ultimately reduce – the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, we likely will face a global catastrophe of unprecedented scale. Such issues of responsibility, foresight, and the capacity for collective action also stand at the heart of liberal education, and I sincerely hope that during your time at Skidmore you have encountered and wrestled with them.

It is not the job of a liberal arts college – or, more specifically, the faculty of a liberal arts college – to provide easy answers to such questions. Rather, it is our responsibility, first, to teach our students that such questions are important to a free and responsible human being, second, to demonstrate that such issues need to be approached with respect and interrogated with intelligence and rigor, and third to help students develop the capacities to undertake this work on their own. To treat such important issues in any other way would be to trivialize them and risk substituting ideology for genuine inquiry.

Liberal education cannot shy away from asking difficult questions. In fact, as one educational theorist has urged for more than twenty years, we need to “teach the controversies.”3 Some may find it ironic that one such controversy relates to the legitimacy of the concept of social justice itself. That is to say, social justice is itself a contested notion today, and as we explore this concept with our students, they need to understand that there are responsible theorists who consider this concept to be at best redundant and at worst fundamentally incoherent. To understand and evaluate these critiques is part and parcel of interrogating the meaning and application of social justice. If we truly care about it, then it is important to understand it in this kind of depth. If we do not do so, we risk turning a rich and evocative concept into a useless catch phrase.

Our faculty is certainly up to this challenge. Indeed, those of you graduates who have been most active in our recent discussions have benefited from the work you have done with your professors on the topics I have been referencing. Moreover, you have reminded us that, at a school such as Skidmore, teaching is not just a oneway transaction through which faculty members simply pour information into the empty vessels that are their students. Here teaching and learning occur in the context of rich relationships, based on mutual respect, in which we expect students to be active participants in claiming their own education and in which professors ultimately expect to learn from their students. Indeed, our goal is to create an educational environment that fosters the freedom and capacity of students to expect that their ideas, questions, and reflections – including those that break against the tide of convention – will be respected and interrogated with as much force, passion, and excitement as the ideas that come from a book or the mind of a faculty member.

At this moment, therefore, we are proud of you graduates, not just because of your accomplishments in the classroom, the laboratory, the studio, or in your cocurricular activities but also because you have pushed us to consider where the College stands as an institution. In doing so, you have demonstrated the independent intellectual spirit that, above all, we aim to cultivate in a liberal education. And as a result, Skidmore College is a better place because when you graduates entered this community you were not satisfied with how it felt, and you have pushed us to make change.

My intention in addressing these themes on this celebratory day is not just to praise you. I also want to assure you that the conversations you have prompted will continue long after you graduates have departed – that they will continue to engage those of us who work at the College, as well as successive generations of our students. Moreover, this engagement is not just theoretical. Keeping faith with our founder’s injunction that Skidmore educate both “mind and hand,” we will continue to provide students opportunities to affect change in the world as part of their own Skidmore journeys. Furthermore, we will continue to grapple with these issues as they apply to the College – as we strive to bring our own social reality into closer harmony with our core values. We want Skidmore College to be a place where, in Nussbaum’s words, “given the ample grounds history gives people for suspicion, anger, and even perhaps, hatred,” we create ever more effective ways to “overcome hatred by love” –not just on our own campus but in the world at large.

In your time at Skidmore, we have challenged you to discover your personal cause, your personal “victory for humanity”4 – the way in which you want to make the world a better place than you found it. Such a responsibility accompanies the privilege of experiencing one of the highest quality liberal educations available to anyone, anywhere. In return, you have challenged the College to improve, and we fully accept that challenge.

So as we celebrate this day with you, we honor you not only for your achievements and your promise but also for the myriad ways in which you leave Skidmore a better College today than you found it. As you go forward into the broader world beyond our borders, we will follow with interest your undertakings and your triumphs, and we will continue to ask how you are bringing your passion to bear in your life. I hope that you will likewise continue to follow the progress we make here – and continue to push us, as well. And just as we expect to be proud of your future accomplishments, I hope – and expect – that you can and will take pride not only in the Skidmore of today but in the Skidmore that is yet to be.

Thank you for your many contributions.

And thank you for your attention.

1 Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice (Oxford, Oxford University Press: 1999), p. 5.

2 Nussbaum, p 5.

3 Gerald Graff, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993).

4 From the 19th Century American educator Horace Mann.

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May 19 2012
Good morning. On this absolutely perfect day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, Trustees, family members, honored guests, and everyone in attendance at this celebratory event: Skidmor...

Transition and Transformation

Commencement Remarks
19 May 2012

Philip A. Glotzbach
President
Skidmore College

Good morning. On this absolutely perfect day, let me add my own heartfelt greetings to parents, Trustees, family members, honored guests, and everyone in attendance at this celebratory event: Skidmore College’s 101st Commencement. Above all, to the members of the Class of 2012, both undergraduates and those receiving Master’s degrees today, congratulations!

The 20 national flags arrayed on the stage represent the homelands of those graduating seniors who have traveled far to learn with us and who, in turn, have enriched the Skidmore community with their presence and their perspectives.

For you graduates, today marks an important way station in your personal journey from adolescence to adulthood. We human beings have learned that such significant moments of transition come deeply invested with meaning born, in part, of their inherent ambiguity: Inevitably there is a sense of loss, as you leave behind the now familiar campus, your friends, professors, coaches, and others who have shaped this community as you have experienced it. This day is also fraught with uncertainty about an unknown future. And yet these feelings are counterbalanced by an awareness of the horizon of limitless possibility that opens up now before you.

Perhaps as a way of exorcising this ambivalence, we cloak our transitions in symbolism: The bagpipers who led the majority of you into the Opening Convocation in September of your Freshman year today reappear to lead you through your final moments as Skidmore students and then, at the end of this ceremony, out toward your new life as Skidmore alumni. Four years ago at that Opening Convocation, you wore your purple class t-shirt, representing the bonds you would establish with your classmates. Today you have made friendships that will remain with you for the rest of your lives, and your bachelor’s gown and accompanying regalia serve as outward signs of your hard won academic accomplishments.

We don these ornate trappings of academia to remind us all that we participate in an activity that has a richly sedimented and abiding history. This form of dress hearkens back to the medieval university, reminding us that for many centuries, human beings have honored the process of education. They also remind us that yours is one of many generations of young people who have come to the academy seeking both wisdom and preparation for a productive and meaningful life. Those of us on stage wear our own academic regalia to remind you that we too have traveled this path. This is your moment of transition, but you can take a measure of comfort in the fact that we and many others have gone this way before you. And so we celebrate this day with you, and in so doing we honor both your achievements and your promise.

We send you forth with a set of specific expectations about what you have learned during your time with us. As we say in Skidmore’s statement of “Goals for Student Learning and Development,” we expect

  • that you have acquired knowledge about human cultures and the physical world through study in the arts, humanities, languages, mathematics, the physical and life sciences, and social sciences;
  • that you have gained understanding about social and cultural diversity in national and global contexts;
  • that you are able to demonstrate – whether to a potential employer or to a graduate or professional school – a capacity for advanced learning and synthesis in both general and specialized studies;
  • that you have improved your capacity to think critically, creatively and independently – and that you value those abilities in yourself and others;
  • that you can gather, analyze, integrate, and apply varied forms of information; understand and use evidence, and communicate what you have learned effectively.

We expect that you now are better able

  • to interrogate your own values in relation to those of others, across social and cultural differences and apply those values in your own life as criteria in thought and action;

We sincerely hope you have

  • developed practical competencies for managing a personal, professional, and community life;
  • and that you can apply what you have learned to find solutions for social, civic, and scientific problems.

Finally, we expect that you have developed an enduring passion for learning and that, for the rest of your life, you will

  • continue to engage in and take responsibility for your own learning;
  • that you will integrate and apply knowledge and creative thought from multiple disciplines in new contexts;
  • embrace intellectual integrity, humility, and courage;
  • and continue to foster habits of mind and body that enable a person to live deliberately and well.

This admittedly daunting list of expectations represents the Skidmore faculty’s expression of the transformative power of liberal education, and we continue to affirm the intrinsic social, cultural, and personal value of such a course of study.

At the same time, it would be a profound mistake to believe the raucous chorus of contemporary cultural critics who portray liberal education as hopelessly detached from the requirements of practical life. The Twentieth Century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once remarked about his esoteric work the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus that “our problems are not abstract, but perhaps the most concrete that there are.” At Skidmore, we make an analogous claim about liberal education: It is not disengaged from nor disinterested in human life as we live it, but rather it represents the best guide to life that one could possibly seek. Said in another way, the intellectual and ethical tool kit you have acquired through your Skidmore education provides you the best possible platform for success in a world marked above all by rapid, persistent, and unpredictable change.

Do we expect you to have mastered all these skills, abilities, and forms of knowing at this stage of your life? Not at all. What we expect is that you now have laid a foundation for a project of personal development that will engage you for the rest of your days. And it will no longer be your professors who examine you to measure your progress but rather the world.

It won’t be easy, but we believe you are ready to take on the challenges that lie before you. Now go forth and create the future!

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May 21 2011
Good morning. Let me add my own greetings and welcome to parents, honored guests, and everyone in attendance at this historic event: the College‟s 100th Commencement Above all, to the members of the...

Community and the Courage to Act

Skidmore College Commencement Remarks
21 May 2011

Philip A. Glotzbach
President

Good morning. Let me add my own greetings and welcome to parents, honored guests, and everyone in attendance at this historic event: the College's 100th Commencement Above all, to the members of the Skidmore College Class of 2011, congratulations. You are the largest graduating class in Skidmore's history. You are an energetic and most accomplished class, and we are very proud of you!

Today also marks another important College milestone: it is the final Commencement for Skidmore‟s external degree program, the University Without Walls – or UWW, as it is affectionately known. For forty years, UWW has pioneered in creating innovative ways for non-traditional students to earn a Skidmore undergraduate degree, while still fulfilling their responsibilities at work and at home. Skidmore takes great pride in the 1,500 alumni who have completed the UWW program, sixteen of whom will march across this stage today, and one of whom will receive an honorary degree. Our UWW students brought to their liberal arts education a rich tapestry of life experiences, they were well positioned to appreciate the value of what they learned, and in the process they transformed both their own lives and some portion of the world. We salute the UWW graduates with us here today, and with them all the UWW graduates from times past.

Next, let me draw your attention to the 23 national flags arrayed on the stage today that represent the homelands of those graduating seniors who have journeyed far to learn with us and who, in turn, have enriched the Skidmore community.

Graduates, this ceremony and, in a more concrete sense, this stage symbolically represent a bridge you will traverse later on this morning from your college years to the beginning of your future life. As the economy remains unsettled (to say the least), opportunities to make use of what you have learned here may not present themselves in an obvious way. And even if you have identified your next steps after graduating – perhaps you have secured a job, a place in a professional school, a fellowship for graduate study, Teach for America, or a position in the Peace Corps – you still face a moment of transition from a life that has grown familiar to one that, by contrast, is yet unknown.

The good news is that those who have supported you in your journey to this point – your family, your friends, and more recently the members of the Skidmore faculty and staff who have meant so much to you during your college years – remain committed to your success. They are your safety net, and they will still be there for you, even as you take flight to the next stage of your life.

In fact, this would be a most appropriate moment for you graduates to stand and give a heartfelt round of applause to thank the members of your family, as well as those on the Skidmore faculty and staff, who are here with you today.

But even as you focus on your transition to the next moment in your life, I ask that you also remain mindful of another value we emphasize at the College: informed, responsible citizenship. Or, if you are tired of hearing this phrase, feel free to replace it with the word: 'community' – denoting a human social context in which individuals acknowledge that they each have a fundamental interest in one another‟s wellbeing. We speak about community quite a bit at Skidmore, and by doing so we affirm that the central objective of a liberal education – which is to prepare you to live a life of true autonomy as a reflective and self-aware individual – can be realized only within the context of a free and just society. Hence our expectation that a Skidmore education prepares you not just to make a place for yourself in the world but also to leave the world itself a better place. This expectation was expressed powerfully by the 19th Century American education reformer Horace Mann who enjoined all of us to be "ashamed to die" until we had “won some victory for humanity” – a charge I presented to you in the opening Convocation of your first year at Skidmore.

Most of you who are graduating today began your Skidmore careers in the summer of 2007 reading that year's common text: Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. As you will recall, this book tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer who set out, at a very early point in his life, to change the way medical services were provided to some of the neediest human beings on earth: the citizens of rural Haiti. Over time, the organization he went on to found, Partners in Health, has extended its work beyond Haiti to many other countries around the globe. It played an especially important role following Haiti's catastrophic earthquake in January 2010.

Although few of us will effect change on the scale of Paul Farmer's accomplishments, I do hope that his story will continue to inspire you to pursue your own personal cause that you either found or reaffirmed during your time at Skidmore – a way in which you will win your personal “victory for humanity.” If you are to do so, chances are you will need to put to good use the creativity you developed in a school that stresses that aspect of human accomplishment. But you also will need to call upon another crucial human trait that we tend to talk about less often: courage – the virtue mentioned in the quotation from Skidmore's first President, Charles Henry Keyes that opened this ceremony today. Let me suggest why that virtue will be important.

Janet Whitman earlier reminded us that the United States and, indeed, most of the countries of the world now confront a roster of profoundly challenging issues too long and daunting to list here – and after all, this is supposed to be a day of celebration. But I will say that to address those issues will require all of us – and most especially our political leaders – to become more courageous. We need to find the courage, collectively, to name our problems and face them head-on, as opposed to pretending that they do not exist and hoping they will go away. And we need to find the courage to engage in actual, serious conversations regarding those issues – as opposed to separating into ideologically defined camps and shouting at one another from the safety of our individual perspectives.

Unfortunately, it is far too easy for leaders to enjoy short-term success by dividing communities and nations. By contrast, to be a leader who brings people together in genuine dialog requires far more skill and, again, much greater courage. As citizens of this democratic republic, all of us have a role in demanding – of both ourselves and our political leaders – the courage to replace acrimonious debate with fierce but genuine conversation. Doing so, I believe, is the only way for us to make smarter political decisions in the future than we have in the past.

But there is another, more personal, way in which you can help leave the world a better place than you found it, one that may well require the most courage of all and that takes us back to the commitment to the concept of community as we try to live it at Skidmore College. Over this past year, we have dealt with a number of issues that have brought home the unfortunate truth that we are not yet where we wish to be as a diverse and fully inclusive educational community. I assure you that, as we go forward, we will redouble our efforts to realize this ideal.

But what about you graduates? Though it is very important to us that you remain deeply connected to the College, you will no longer be part of the Skidmore campus community on a day-to-day basis. Even so, as you disperse across the much larger community of communities that constitutes this or any other nation you too will face issues of diversity and inclusion in your daily life. You will encounter difference in your work place, in your community life, and in your social relations. At those intersection points – when you meet with someone whose race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, political views, some other characteristic that can divide us one from another – you will confront your own, very personal, choice about how to react.

Such a choice can become even more acute when you witness something that someone else says or does that reflects bias or dismisses others based not on the quality of their character but rather on, for example, their choice of a life-partner or the color of their skin. These are moments in which we are forced to choose whether to leave the world a better or worse place, whether to win some small victory for humanity by speaking up and intervening – or, by remaining silent, to let the opportunity pass.

Mohandas Gandhi challenged his followers to “be the change” they hoped to see in the world, and he understood very well that doing so required considerable courage. Sometimes the most difficult challenge we face is to speak up and object to a statement or action by one of our closest associates or friends. It can be so easy simply to remain silent; and it can be so difficult to take an individual stand that might place at risk a personal relationship we consider important. But again, that is where we must find the courage to act, if we truly are to embody the change we all hope to see.

You graduates are the recipients of a great gift – you have been given the opportunity to spend four years interrogating the accumulated wisdom of humankind, the best of what our species has learned over seven millennia of recorded history. Through your own hard work, you have become a very different person from the one who entered the College at the beginning of this journey. As you go forward, please continue to broaden and deepen your liberal education; you are by no means finished with this process. But as you do, please also find in yourself the courage necessary to take advantage of those everyday moments that occur in all of our lives to prove that you understand – and can put to use – just what these four years have been all about.

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May 22 2010
Parents, Trustees, members of the faculty and staff, honored guests, and members of the Class of 2010, let me too extend my welcome to everyone in attendance today at Skidmore College's 99th Commence...

FOREVER BEGIN

REMARKS AT THE SKIDMORE COLLEGE 99TH COMMENCEMENT
22 MAY 2010

PHILIP A. GLOTZBACH
PRESIDENT

PARENTS, TRUSTEES, MEMBERS OF THE FACULTY AND STAFF, HONORED GUESTS, AND MEMBERS OF THE CLASS OF 2010, LET ME TOO EXTEND MY WELCOME TO EVERYONE IN ATTENDANCE TODAY AT SKIDMORE COLLEGE‟S 99TH COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES.

MOST OF YOU WHO ARE GRADUATING TODAY BEGAN YOUR SKIDMORE CAREERS IN THE SUMMER OF 2006 WITH THAT YEAR‟S COMMON TEXT, LIFE ON THE COLOR LINE, BY GREGORY HOWARD WILLIAMS, WHO JOINS YOU IN RECEIVING A DEGREE TODAY. AS YOU WILL RECALL, AND AS OTHERS WILL HEAR IN A FEW MOMENTS, IN 1953 AT THE AGE OF TEN, GREGORY AND HIS BROTHER WERE THRUST INTO A SOCIAL WORLD PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO THEM WHERE THEY HAD TO REINVENT THEMSELVES, IF THEY WERE TO SURVIVE. THAT NEW LIFE WAS DEFINED NOT ONLY BY POVERTY BUT ALSO BY RACE AND RACISM – ISSUES THAT CONTINUE TO HAUNT OUR NATION.

I DO NOT AT ALL INTEND TO EQUATE GREGORY WILLIAMS‟ NEW BEGINNING WITH YOUR OWN TRANSITION WHEN YOU FIRST CAME TO SKIDMORE. BUT THERE ARE ANALOGIES. SOME OF YOU CAME FROM OTHER COUNTRIES – AS INDICATED BY THE FLAGS FLANKING THE STAGE. YOU TOO ENTERED A NEW AND UNFAMILIAR CONTEXT – A PLACE WHERE YOU DID NOT YET BELONG AND WHERE YOUR PREVIOUS IDENTITY WAS PLACED IN QUESTION. YOU TOO WERE FORCED TO START OVER, TO BECOME A BEGINNER. YOU DIDN‟T KNOW WHERE TO FIND THINGS. THE LOCAL DIALECT WAS UNFAMILIAR. YOU WONDERED HOW YOU WOULD BE TREATED BY OTHERS. YOU DIDN‟T YET KNOW YOUR ROLE – YOUR PLACE IN THIS NEW ORDER BECAUSE YOU HADN‟T YET CREATED IT. AND THIS WAS EQUALLY TRUE FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO CAME AS TRANSFER STUDENTS, AS RETURNING STUDENTS IN THE UNIVERSITY WITHOUT WALLS PROGRAM, OR AS GRADUATE STUDENTS SETTING YOUR COURSE FOR A MASTERS OF LIBERAL STUDIES DEGREE.

YOUR PRESENCE HERE TODAY INDICATES THAT, LIKE GREGORY WILLIAMS, YOU NOT ONLY SURVIVED BUT YOU CREATED YOUR OWN PATHWAY TO SUCCESS. CONGRATULATIONS TO ONE AND ALL.

NOW YOU FACE ANOTHER TRANSITION FROM FAMILIAR GROUND TO FOREIGN SHORES, FROM FEELING THAT YOU KNOW A GOOD DEAL TO REALIZING THAT, IN FACT, YOU STILL HAVE MUCH TO LEARN. ONCE AGAIN, THERE WILL BE NEW SITUATIONS TO MASTER, NEW PEOPLE TO MEET, NEW CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME – NOT THE LEAST OF WHICH IS AN ECONOMY THAT WILL MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR MANY OF YOU TO FIND THAT FIRST JOB.

IN TRUTH, WE ALL ARE DESTINED TO BECOME BEGINNERS AGAIN AND AGAIN, WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT. ONE‟S LIFE UNFOLDS AS A SUCCESSION OF NEW RELATIONSHIPS, NEW JOBS, NEW CAREERS, NEW COMMUNITIES, NEW STAGES (SUCH AS BECOMING A PARENT FOR THE FIRST TIME AND, EVENTUALLY, CARING FOR YOUR OWN AGING PARENTS). INDEED, IF ONE REMAINS FOCUSED ON EXCELLENCE, ONE IS FOREVER FINDING THAT EACH ACHIEVEMENT JUST BECOMES A PLATFORM FROM WHICH ONE CAN SEE THE PROSPECT OF FURTHER ACCOMPLISHMENT – NEW CLIFFS TO SCALE, NEW LANDS TO EXPLORE.

MOREOVER, ANY BEGINNING IS FRAUGHT WITH PERIL. IF YOU CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING, AND YOU REALIZE THAT IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO FAIL – THAT PERHAPS YOUR MUSE WILL NOT CHOOSE TO VISIT YOU ON A GIVEN DAY AFTER ALL – THEN EACH NEW BEGINNING CARRIES WITH IT ITS OWN PORTION OF ANXIETY. THE NOTED ARCHITECT FRANK GEHRY, A MAN WHO HAS DESIGNED CELEBRATED BUILDINGS ACROSS THE GLOBE, ONCE SAID,

FOR ME, EACH DAY IS A NEW THING. I APPROACH EACH PROJECT WITH A NEW INSECURITY – ALMOST LIKE THE FIRST PROJECT I EVER DID. … I GET THE SWEATS. I GO IN, START WORKING. I‟M NOT SURE WHERE I‟M GOING. IF I KNEW WHERE I WAS GOING I WOULDN‟T DO IT. WHEN I CAN PREDICT OR PLAN IT, I DON‟T DO IT. I DISCARD IT. SO I APPROACH IT WITH THE SAME TREPIDATION. OBVIOUSLY, OVER TIME I HAVE A LOT MORE CONFIDENCE THAT IT‟S GOING TO BE OK. … BUT THE ACTUAL WORK ON THE PROJECT IS WHAT I THINK [OF AS] A HEALTHY INSECURITY. YOU‟RE NOT SURE.

WHEN YOU RUN HEAD-LONG INTO YOUR OWN ANXIETY AT SOME MOMENT OF BEGINNING, KNOW THAT IT IS JUST THE WORLD TELLING YOU THAT WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS IMPORTANT, AND THAT YOU ARE AWARE OF THE STAKES. YOUR JOB IS TO PUSH PAST THAT INSECURITY, TIME AND AGAIN, TO DO THE WORK NECESSARY TO SUCCEED – SO THAT YOU TOO DEVELOP THE CONFIDENCE THAT LETS YOU SAY, THE NEXT TIME YOU BEGIN, “IT‟S GOING TO BE OK.” I HOPE THAT WE HAVE GIVEN YOU SOME OF THAT CONFIDENCE.

ANOTHER TERM FOR GEARY‟S “HEALTHY INSECURITY” MIGHT BE 'HUMILITY' – A VIRTUE THAT MAY SEEM A BIT OUT OF FASHION TODAY. BUT IT REALLY IS JUST THE AWARENESS THAT ONE STILL HAS SOMETHING TO LEARN, THAT BOTH THE WORLD AND ONE‟S WORK ARE ALWAYS GREATER THAN ONESELF. A VIRTUE CERTAINLY WORTH CULTIVATING. THE ACCOMPLISHED GUITARIST, SONG-WRITER, AND PERFORMER ARLO GUTHRIE HAS SAID THAT EVERY TEN YEARS HE LITERALLY TAKES UP THE GUITAR AGAIN AS A BEGINNER – STARTING OVER TO RE-LEARN THE FINGER POSITIONS FOR CHORDS AND GOING ON FROM THERE – PUSHING HIMSELF, EVENTUALLY TO PLAY BETTER THAN IN THE PAST. HIS IS AN EXAMPLE WELL WORTH IMITATING.

THESE THEMES ARE EXPRESSED MORE LYRICALLY BY THE IRISH POET BRENDAN KENNELLY (A DISTANT RELATIVE OF OUR OWN PROFESSOR JAMES KENNELLY), IN A POEM ENTITLED “BEGIN”:

EVERY BEGINNING IS A PROMISE
BORN IN LIGHT AND DYING IN DARK
DETERMINATION AND EXALTATION OF SPRINGTIME
FLOWERING THE WAY TO WORK.

YOUR BEGINNING AT SKIDMORE CERTAINLY OFFERED SUCH A PROMISE. AND IN YOUR TIME WITH US, BOTH YOU AND WE HAVE WORKED TO FULFILL IT – TO HELP YOU LAY THE FOUNDATIONS OF THAT WORK-IN-PROGRESS THAT IS THE PERSON YOU STILL HOPE TO BECOME. KENNELLY CONCLUDES HIS POEM WITH THE FOLLOWING LINES:

THOUGH WE LIVE IN A WORLD THAT DREAMS OF ENDING
THAT ALWAYS SEEMS ABOUT TO GIVE IN
SOMETHING THAT WILL NOT ACKNOWLEDGE CONCLUSION
INSISTS THAT WE FOREVER BEGIN.

MAY YOU EMBRACE AND THEN CONQUER THE ANXIETY THAT COMES WITH EACH NEW CHALLENGE. MAY YOU CULTIVATE HUMILITY EVEN IN THE FACE OF YOUR OWN ACHIEVEMENTS. AND MAY YOU FOREVER BEGIN.

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May 16 2009
Members of the Skidmore College Class of 2009, parents, and honored guests, let me too extend my welcome to everyone in attendance at our 98th Commencement Exercises - most especially to you graduates...

CONFLICT AND COMPROMISE

COMMENCEMENT REMARKS
16 MAY 2009
PHILIP A. GLOTZBACH
PRESIDENT

MEMBERS OF THE SKIDMORE COLLEGE CLASS OF 2009, PARENTS, AND HONORED GUESTS, LET ME TOO EXTEND MY WELCOME TO EVERYONE IN ATTENDANCE AT OUR 98TH COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES – MOST ESPECIALLY TO YOU GRADUATES. AS YOU MAY KNOW, YOU NUMBER MORE THAN 640, REPRESENTING THE LARGEST GRADUATING CLASS IN THE COLLEGE’S HISTORY.

FOUR YEARS AND (AT LEAST) 120 CREDITS AGO, MOST OF YOU READ THE INAUGURAL COMMON TEXT OF OUR NEWLY LAUNCHED FIRST-YEAR EXPERIENCE PROGRAM, SEAMUS HEANEY’S TRANSLATION OF SOPHOCLES’ PLAY ANTIGONE, ENTITLED THE BURIAL AT THEBES. AS I HOPE YOU WILL RECALL, THE FUNDAMENTAL CONFLICT THAT DRIVES THIS PLAY PITS CREON, THE RULER OF ANCIENT THEBES, AGAINST ANTIGONE, ONE OF ITS CITIZENS. THEBES HAS JUST SURVIVED A WAR IN WHICH ANTIGONE’S TWO BROTHERS FOUGHT ON OPPOSING SIDES. CREON ALLOWS BURIEL FOR ETEOCLES, WHO FOUGHT FOR THE CITY, BUT DENIES IT TO THE OTHER, POLYNEICES, WHO FOUGHT WITH THE INVADERS. CREON DEFENDS HIS RULING AS A NECESSITY OF STATE. “WHOEVER ISN’T FOR US IS AGAINST US IN THIS CASE,” HE SAYS. BUT ANTIGONE BELIEVES SHE OWES A HIGHER ALLEGIANCE TO HER BROTHER AND TO THE DIVINE INJUNCTION THAT MANDATES A PROPER FUNERAL BE GIVEN TO ANYONE. ANTIGONE KNOWS THAT THE PRICE OF DEFYING CREON WILL BE HER OWN DEATH.

THE BURIAL AT THEBES DID LAUNCH A THOUSAND DISCUSSIONS, AND I HOPE THAT THROUGH THOSE CONVERSATIONS YOU CAME TO SEE THE COMPLEXITY AT THE HEART OF THIS CONFLICT. IT IS TEMPTING TO READ THIS PLAY AS A STRAIGHTFORWARD CONTEST – AN AGON IN GREEK – BETWEEN ANTIGONE AS THE COMPELLING HEROINE AND CREON AS THE VILLIAN. HOWEVER, IN A BACKGROUND ESSAY PREPARED FOR THIS PROJECT, PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR FRANCISCO GONZALEZ DISCUSSES HEGEL’S MORE COMPLICATED – AND COMPLICATING – READING OF THIS AND OTHER GREEK TRAGEDIES. HEGEL PROPOSES THAT THE FUNDAMENTAL OPPOSITION HERE IS NOT A “TRAGIC COLLISION” BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL BUT RATHER “BETWEEN ONE-SIDED POSITIONS, EACH OF WHICH EMBODIES SOME GOOD.”1

FOR THE GREEKS, HUMAN LAWS WERE LEGITIMATED ONLY TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY EXPRESSED THE LAWS OF THE GODS, BUT THE LAWS OF THE GODS WERE MERELY ABSTRACT OR THEORETICAL UNTIL “TRANSLATED” INTO HUMAN TERMS. SO, ON THIS VIEW, CREON’S AND ANTIGONE’S POSITIONS EACH REPRESENT DISTORTED MIRROR IMAGES OF THE OTHER. THE ONLY WAY OUT OF THEIR DILEMMA IS FOR ONE ANTAGONIST TO ABANDON OR, AT LEAST, MODIFY HIS OR HER POSITION, OR FOR ONE OR BOTH TO BE DESTROYED. AS WE KNOW, THE PLAY MOVES INEXORABLY TO THIS TRAGIC CONCLUSION. ONE OF THE QUESTIONS THIS PLAY POSES TO US TODAY IS WHETHER SUCH DEEP-SEATED OPPOSITIONS CAN ADMIT OF COMPROMISE OR AT LEAST SOME OTHER RESOLUTION SHORT OF TRAGIC DESTRUCTION OF ONE OR BOTH SIDES. THE PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI OR THE SUNNISHIITE CONFLICTS COME IMMEDIATELY TO MIND, BUT OF COURSE THERE ARE MANY OTHERS MUCH CLOSER TO HOME – FOR EXAMPLE, BETWEEN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY.

NOW IN CASE YOU GRADUATES HAVEN’T YET NOTICED, COMMENCEMENTS BRING OUT A NEARLY UNCONTROLLABLE URGE IN YOUR ELDERS TO OFFER SAGE ADVICE TO GUIDE YOU ON THE REMAINDER OF YOUR JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE. YOU MIGHT THINK OF THIS AS PARTIAL PAYBACK FOR THE SINS OF YOUR YOUTH. IN ANY EVENT, IT IS YOUR BURDEN, AND BEAR IT YOU MUST. ACCORDINGLY, THIS IS THE MOMENT WHEN I SHOULD EXTRACT A FINAL LESSON FROM ANTIGONE THAT YOU CAN CARRY WITH YOU, ALONG WITH YOUR SKIDMORE DIPLOMA, A USE TO RESOLVE ANY SUCH PROBLEM YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER IN YOUR LIFE.

WELL I’M SORRY. THERE’S NO SUCH FORMULA THAT I’VE EVER DISCOVERED. THE DEEPEST AND MOST TROUBLING HUMAN DILEMMAS ARE SO DIFFICULT TO RESOLVE NOT ONLY BECAUSE THOSE ON EACH SIDE CAN BE DEEPLY INVESTED IN ITS VIEW OF THE WORLD BUT ALSO BECAUSE EACH OF THOSE VIEWS HAS BOTH A HISTORY AND A SET OF REASONS THAT MAKE THEM COMPELLING. HEGEL IS SURELY RIGHT IN POINTING OUT THAT SUCH OPPOSING SIDES FREQUENTLY RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER IN WAYS THAT SHOULD MAKE THEM, AT LEAST, MUTUALLY INTELLIGIBLE. BUT UNDERSTANDING THE LOGIC OF SUCH A CONFLICT IS ONE THING; TURNING THAT UNDERSTANDING INTO AWORKABLE SOLUTION IS QUITE ANOTHER. AND UNFORTUNATELY, OUR INABILITY TO CRAFT THOSE SOLUTIONS OFTEN LEADS TO MANY MORE BURIALS. SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

IN FACT, THE BEST ADVICE I COULD OFFER WOULD BE FOR YOU TO PURSUE A LIBERAL ARTS UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION – ONE THAT WOULD SENSITIZE YOU TO THE COMPLEXITY OF SUCH HUMAN DILEMMAS AND LET YOU EXPLORE WAYS OF CREATIVELY RETHINKING THEM TO SEE IF, IN A GIVEN CASE, THERE MIGHT BE A WAY OF UNTIEING THE GORDIAN KNOT. BUT WAIT, YOU’VE ALREADY DONE THAT.

IN THINKING FURTHER ABOUT THE BURIAL AT THEBES, WE COULD NOTE THAT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CREON AND ANTIGONE IS ASYMMETRICAL: CREON HAS THE POWER TO PUT ANTIGONE TO DEATH; SHE CANNOT DO THAT TO HIM. THEREFORE, CREON IS MUCH BETTER POSITIONED TO CREATE A COMPROMISE THAT COULD RESOLVE THIS CONFLICT SHORT OF THE DESTRUCTION OF ONE OR BOTH ANTAGONISTS. IN FACT, IN THIS CASE, ONE CAN IMAGINE A RELATIVELY EASY FIX: CREON COULD HAVE SAID: “OK, ANTIGONE, GO BURY POLYNEICES IF YOU MUST, BUT DO IT SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF THE CITY. AND THEN COME HOME.” OF COURSE, THIS SOLUTION WOULD HAVE MADE FOR A MUCH SHORTER AND AN INFINITELY LESS DRAMATIC PLAY – ONE THAT NEVER WOULD HAVE TAKEN ITS PLACE IN THE WESTERN LITERARY CANNON OCCUPIED BY THE ANTIGONE WE KNOW.

EVEN SO, MY HOPE IS THAT YOU WILL RETAIN YOUR APPRECIATION OF COMPLEXITY AND ALWAYS LOOK TO ARTICULATE THE ASSUMPTIONS THAT UNDERPIN A GIVEN CONFLICT. THEN LOOK FURTHER TO SEE HOW THE ASSUMPTIONS ON EACH SIDE MIGHT INTERRELATE AND POSSIBLY EVEN LIGHT A WAY FORWARD TOWARD AGREEMENT. FINALLY, ASK “WHO IS BEST POSITIONED TO EFFECT A SOLUTION?” IN MOST CASES, THE SIDE WITH THE MOST POWER SHOULD BE PREPARED TO MAKE THE FIRST MOVE TOWARD COMPROMISE.

IN REAL LIFE, SUCH WORK IS ALWAYS MESSY, COMPLICATED, AND FRUSTRATING. BUT IF YOU PERSIST, PERHAPS YOU CAN REFRAME A PROBLEM THAT PREVIOUSLY LOOKED INSOLUBILE AND SO CREATE A RESOLUTION THAT AVOIDS THE PATH TO DESTRUCTION WALKED SO INEXORBLY BY CREON AND ANTIGONE. IN REAL LIFE – AS OPPOSED TO ART – SOMETIMES “NO DRAMA” CAN BE A PRETTY GOOD IDEA.

1 Gonzales actually quotes Walter Kaufman’s account of Hegel.

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Sep 5 2008
It's always great to begin a new academic year - even though any of us might look back with a bit of nostalgia on the quiet campus we experienced just a few days before the return of our full continge...

Strategic Opportunities – Strategic Choices

Opening Address to the Skidmore Faculty
5 September 2008

Philip A. Glotzbach
President

It’s always great to begin a new academic year – even though any of us might look back with a bit of nostalgia on the quiet campus we experienced just a few days before the return of our full contingent of students. It wasn’t quiet for the folks in Special Programs, of course. We had a wonderful season of summer programs – and, more recently, we’ve had a very smooth opening of school, thanks to the tremendous work of so many people over the summer to prepare for it:

  • Admissions staff;
  • Office of Student Aid & Family Finance;
  • First-Year Experience – and faculty members who worked on pre-registration;
  • Academic Affairs;
  • Office of the Dean of Studies;
  • Registrar’s Office;
  • First-Year Seminar faculty;
  • Student Affairs
  • Residential Life Staff – arranging housing, the move-in (with great help from our athletic teams);
  • HEOP/AOP Staff;
  • Office of Student Academic Services;
  • Student Health Services;
  • Business Office;
  • Facilities services, grounds, maintenance, housekeeping staff;
  • Dining Services;
  • Campus Safety;
  • College Events – for coordinating opening Convocation;

And I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. But the point is that creating a successful transition from summer to fall requires enormous coordinated, effort on the part of many, many people – an operation only slightly less complicated than, say, staging a national political convention – especially in managing the sheer size of the on-campus student population, with a large number of triples for first-year students. (Which again points to the need to move forward in replacing Scribner Village.)

Much of the above-cited work goes on behind the scenes, where it can easily be overlooked and taken for granted, something that is true of the work of others as well. I’d like to take a moment to share with you part of a letter I recently received from two Skidmore parents, a letter that shows the power of collaboration in affecting the lives of our students. These parents write that they want “to express [their] total praise for and happiness with Skidmore College after reflecting on [their daughter’s] transcript, which shows her rather dramatic turn around.” This young woman went from a first semester’s GPA that placed her in danger of being suspended to a second semester’s GPA in the B+ range. The parents cited, specifically, the good work of Laurie Baker, in the Dean of Studies Office, and Jamin Totino, in the Office of Student Academic Services. The effective collaboration between these two offices helped to identify an undiagnosed learning disability that had been missed by the student’s former teachers and tutors. The parents write that

no one has done for her what Skidmore has done in such a short period of time. We are thrilled and, more importantly, so is she. At the end of the term she told us that “for the first time ever I love studying and interacting with my teachers.” She is so excited to come back to Saratoga this fall, looks forward to classes, and for the first time approaches her grading periods with anticipation.”

We tell this story to everyone we know. … Please accept our thanks and very best regards.

This letter shows how effective we can be in helping our students achieve academic excellence when we work with one another and keep our students’ best interests in mind.

The administrator who has overall responsibility for Student Academic Services and several of the other areas just mentioned is our new Dean of Student Affairs, Rochelle Calhoun, whom I’m very pleased to introduce to you here. As most of you know, Rochelle holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts & Politics from Mount Holyoke, an MFA in Theatre from Columbia, and is completing an M.A. in Psychology from Mount Holyoke. A very experienced administrator, Rochelle previously worked for over 20 years at her alma mater, holding a number of positions in student affairs and serving on an acting basis as Dean of the College, an academic position; most recently, she served as Executive Director of the Alumnae Association. During most of her time as an administrator at Mount Holyoke, she was a member of the President’s Cabinet. They were very sad to see her go, and we are very fortunate that she has joined us. [Dean Calhoun was invited to address the faculty. Among other things, she spoke about her commitment to a developmental model for Student Affairs and about her commitment to work collaboratively with members of the faculty and with Academic Affairs.]

Over the past few months, as you may have noticed, there was a bit of construction under way on the campus. As is always the case during the summer, Facilities Services oversaw and completed quite a few projects large and small, including the general renovation of Wilmarth Hall, which included the installation of a new roof, new ceilings, improvements for life safety (primarily a fire sprinkler system), paint, carpet, upgrades to the bathrooms, and new furniture. In addition, we moved the Credit Union to temporary quarters and in its former space created three new classrooms; five other classrooms and offices in the same general area were reconfigured.

But of course the largest project currently under way – and, in fact, the largest and most complex building project the College has ever undertaken – is the Zankel Center. This building contains 750 tons of steel. To indicate the precision with which this material was fabricated in all of the beams and girders that have been interconnected, just two holes were misaligned – by ¼ inch! The building also contains 500,000 concrete masonry units, and soon we will see craftsmen beginning to lay the first of 250,000 bricks. Let me express my thanks to Paul Lundberg, from Facilities Services, who is our primary supervisor – working closely with MLB Construction. Matt Baker also has his hand in it, and Mike West has been known to pay some continuing attention to this project as well.

To remind you: this building is scheduled to be ready for occupancy sometime around the first of January 2010. The construction funding is now complete, and we have raised approximately $6 million of a projected $12 million operating endowment. The endowment is intended to provide programming funds and defray the annual operating cost of this building, which are estimated to be between $600,000 and $800,000.

Let us now turn to the topic of our newest students. I would like to ask Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Mary Lou Bates to say a few words about the class of 2012. [Dean Bates talked about the strength of our entering class and commented on the substantial progress we have seen over the past five years in “Academic Quality Ratings” (AQRs) that are assigned by Admissions counselors to each of our applicants. To relay just part of her report, during this time we have seen the percentage of applicants in the top three AQR bands (8, 9, 10) move from 39% to 52% – an increase of 13%. In accepted candidates this same percentage has moved from 65% to 85% – an increase of 20%. Most significantly, we have seen the percentage of enrolled students in the top three AQR bands increase from 49% to 69% – a 23% improvement. These figures support the anecdotal reports of so many members of our faculty who have noted a substantial increase in the preparation, ability, and focus of our students over this same period of time.]

We are entering the fourth year of implementation for Skidmore’s current Strategic Plan – approaching the halfway point of the Plan’s projected 10-year life. There is much that one could say about how far we have come. But the preamble to this year’s “Strategic Action Agenda,” tells some of that story, and I would encourage you to read that document – which will be posted on our web site once it is finalized following review by the IPPC. So, instead of looking backward, let me make just one or two points that relate to the work – and, especially the strategic choices – that lie ahead of us.

Many factors contribute to our incredible success in increasing the size and strength of our pool of prospective students and the strength of our admitted and matriculated students, as Mary Lou just described. But the main reason – the one that trumps all the others – is you, the faculty. Almost without exception, you understand that teaching is your primary function. Research is essential, and service is very important as well. But teaching comes first, and you approach our students with the clear intention of challenging them to achieve excellence and supporting them in doing so. Moreover, you are not possessive of our students – departments and programs don’t act as though you own your majors in the sense of trying to keep them away from other areas of study and engagement as well. Accordingly, our students are free to pursue the interesting combinations of majors and minors that we so frequently celebrate – and, in fact, you actively encourage and help them to do so. But even more importantly, I believe that when each of you finishes a course at the end of a semester, you sit down and say: “That was great. Now, how can I make it better?” I see this attitude reflected in your teaching. I see it in your research. And I see it in your service.

The attitude that says: “That was great. Now, how can we make it better?” has driven our approach to the major goals of our Strategic Plan. It has enabled us to replace the Liberal Studies curriculum with the FYE, and it has led us to make the FYE better each successive year of its existence. It has motivated us as we have grappled with issues surrounding our need to increase both our own intercultural literacy and that of our students. It has led us to increase the diversity of both our student body and our faculty. And it has helped us stay the course as we have encountered the predictable difficulties that all colleges and universities face when they take on these issues.

(And by the way, let me say to you that I have seldom been so proud of our students as I was last evening during the discussion of issues relating to diversity and intercultural literacy. Winston Grady-Willis and Mariel Martin did a great job of framing the conversation, but the student representatives on the panel were the centerpiece of the program – they were thoughtful, honest, open, and above all smart in their comments. Frankly, I wish that every single person in this room could have been there to participate.)

This spirit of “That was great. Now how can we make it better?” is also behind the formation of our new task force on responsible citizenship – the third goal of the Strategic Plan. This effort marks yet another collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, and it is co-chaired by Associate Deans David Karp and Paty Rubio.

But here’s the problem: As we keep getting better – as our performance in various areas gets closer to the top of the power curve – it will take greater efforts (and in some cases, greater investment of financial resources) to make each successive improvement. Moreover, the better we get, the more we are competing head-to-head with institutions that have more resources than we. And here’s the rub: relative to those institutions – and, much more importantly, relative to our own aspirations – we will continue to remain substantially underresourced for the foreseeable future. We must be sophisticated enough to keep this fact in mind, even as we acknowledge our progress in developing additional financial resources and improving our situation in many concrete ways.

Moreover, the “perfect storm” of uncertain financial markets, rapidly increasing energy prices, and the clear prospect of continuing increases in our comprehensive fee confront us with the possibility that increasing numbers of families who otherwise would place students in future applicant pools may come to regard a Skidmore education as simply beyond their means. Schools with greater resources already are responding to this prospect by increasing the generosity of their financial aid policies – raising the percentage of their student populations that benefit from institutional aid, replacing loans by grants, and so on – to raise the percentage of their students to whom institutional aid is available. By contrast, even though over the past five years Skidmore has increased its annual commitment to financial aid by 68% – from $16.1 million to $27 million – the percentage of our student population receiving institutional aid has remained relatively constant – fluctuating between 40% and 42%. This means that meeting the likely need for financial aid for future student populations will require the identification of substantial new resources that most likely will far exceed the resources we have deployed to date. Financial aid, of course, is just one of the financial challenges clearly visible on our horizon. In addition, we are looking at increasing energy costs, continuing pressure to maintain competitive salaries, as much as $100 million of needed new construction and renovation to existing spaces, and the list goes on. Let me emphasize, however, that this is not a scenario of doom and gloom because, once again, our challenges arise primarily from our aspirations and build upon the tremendous progress we have made to date.

So what are we to do? In a word, we need to get even smarter – collectively – in making strategic decisions than we are today. The need for better collective thinking would be much less of an issue if the College were run more like a corporation – with strategic decisions emanating from the top and percolating down throughout the organization. But our deep and abiding commitment to shared governance entails that significant strategic decisions must be made collaboratively, with the widespread participation of major constituencies within the Skidmore community – foremost among these, you, the faculty. Ideally, such collaborative decision-making gives the College the benefit of many good minds and ensures that important proposals are subject to intense scrutiny before being implemented. At the same time, if the College is to be able to act both wisely and expeditiously, such strategic conversations need to be informed by a high degree of strategic literacy and must rise to the same standards of excellence – with regard to both their appeal to argument and to evidence – that characterize our best work in our teaching and scholarship. The fact that we have made such notable progress in the past speaks well of our existing capacity for collective decision-making. At the same time, the extraordinary challenges looming on the near horizon call upon us to create a climate that makes possible an even broader and deeper understanding of our strategic realities.

The essence of sound strategic decision-making is to understand the nature and implications of institutional choices. Such decision-making seldom pits good courses of action against bad ones; most often, it comprehends a range of good or even excellent options – each of which could claim a legitimate place in some possible institutional future. But no actual future can accommodate all or even most of them. So choices must be made. And they are best made within the context of an overall strategic vision – hence the utility of a Strategic Plan. Though we also must acknowledge that it is usually not possible simply to deduce the right strategic decision from even a very good strategic plan; sound strategic decisions require judgment. Moreover, every decision to allocate resources (time or money) in one way, is per force a decision not to allocate those resources elsewhere. Accordingly, those who participate in decision-making must understand that their choices have consequences and that adequate deliberation must take account of such consequences. Above all, making wise strategic choices requires decision-makers to embrace an institutional perspective that transcends individual or group interests.

The combination of shared governance and the need to make sound strategic decisions makes for a very important conversation, one that I hope we will engage further throughout this year. But we have other business to conduct today. So let me conclude by turning to a more personal set of questions: Why are we here? Why are you here? And why am I here? What are we all about as we begin a new academic year in this premier small liberal arts college?

I won’t presume to answer for you, though I suspect your answer would not be far from mine. But my best answer to these questions takes the form of stories – stories of our students. Let me relate just four stories of our most recent graduates, stories that many of you already know well.

Jonathan Brestoff ’08 – Jon was involved in student government from his first year at Skidmore. In his senior year, he was a highly successful SGA president who, because he understood how to work collaboratively (with students and with the administration) accomplished far more than any of his predecessors I’ve known. He also served admirably as the student representative on the VPAA search committee. A dedicated Exercise Science major, he was our first Goldwater Scholar and was nominated for a Rhodes scholarship. In his junior and senior years, he worked with T. H. Reynolds on a research project that we could well hear about in the future. Upon leaving Skidmore, he had his choice among several outstanding medical schools, and chose to attend The University of Pennsylvania in a joint MD-PH.D program.

Vaughn Green ’08 – Vaughn was a HEOP student who arrived on campus with a picture of his mother as the screen-saver on his laptop. He kept that picture there for four years as his inspiration. He held leadership positions in Residence Life, and graduated as a biochem. major. He is now attending pharmacy school.

Kabuchi Banfield ‘08 – Kabuchi was another HEOP student. He is a former member of the Harlem Boys Choir who came to Skidmore, at least in large part, because of his experience here during several summers when Special Programs sponsored the Harlem Boys Choir in residency. Like Jon Brestoff, Kabuchi was involved in student government virtually from the moment he arrived as a first-year student. He graduated as a Management & Business major, but along the way he studied in Paris and continued to take electives in English and music. Upon graduating, he had his choice among several job opportunities in the financial services field.

Claire Davenport ’08 – Claire is a student with a truly amazing and rather unique story. At 18, she was a single mother, living for a time in a Capital District battered women’s shelter and working as a cashier at a big-box store just to put food on the table. Wanting to do more for herself and her son, she attended Schenectady Community College, where a counselor suggested that she apply to Skidmore to continue pursuing her developing interests in science and mathematics. She did apply and was awarded a full scholarship (a Palamountain scholarship). She made the most of her opportunities at Skidmore, pursuing research in both organic chemistry and behavioral science, and also continuing her work in mathematics. During her time here, she and her new partner took advantage of the Greenberg Child Care Center to help care for their (now) two children. Next year she will attend Albany Medical School, and plans to specialize in women’s health and reproductive care and to provide health care to women in underserved upstate New York communities.

These young people all are enormously proud of having graduated from Skidmore. They can’t wait to become active members of the Alumni Association, and they all are looking forward to giving back to the College to help successive generations of Skidmore students.

Each of us in this room could tell other stories – and each member of our faculty certainly could tell many more than I. But it is these and other stories of what our students accomplish here that make me most proud of what we do – what you do, and what I do, in my own position. In fact, I think it is important, from time to time, to let you hear me say that I personally remain enormously proud to serve as President of Skidmore College, and to tell you, quite honestly, that there’s not another college or university anyplace where I would prefer to be.

I hope that each of us in this room is equally glad to be here, and I wish each of you a most successful semester.

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May 17 2008
It is fitting that we gather on this day of celebration, a time when we mark the achievements of

Members of the Skidmore Class of 2008 and honored guests:

It is fitting that we gather on this day of celebration, a time when we mark the achievements of our graduates and also a moment when we pause to reflect on this significant transition in the life of an individual and a family. On behalf of Skidmore College, I extend my welcome to everyone in attendance at our College’s 97th Commencement Exercises – most especially to the members of the graduating class.

As you graduates may already have noticed, commencements bring out a nearly uncontrollable urge in your elders to offer sage advice to guide you on the remainder of your journey through life – no doubt because we all have done such a terrific job running the world that you are preparing to inherit. Be that as it may, you are going to hear a lot of advice this morning. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just deal with it.

For my part, I shall try to resist the desire to advise you and, instead, express one hope, ask you one question, and then make just one parting request.

My hope for each of you is that, as you charted your own path through Skidmore’s curricular and co-curricular offerings, you found that we kept our promise inherent in the phrase “creative thought matters”. That is, I sincerely hope we inspired, challenged, and supported you in developing your own creative abilities.

In his 2005 book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, author Daniel Pink makes a strong case that a set of capacities – which he calls design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning – will be key to your success in the economy of the 21st Century. These capacities do not replace but rather complement the traditional, left-brain skills of linear, analytical thinking that long have held pride of place in the college curriculum. Just to suggest the flavor of what he is recommending, consider one of them: symphony, which Pink defines as

the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. (P. 130.)

Pink argues that symphony and the other abilities he highlights are related to forms of work that are difficult – if not impossible – to automate and that are equally difficult to outsource or export. In short, he is arguing that creative thought matters very much in economic terms, and I believe it is easy to understand how such thinking is likely involved in virtually any new discovery or solution to a problem, in virtually any field of endeavor.

In a more recent book, The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb emphasizes the importance of what he calls “outlier events” – that is, certain events that are so rare as to be outside our normal experience, that have “extreme” effects, and that are explainable but only in retrospect. Taleb argues that most – if not all – of the significant events of human history might well quality as Black Swans – from the extinction of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, to the success of the American Revolution, to the discovery of penicillin, to the fall of the Soviet Union, to meeting that one-in-a-million person and falling in love. Take your pick.

To the extent that Taleb is correct, and I believe there is much to be said for his position, the value of creative thought increases even further. For the more our lives are influenced by highly improbable events that per force are not envisioned by standard ways of looking at the world, the more important it becomes to be able to see the world through fresh eyes, to develop the capacity to expect the unexpected, and then to devise new ways to respond when the unexpected occurs. Yes, creative thought really does matter. So, to recast my earlier statement, I most sincerely hope that we have helped you develop these skills, for now more than ever you will need them.

Now for the question: Who tells you who you are? Who tells you who you are? A simple question, but one that also goes to the heart of what you have been up to for the past four years – a question that is at the center of liberal education. The British psychologist Teri Apter wrote that

One of the main tasks of adolescence it so achieve an identity – not necessarily a knowledge of who we are, but a clarification of the range of what we might become, a set of self-references by which we can make sense of our responses, and justify our decisions and goals.

Your Skidmore career should have confronted you at every turn with possibilities for what you might become, and it should also have provided you with a set of references – not just selfreferences but reference points related to the thoughts and experiences of others – that you now can use as you make the decisions that will continue to create the you that you will become over the course of your life.

The truth is that none of these reference points can tell you who you are. Only you can answer that question – and you will answer it, first of all, through what you do but also in reflecting upon what you have done and still might do.

Today’s Commencement Exercises mark one point along a transformative journey that has led to the person you are today and that sets the stage for the person you will become tomorrow. I would wager that, four years ago, it would have been difficult if not impossible for anyone to have predicted just where you would be today, and it may still be difficult for you to say where you are headed. That is all right. You do not need to know just where you are going or even who you are today. But do I hope you realize that it is you who now are in charge of this itinerary. We have tried to provide you some of the reference points I mentioned a moment ago. But it is you who now must decide how to read them.

Finally, my parting request for you, as you begin this next phase of your life’s travels, is to realize that Skidmore College is not just a place where you have gone to school for four years. Rather, Skidmore itself is now part of who you are. You most likely will understand what I have just said more clearly over time. But please do believe me when I say that we will continue to care about you. We want to know what choices you are making and how those choices are working out. Above all, we want to know the person you will become five, ten, twenty, and fifty years from now. So stay connected with us, and let us continue, every now and then, to provide another reference point and, above all, to remind you that creative thought continues to matter.

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Feb 1 2008
When we think of Skidmore's many academic strengths, the sciences have not always come immediately to mind. But science was at the core of our signature nursing program, and exercise science--highly r...
When we think of Skidmore’s many academic strengths, the sciences have not always come immediately to mind. But science was at the core of our signature nursing program, and exercise science—highly regarded both inside the college and beyond—traces its origins to the physical-education major. Our strategic plan highlights the importance of science and calls for significant investment in this area for two primary reasons. First, we will be a stronger liberal arts college with a larger percentage of science majors (or double majors) in our student population. At present, we are on the way to moving this number from 12 to 22 percent. Second, we have a social responsibility to help all of our students achieve scientific literacy.

One reason for placing greater emphasis on scientific literacy is the modern democratic nation-state’s need for a scientifically literate voting population, one that is capable of understanding science- and technology-related public policy questions—with the funding of stem-cell research, the teaching of evolution in public schools, and the effect of human technological activity on our environment standing as just three examples. Today every citizen needs to understand our current technology, the potential gains and risks associated with the implementation of new technologies (e.g., why a new drug requires such extensive clinical trials before being introduced to the market), the lingering effects of old technologies (e.g., the presence of potentially hazardous substances in our water or air), and how technologies (e.g., a nuclear power plant) can fail. We also need to be concerned with the public-health threats posed by naturally occurring pathogens (e.g., the bacteria that cause cholera) and, in the post-9/11 world, the biochemical agents derived from them that can be sought by terrorists. The wonderful exhibit Molecules that Matter, currently at the Tang Museum, makes a powerful statement about the deep connection between science and human history. Given the importance of this connection in our contemporary lives, it seems beyond dispute that preparing our students to function as informed, responsible citizens must include providing them a basic understanding of science and technology.

Solutions to many contemporary problems reside at the intersections of traditional scientific disciplines—at the confluence of biology and chemistry, computer science and biology, biology and psychology, physics and geosciences, exercise science and biology, and throughout the interdisciplinary fields of environmental studies and neuroscience. To prepare for the work they will do in the economy of the twenty-first century, our science majors must learn to think, cooperate, and communicate across disciplinary boundaries. Accordingly, interdisciplinary science programs are an emerging focus of science education. We are determined not merely to join this movement but to become a leading proponent of interdisciplinary teaching in science among liberal arts colleges. We also want to foster undergraduate research, the close interaction of students and professors that models the work of discovery within the contemporary scientific community. Above all, we want our science majors and nonmajors alike to understand the processes of scientific discovery and the central role of creative thought in those processes. Every major theoretical or experimental advance in science has required an act of human imagination of the highest order.

For all of these reasons, we are designing programs that guide students to the cutting edges in science, engaging them in the type of rigorous, inquiry-based study necessary to enter top-tier graduate programs, professional programs in health care, or corporate or academic research. We expect our science majors to undertake research, often in collaboration with members of the faculty. If we are to achieve true interdisciplinarity, we must dedicate time and resources to the cooperative design of curriculum across departments and provide the shared infrastructure necessary to support these new forms of teaching and learning.

So it is that we’ve identified the sciences as a major focus of our “Creative Thought, Bold Promise” campaign, designating a $15 million initiative to strengthen our interdisciplinary science programs in biomolecular science, neuroscience, and environmental science and to expand our student-faculty undergraduate research effort. One specific goal is to fund four new endowed professorships. In time, we also will need to expand our science facilities, an undertaking that will require considerably more than the initial $15 million. Our science faculty is now intensely engaged in planning the unique contribution Skidmore will make in this arena over the coming years. In so doing, they are laying the groundwork for a broader and more coherent science program that will serve a much larger number of students and establish the sciences as an integral part of the college’s institutional identity.
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Nov 1 2007
It is beyond dispute that today's college graduates will have to deal effectively with difference within the human community in both their public and private lives, especially within an increasingly d...

It is beyond dispute that today’s college graduates will have to deal effectively with difference within the human community in both their public and private lives, especially within an increasingly diverse and global workplace. Indeed, in the words of Skidmore’s Strategic Plan,

Everyone who lives in the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st Century – from the young person just attaining adulthood to those with a bit more life experience – needs to become an adept traveler in a complex multi-national, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multicultural milieu that scarcely could have been imagined just decades ago.2

Achieving this end requires commitment across the span of an adult life, far longer than the relatively brief undergraduate student career. Even so, the question of how colleges and universities can best provide our students a foundation for this task of lifelong learning is certainly one of the most crucial and, at times, vexing issues facing American higher education today. The Skidmore community has wrestled with this question for some time, and it is the focus of the Strategic Plan’s second goal with its call for intercultural understanding and global awareness. Nevertheless, it is arguable that we have yet to explore it in the depth it merits. Indeed, the emotional charge attaching to this topic and our best-intentioned efforts to approach it with sensitivity have often combined to place boundaries on our conversation that we ultimately must transcend if we are to fulfill this obligation to our students. So how can we engage this conversation effectively as a faculty, and how can we involve students in this discussion as well?

This essay proposes a conceptual framework – centering on the defined concept of intercultural literacy – within which these conversations might fruitfully occur. Its initial prompt was the (now completed) search for a new faculty position created last year: the Director of Intercultural Studies. But even before then, discussions surrounding the third section of the 2005- 06 Middle States Reaccreditation Self-Study, “Student Engagement with Domestic Diversity, Global Awareness, and Intercultural Understanding,” revealed considerable ambivalence around these issues within the Skidmore community – most notably, within the faculty – an ambivalence that was noted in the report of the Middle States’ Evaluation Team. Last spring’s intense campus discussions following upon the resignation of our recently hired Director of Student Diversity Programs highlighted the immediacy of this conversation for our students. It is my hope that the framing remarks relating to the topic of intercultural understanding and global awareness offered below can assist us in broadening and advancing this important discussion.

Intercultural and Global Understanding, Diversity, and Core Educational Values

The second goal of our Strategic Plan states that

We will challenge every Skidmore student to develop the intercultural understanding and global awareness necessary to thrive in the complex and increasingly interconnected world of the 21st Century.

Arguably, this commitment is the most challenging of the Plan’s four strategic goals. That is to say, the other three goals – each of which carries its own complexities – make fewer demands upon us for fundamental change, either in what we are doing or in the ways we think of ourselves. By contrast, the second goal is itself predicated upon the recognition of change – change in our global context and the need for change in ourselves. In the language of the Plan, events in the post-9/11 world provide daily reminders that

multiple sources of economic influence, political power, and cultural energy compete for attention on the world stage and affect every aspect of our students’ lives – from the price they will pay for gasoline, cement, and steel to the types of jobs available to them in our economy to the quality of the global environment to the governmental policies that will be necessary to maintain not just their accustomed standard of living and personal freedom but the very possibility of a stable world order. If we want them to emerge as leaders and not just as observers, our students must understand this world and their place in it. Our job is to immerse them in that world.3

Even more, it is our responsibility to prepare our students to live in and understand that world – not just to survive but to thrive, to lead, and to create change. The question thus becomes: What does it mean to do so, and how would we know if we were to succeed? This essay addresses only the first half of this complex question. Before doing so, however, I want to emphasize the centrality of this issue within our core educational values as described in Part B of the Plan, “Skidmore’s Distinctive Identity: the Values of Engaged Liberal Learning.”

The project of liberal education presupposes the interplay of the broadest possible spectrum of ideas, viewpoints, and perspectives. It requires that students become accustomed to the discomfort of having their most cherished beliefs subjected to vigorous challenge. To provide such an education, we must enable our students to understand – and interrogate – both the overt and covert historical, social, and conceptual influences that have shaped their own worldviews. We also must expose them, across the curriculum, to alternative frameworks – most especially to ideas they are least likely to encounter or understand within the contemporary American cultural and political milieu. In this process, we must help them acquire the intellectual flexibility needed to entertain and to interrogate unfamiliar ideas.

In addition, we must help our students embrace what we might term the principle of intellectual complementarity – the idea that on various occasions one needs to deploy two (or more!) seemingly incompatible conceptual frameworks to understand some aspect of a complex reality – especially a reality pertaining to the social world. For example, political leaders need to understand how to create social and legal contingencies of reinforcement – a concept so well articulated within behaviorist psychology – that promote the greatest good for the greatest number within a society (the classical utilitarian test). At the same time, they need to reinforce the conceptual framework of individual moral responsibility that is the foundation of our judicial system (a deontological framework that some would argue is incompatible with both behaviorism, strictly construed,4 and utilitarianism). It is possible – indeed, I am arguing that it is necessary – for educated persons to appeal to both of these frameworks, without contradiction, in different contexts, especially those differing in levels of complexity and analysis. In fact, I would maintain that the ability to invoke such complementarity represents one of the hallmarks of a liberally educated person. Finally we must help our students develop both the character and the intellectual capacity needed to rationally defend the beliefs they ultimately embrace. We already do this work in many places within our existing curriculum. But our understanding of the values and objectives of liberal education, along with their expression in our courses, must continually evolve – both to respond more effectively to the needs of today’s students and to demonstrate anew the enduring power of these values themselves. There is a rich conversation about such issues still to be had within departments and programs and College-wide. This ongoing process of rethinking our fundamental educational commitments should always leave them stronger and better understood than they were before.

As various studies have demonstrated,5 to be most effective in accomplishing these goals an academic community needs to bring together persons from differing backgrounds – especially those associated with distinct personal lived experiences. Such efforts to enhance the diversity of college populations enrich opportunities for liberal learning for all students. For example, despite the undeniable progress in affirming civil rights of all United States citizens that has been realized over the past five decades, it remains empirically true that race continues to play a powerful role in differentiating the experience of individuals within this country, and not only for persons of color but for members of the white “majority” as well. Other such factors that shape our experiences are gender, economic class, sexual orientation, cultural background, and increasingly religious background or beliefs (especially as these are intertwined with cultural heritage). Thus a student who has spent her entire life in the Middle East will most likely be able to contribute a perspective to a discussion of, say, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would not be available to students (or even professors) who have lived entirely within the borders of the U.S. Likewise, students who differ in sexual orientation can together expand the parameters of numerous classroom discussions, provided all participants feel empowered to express their perspectives openly. In sum, increasing the representation within our community of persons likely to bring differing life experiences to the table – again, provided we enable them to share and reflect critically upon those experiences in honest and open dialog – increases the intellectual and cultural vitality of our entire academic community to the benefit of all its members. Diversity, likewise, links directly with creativity. Interactions among disparate perspectives frequently strike the intellectual sparks that herald the emergence of a new idea. Attention to difference in background, perspective, life experience, and worldview is thus an essential element within the larger framework of Skidmore’s most fundamental and longstanding institutional commitments. In sum, though not an end in itself, increasing the diversity of our community represents an essential means to achieving the educational excellence we seek.

In light of these considerations, each new search and admissions cycle marks a moment of opportunity and possible transformation for the campus community. So as we look to each pool of potential students, faculty members, or other employees, we must reaffirm our commitment to increasing representation from specific targeted populations – including but certainly not limited to persons of color and those who bring international perspectives. We have begun these efforts and to-date have achieved a measure of success (especially within our student population), but we are not yet where we need to be. Moreover, the effort required to expand access is just the first step. Even more work is required to retain the members of an increasingly diverse academic community, supporting all of them so that they can achieve excellence in their academic work and fulfill their potential for personal development. Accordingly, we must raise our expectations and strive to increase not just our efforts but also our achievements in continuing to diversify the Skidmore community. To do so, we must aggressively employ both our creativity and the full range of best practices in recruiting new students, faculty members, and other employees.

As we continue to make progress in diversifying our community, we also must expect new challenges that themselves will require further growth – particularly in our ability to serve the needs of a more complex student population in both our academic and co-curricular life. We know from listening to the voices of our own graduating students of color and from national conversations as well that, again despite our best efforts, we still have a distance to travel in this area. Those of us who teach especially need to redouble our efforts to master the pedagogical skills required within an increasingly multicultural classroom. Above all, we must continue to develop our curricula to enhance our students’ intercultural understanding and global awareness. We have not yet achieved consensus with the College about how to accomplish such objectives or, indeed, even about their meaning. Important conversations regarding these issues have occurred in the past, and we need to build upon this good work to engage our entire community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees – to clarify our understanding of what our students need to know today and how we can best assist them in coming to know it. Moreover, this is not simply a theoretical discussion. In short order, these conversations need to result in action, with departments and programs taking the lead in enhancing courses and curricula to advance the indicated educational objectives. These concerns also must continue to be reflected in shared conversations prompted by visiting speakers, symposia, performances, and other such public events that are integral to the life of any academic community.

Intercultural Literacy as Conceptual Frame

The underlying concern of the Strategic Plan’s second goal is difference. Every one of our students needs to understand – not just in theory but also as a matter of practical life skills – how to live and work effectively with persons whose lived experience may have given them a radically different perspective on the world. Specifically, our graduates need to have learned how understanding and appreciating such different perspectives can broaden and deepen their own thinking. They need to be conversant with political and social issues relating to diversity. They must know how to interact successfully with others in multicultural environments. And they must be able to formulate and rationally defend their own beliefs within a pluralistic intellectual and cultural context. As noted above, the bases of cultural and intellectual difference are as varied as the multiple components of any person’s identity. Before we can know how best to equip our students with both the theoretical and practical knowledge required to deal with this complexity, we need to articulate this educational project in greater detail. As a way of doing so, let me employ an analogy with a concept with which the higher education community is already quite familiar: the notion of scientific literacy.

Even though the concept of scientific literacy can itself be contested ground, few would deny that today’s responsible citizens need to possess, at the very least, an understanding of how science has developed historically as a human enterprise, how scientists construct and empirically test hypotheses (the “scientific method”), how encompassing conceptual frameworks shape scientific experimentation and the collection of data, what properties scientific theories attribute to the world at different levels of complexity and organization, and how those frameworks themselves evolve or are replaced over time. Our graduates require a familiarity with the results of contemporary science sufficient to function as informed participants in science-related public policy debates that engage all of us as voters (e.g., the teaching of evolution in public schools6) – not to mention dealing with a life interwoven with science and technology at every turn. The latter includes a basic understanding of the risks associated with new technologies (e.g., why new drugs must be subjected to extensive clinical trials before being released to the market, whether the presence of a potentially hazardous substance in the water or air – as measured in parts per million or parts per billion – provides cause for concern, the possible long-term consequences of introducing genetically modified plants into the biosphere, and so on), and the public health threats posed by naturally occurring pathogens (e.g., the bacteria that cause cholera) to the enhanced biochemical agents sought by terrorists. Moreover, there are both conceptual and pragmatic dimensions to this kind of “literacy.” That is, most scientists would agree that in order to become scientifically literate students need to do more than just read about science; they need to engage in the kind of activities that scientists routinely undertake, in laboratory or field settings, and then have the opportunity to reflect upon those experiences.

Although it is quite clear that we need to do much more to raise the level of scientific literacy at Skidmore, we must set aside that subject for another occasion. Here I want to use the concept of scientific literacy as background to propose an analogous notion that pertains to intercultural understanding and global awareness: call it “intercultural literacy.”Intercultural literacy, as envisioned here, encompasses three distinct components: the first is conceptual; the second is practical; and the third is the capacity to make rationally defensible value judgments in a complicated pluralistic world.

Intercultural Literacy as Intellectual Competence

Just as scientific literacy requires a basic structural and historical understanding of contemporary science, intercultural literacy requires a similar understanding of the pervasive dialectic of (a) cultural difference and (b) our capacity to bridge such differences as they play out across the spatial and temporal panoply of human affairs. As envisioned here, the notion of intercultural literacy is grounded in an affirmation of our shared humanity7 – that is, a commitment to the existence of significant underlying, discoverable similarities among all persons regardless of their background and, significantly, regardless of their actions. This notion of shared humanity includes the idea that all human beings have the right to be treated justly, to be allowed to develop their particular talents, to pursue happiness, and so on. Saying even this much, however, reveals that the proposed notion of intercultural literacy incorporates a set of specific beliefs about what it means to be a human being – beliefs rooted in (though certainly not restricted to) Western intellectual and cultural traditions. Though its scope of application is universal across all of humanity, the legitimacy of this concept is not conditioned upon its universal acceptability within different social, cultural, or intellectual frameworks. Some traditions that are committed to alternative interpretations of humanity would advance differing visions of human community, justice, happiness, and the like – leading to alternative theoretical perspectives that themselves need to be investigated and interrogated.8 Part of the reason for identifying intercultural literacy as an educational goal is the realization, first, that the understanding of any cultural or intellectual framework can be enhanced when it is viewed from alternative perspectives and, second, that any such framework can potentially benefit from the inclusion of ideas that originate elsewhere. Above all, however, the notion of intercultural literacy needs to work for us, within the family of value commitments that define the approach to liberal education at Skidmore College and, more broadly, across American colleges and universities.9

Mastering the intellectual component of intercultural literacy requires that one attain a breadth of anthropological, historical, linguistic, philosophical, religious, sociological, and other such knowledge sufficient to understand and appreciate the ideas and perspectives of other cultures or human contexts that diverge significantly from one’s own. Of course, this cannot mean that one must master, e.g., all of history. But it does mean that one must know how to read history, anthropology, etc. – that one must become conversant with the ways historians, anthropologists, et al. ask and answer questions about the world, how they create knowledge and meaning. It also requires that one learn enough history, etc. to realize that there are alternatives to the beliefs dominant in any particular place and time and that it is unlikely that any one cultural or conceptual system encompasses all true propositions pertaining to the complexities of human existence.10 More specifically, one needs to achieve intellectual fluency in the conceptual frameworks required to interrogate and understand the key sources of difference in human affairs and their social consequences, both private and public, for the world of the 21st Century.

The indicated disciplines, long considered central to liberal education, have been transformed, especially in the latter decades of the 20th Century, through increased attention to factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic class, religious beliefs, and culture that are invoked in the concept of intercultural literacy. But despite these changes, proponents of liberal education would continue to argue that its primary purpose of preparing young people to lead lives of human flourishing remains central to the enterprise. So too for its secondary purpose of preparing graduates for their professional lives – a utility that is enhanced through intercultural literacy. Moreover, our graduates will require such intellectual competency to discuss public policy of issues relating to diversity and difference – both in this country (for example, immigration policy, the legal justification and status of affirmative action, the legal status that should be afforded same-sex marriage, the relation between church and state) and abroad (e.g., traditional Islam’s critique of western culture and the role of that critique in conflicts throughout the world, ethnic and political strife in Africa, the emergence of India and China as global economic powers). Periodically, they will be called upon to select political leaders who hold positions regarding them. In short, achieving an intellectual grounding in intercultural literacy is necessary for our graduates to function as informed responsible citizens in their world.

In attaining the intellectual dimension of intercultural literacy our students depend, first of all, on our curriculum – and not just on courses satisfying a designated general education requirement but upon what they encounter across the broad range of courses they will complete along the way to graduation. Individual courses focused on topics directly related to intercultural literacy are, of course, important, and the more of these we are able to offer, the more successful will we be in meeting this goal. But ideas pertaining to intercultural literacy need to permeate our curriculum to an even greater extent than they do so already. Co-curricular activities – lectures, films, theatre productions, musical performances (e.g., the “Hated Music” events), and so on – play an important supporting role as well. The choice of Life on the Color Line11 as the common text for first-year students entering in fall 2006 and the programming built around it represent another example of these efforts. If we are to be serious about intercultural literacy, we must continue to make such conversations prominent in our ongoing intellectual and cultural life.

There is a personal dimension to intercultural literacy that needs to be acknowledged as well. As many authors have maintained, in learning to extend one’s own “narrative imagination”12 to encompass “the other,” one ultimately learns important truths about oneself that might otherwise be unavailable. This why such ancient texts as The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old and New Testaments, The Iliad and The Odyssey, the writings of Confucius and Lao Tzu, the Koran, the ancient Greek tragedies, and so many other great works of world literature still speak to us. While they immerse us in the particulars of the times and places in which they were written – reminding us that differences among peoples, cultures, eras and so on are very real – such texts also transcend their points of origin. Indeed, Milan Kundera argues that the spatial and temporal distances that apparently separate writer and audience may not represent so much an obstacle to understanding as an advantage:

Rabelais, ever undervalued by his compatriots, was never better understood than by a Russian, Bakhtin; Dostoyevsky than by a Frenchman, Gide; Ibsen than by an Irishman, Shaw; Joyce than by an Austrian, Broch. The universal importance of the generation of great North Americans – Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos – was first brought to light by the French. (“In France I’m the father of a literary movement,” Faulkner wrote in 1946, complaining of the deaf ear he encountered in his own country.) These few examples are not bizarre exceptions to the rule; no, they are the rule. Geographic Distance sets the observer back from the local context and allows him to embrace the large context of world literature – the only approach that can bring out a novel’s aesthetic value – that is to say, the previously unseen aspects of existence that this particular novel has managed to make clear, the novelty of form it has found.13

From the standpoint of intercultural literacy, a primary goal of such reading is to become “multilingual” across differing conceptual frameworks – able to learn their various “languages” and move with facility from one to another. Philosopher Paul Feyerabend has argued that this human linguistic capacity gives us the ability to make non-arbitrary judgments or preference decisions even between so-called “incommensurable” frameworks – an ability that is necessary to overcoming moral relativism (see pp. 9-10, below).14

Doing so expands one’s personal capacity for establishing empathy with the other persons – not just other individuals within one’s own social and cultural context but also those “others” who may be furthest from it. This skill is not only relevant to one’s development as a person but it also provides important pragmatic advantages. To consider just one historical example, Doris Kearns Goodwin identifies this capacity as one of Abraham Lincoln’s most salient personality traits, writing that he “possessed extraordinary empathy – the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.”15 Goodwin argues that this ability was central to Lincoln’s effectiveness as a political leader, enabling him not only to work effectively with difficult colleagues (most especially, his Cabinet: the “team of rivals”) but also to anticipate with great foresight the moves of his political adversaries. It is a fundamental tenet of liberal education that such empathy can be learned – or, at least developed – by investigating the “previously unseen aspects of existence” revealed through literature and the other arts.

This learning, however, carries a precondition. One must approach such experiences with an attitude of openness, abandoning the sense of self-important superiority that says in effect, “I have it all figured out in advance, and therefore there is nothing I can possibly learn from you.” Commenting on his stage production of Angels in America, a work centered in the American gay community, theatrical director George C. Wolfe eloquently captures this realization:

I’m here to tell you that my story is ultimately your story, that the specifics of my story may require that you surrender your arrogance to go on the journey, but once you surrender your arrogance and go on this journey, you will find yourself in my story.16

Writing in a quite different context, Bertrand Russell describes in similar terms what he takes to be the intellectual function of philosophy:

Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they might be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.17

Russell’s comment can easily be taken as a gloss on the educational goal of intercultural literacy as intellectual competency. It is our responsibility to guide our students into this realm of “liberating doubt,” having first equipped them to be genuine learners and not just intellectual tourists. In order to do so, we must be intentional about overcoming the arrogance of our students when we encounter it. Achieving this pedagogical goal can be among the most daunting tasks faced by a professor, and unfortunately there is no easy formula for success. In order to succeed, however, one thing is certain: to neutralize arrogance in our students, we teachers must be able to model for them an openness to new ideas and experiences, which requires that we struggle sincerely to overcome arrogance in ourselves.

Intercultural Literacy as Practical Wisdom

Achieving such intellectual competence, though necessary, is not itself sufficient because, just as with scientific literacy, intercultural literacy also encompasses a crucial experiential dimension. One’s affirmation of the humanity of all persons and theoretical understanding of difference must ultimately be manifested not only in attitude but also in comportment. In the words of Lucy Skidmore Scribner, the educational goal of intercultural literacy essentially must engage both “mind and hand.” All of us today, and most especially young people poised at the threshold of their adult lives, need the interpersonal and social skills required to interact respectfully and, in the long run, comfortably with persons whose background and identity formation may differ substantially from their own. Thus Janet Casey has spoken of the practical advantages of becoming culturally bilingual (or multilingual) even within one’s own country – gaining the ability to speak easily with those at home in different social or cultural contexts. Our graduates will require such robust practical abilities to establish effective collaborative relationships with colleagues within the workforce who may be separated by social, cultural, national, or religious chasms.18

In exploring this second dimension of intercultural literacy we encounter a fundamental paradox underlying human interaction. Despite what we know about the very real social power of the markers of difference, it is simply impossible to read the story of any human being from, say, the color of his or her face – or, indeed, from any set of such general characteristics. Each of us is a product of our lived experience, much of which will inevitably be shaped by shared factors of race, gender, class and the like. At the same time, each of us is a unique individual whose attitudes, intellectual life, and life story together comprise a sum of particulars that cannot be captured by any description couched exclusively in terms of group membership. So while one needs to be sensitive to markers of social difference – understanding the powerful ways they shape the experiences and perspectives of both others and oneself – one ultimately must be able to look beyond and beneath them to appreciate and affirm the other as a distinct person with his or her own authentic individuality. No one can function effectively in today’s world without coming to terms with this paradox intellectually – employing the notion of conceptual complementarity referenced above – and, even more importantly, dealing with it in one’s concrete interactions with others. One marker of having achieved such competence is the ability to establish genuine, lasting friendships with those whom one might initially perceive to be irredeemably “other.”

As Aristotle pointed out long ago in the Nicomachean Ethics, achieving any kind of practical wisdom requires practice – in this case, the kind of practice students acquire in living with a roommate, participating in group exercises in classes, playing on athletic teams, or working together in student clubs. Skidmore must be a rich source of such experiences. In effect, the College must become a place where one simply does not have the option of spending all of one’s time with others whose life experience essentially mirrors one’s own, who reside inside one’s cultural, intellectual, and personal comfort zone. It must be a place where all of us learn on a daily basis how to expand our individual comfort zones by including those who once upon a time were not admitted to them. Once again, to become this kind of community, we must continue our efforts to increase the diversity of our various populations and multiply opportunities for interaction across social boundaries both within and outside of our borders. But merely diversifying our populations is not enough. We also need to become a community more capable of talking about – and talking through – our differences than we are at present. The division of Student Affairs will play an increasingly important role in creating new programming and otherwise helping to foster the conditions in residence life that are necessary for our students to achieve these educational objectives. Once we have fulfilled our responsibility to create the contexts for such learning, it falls to our students (student leaders, especially, have many opportunities to contribute here) to take responsibility for attaining these social competencies.

Intercultural Literacy as the Rejection of Relativism

The third dimension of intercultural literacy is the capacity to make and defend value judgments within pluralistic social, conceptual, and political contexts. For even as we affirm the humanity of all persons and the legitimacy of multiple cultural perspectives, we must avoid – and help our students avoid – the easy slide into ethical or cultural relativism. As a first approximation, relativism is the belief that one cannot legitimately criticize the ethical principles held by another individual or by the members of another group. Just as affirming the humanity of another person is not in any way to justify his or her actions or to insulate them from criticism in any way, embracing the concept of intercultural literacy does not at all entail the acceptance of relativism. Indeed, the affirmation of humanity itself is a necessary precondition to ethical critique; for we do not make non-humans (e.g., large primates) the subject of moral judgments, no matter how closely they may resemble us genetically or even behaviorally.

Furthermore, the concept of justice, which I invoked some pages above and linked to the concept of shared humanity, is fraught with specific content that is inconsistent with numerous cultural (and individual) norms. In other words, to bring into play the notion of justice used here requires one to reject ethical or cultural relativism. This understanding of justice draws upon western conceptual frameworks, but of course this concept, or analogues of this concept, occur in different cultures mutatis mutandis. Traditional Confucian Chinese thought, for example, would construe concepts such as justice and happiness as goals or attainments that make sense only within a set of overarching social and familial relationships, values, and duties. Liberal education should make us aware of such conceptual and cultural differences – and affinities – and enable us, as well, to employ such differences and affinities both critically and constructively: to appreciate the strengths and limitations of various frameworks and to master, ultimately, a richer array of conceptual tools for understanding our world and ourselves.

To emphasize the point once again, none of this entails relativism. The political right of individuals within a liberal democracy to choose their own political beliefs by no means implies that all such beliefs are equally well founded or worthy of assent. Likewise, the in-principle right of cultures or nations to affirm their own values does not mean that whatever any group does must thereby be accepted in practice by persons either within or outside of its boundaries. Indeed, history is replete with examples of practices accepted by entire nations or cultures that are or were unjust and so merit(ed) critique if not active opposition. Responsible citizens frequently confront ethical and political dilemmas that originate within their own countries or external to them. Liberal education should provide students, first, with the capacity to recognize such problems when they arise and, second, with the intellectual wherewithal to resolve them and provide cogent justification for their decisions. Above all, our students need to understand that such judgments matter, and they must develop in themselves the moral courage to make them. Working out this dialectic of cultural acceptance and social critique across different ways of practicing humanity is one of the most difficult tasks on the human agenda, one that students should wrestle with across the entire liberal arts curriculum. How well – and how systematically – are we helping them to do so? This is a difficult conversation that needs to occur not just at Skidmore but throughout American higher education. But the point I want to emphasize here is that, far from inhibiting this conversation, the concept of intercultural literacy actually provides a rich framework within which it can occur.

Structural Support for Intercultural Literacy at Skidmore

Recently, the College has created three new leadership positions to help us promote intercultural literacy. The first position is located in Human Resources. Assistant Director for Equal Employment Opportunity and Workforce Diversity Herb Crossman has been with us for more than a year now, and I hope that everyone within our community has had the opportunity to meet him. He is responsible for overseeing our compliance with applicable laws and regulations and will be taking the lead in providing ongoing training that is necessary for all of us who are employed by the College. The second position is in Student Affairs: the Director of Student Diversity Services. Mariel Martin currently holds this position on an interim basis, and she is actively involved in working with students, Student Affairs staff, and members of the faculty to create the kind of opportunities for students described above. I hope that everyone has met her as well.

The third position is the Director of Intercultural Studies, a tenure-track faculty position that will be held by Dr. Winston Grady-Willis who will join the College in January 2008. Holding a B.A. in history from Columbia, an M.P.S. in Africana Studies from Cornell, and a Ph.D. in history from Emory University, Dr. Grady-Willis has taught in the New York City public schools, Morehouse College, Emory, and Connecticut College. Since 1998 he has taught (most recently, as a tenured Associate Professor) in the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University. Most recently, he has served as Director of Graduate studies in that department. He will be affiliated with the Department of American Studies at Skidmore. We created this position to provide curricular leadership in relation to the Second Goal of the Strategic Plan and to help us think more effectively about our Culture-Centered Inquiry general education requirement. This position carries both regular faculty duties and administrative responsibilities, and we chose from the widest possible fields in making this hire. It represented an unusual opportunity for a department to gain a colleague who can contribute to departmental offerings and who will represent a new resource for helping both that department and the College think about intercultural literacy. These positions augment other positions and programs that already actively contribute to this objective – notably the International Affairs Program, the Office of Off-Campus Study and Exchange, to name just a few.

We expect the holders of these three newest positions to work with these other offices and, especially, to work closely together, even though they each have their defined areas of responsibility. Specifically, we expect these three individuals to provide leadership in helping us engage in conversations about curriculum, pedagogy, and ways of working together, as well as in dealing with substantive questions relating to intercultural and global understanding. But let me quickly observe that leadership essentially involves helping people work together to accomplish goals they could not achieve on their own. This is precisely what we are asking Herb and Mariel and Winston to do – to lead us in engaging and addressing a constellation of issues that are crucial both to our students and to those of us who are employed at Skidmore. We will fail to achieve our objectives, however, if we make mistakenly think that these three individuals are now going to perform all the necessary labor themselves. We need to work with them, and work collectively, to address the challenges inherent in the second goal of the Strategic Plan. As I have maintained throughout, there are many unresolved questions that we need to answer. There are new competencies we need to develop. And there are new inquiries we need to undertake, especially as our community itself changes to reflect better the world in which all of us live. We all must become actively engaged in this process if we are to succeed in meeting the needs of our students in this crucial area of learning.

The Liberal Arts College as Idealizing Community

One of the least acknowledged but perhaps most significant functions of a liberal arts college is to instantiate a kind of ideal or, perhaps better, an idealizing community – a community that is constructed around a set of values that even it struggles to realize consistently. It is, above all, a community of conversation, a community of learning, a community that promotes and celebrates the many dimensions of human existence that contribute to human flourishing. In both literature and history, utopias have often been understood as static – and frequently authoritarian – communities structured around unchanging norms and rules that either exist “nowhere” or for relatively brief periods of time in the actual world. In his monograph “The University as Utopia,” historian Sheldon Rothbatt notes that

the utopian world is always a reaction to the actual world, an alternative to it, but reflecting its contradictions. Utopias are locations where conflicts are addressed. Their structure, organization and values are the result of a rejection of actual circumstances as understood by the authors, so the utopias tell us as much about the societies from which they take flight as paint pictures of an ideal society.19

The notion of an idealizing society intended here does involve some of these concepts. A liberal arts college certainly sets itself apart from the world that it studies. It has its own form of governance, and it establishes its own priorities. We also reflect and reflect upon the concerns of the larger world, just as we sometimes internalize its conflicts. And we surely cannot embrace a model of ourselves as unchanging and remain faithful to our central principles. For above all, we are organized around the dual project of searching for truth (in all its varieties) through our research and artistic work and equipping successive generations of undergraduates to carry on that search themselves within the context of a rapidly evolving social world. This complex undertaking carries with it commitments to values notable, frequently, for their absence in the world beyond our boundaries.

Our central commitment to inquiry should motivate us to interrogate our own notion of the community that is Skidmore College. Who should live here? What should we look like in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, national origin, and so on? How should we treat one another? How adept should we be at dealing with difference in its many manifestations? What conversations should engage our imagination? How involved are we with the crucial issues of our time? How comfortable are we with the discomfort related to the clash of ideas and viewpoints? And as we have been asking in this essay, what ideas and experiences must Skidmore students encounter and interrogate in order to achieve intercultural literacy? Overall, how well do we live up to the ideals we work so hard to instill in our students? Even when we fail to meet our own standards, we must never abandon the quest to do so.

Those of us who work at Skidmore are both fortunate and privileged to spend our lives in such a place – privileged in the sense that no one, whether faculty member, member of the staff, or administrator, has a right to be here. Our students, likewise, are both fortunate and privileged to dwell in such a community, even for a short time. We hope that when they depart they will take with them an enduring image of this ideal that will serve to guide them for the rest of their lives – one that they will attempt to replicate in their own families, workplaces, communities, and ultimately in the world at large. This essay has been intended to invite us all – students, members of the faculty, and members of the staff – to recognize the questions surrounding the concept of intercultural literacy as important and to take them up with renewed vigor. We owe this to those who have come before us and who have bequeathed this wonderful College to our keeping, to those whose faith in our efforts motivates them to offer their support today, to our own best selves, and most of all to our students. Our intellectual and creative resources are certainly up to task of facing these questions head-on, and the rewards of doing so will be significant.


1 This essay represents a more developed version of remarks first delivered to a Skidmore College Faculty Meeting on 2 February 2007 and reprised, in a more abbreviated form, at the Mellon Consortium symposium on diversifying the faculty held at Skidmore one month later.

2Engaged Liberal Learning: The Plan for Skidmore College 2005-2015, p. 7.

3The Plan For Skidmore College, p. 19.

4For the classic exposition of this position, see B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Bantam/Vintage Books, 1972).

5For a helpful summary, see “Brief of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, Stanford Black Law Students Association and Yale Black Law Students Association as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents,” to the U. S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger et al. See also “U. of Michigan Turns to Scholars to Bolster its Defense of Affirmative Action,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2 April1999), and John Przypyszny and Kate Tromble, “Impact of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education on Affirmative Action in Higher Education, published by the American Council on Education.

6The United States is the only industrialized nation in which substantial segments of the population still regard the theory of evolution as scientifically questionable and within which viable candidates for the country’s highest political office could be asked, seriously, whether they believe in evolution – with some emphatically answering in the negative.

7See Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

8Consider the following abstract for a paper in the sociology of religion:
The sociology of religion claims to possess a cross-culturally valid objectivity that is belied by its paradigm shifts in both classical and recent times. Its sequential emphasis on such issues as the changing bases of religious authority, secularization and rational choice depends in large part on Western models of religion, of the relationship between individual and society, and on key Western values. These are not shared by other traditions. Classical Confucianism provides sociological models, core concepts and values that are distinctly different from those of the West. It has the potential to generate a sociology of religion altogether unlike the one to which we are accustomed.
James V. Spickard, “Ethnocentrism, Social Theory and Non-Western Sociologies of Religion: Toward a Confucian Alternative,” International Sociology, V. 13(2) (June 1998), pp. 193-94.

9The “approach to liberal education” just referenced is neither monolithic nor static; it comprises, instead, a rich array of institutional types, missions, and methods that are related by history and complex “family relationships” – as opposed to being defined by a single set of necessary and sufficient conditions. This diversity is a major strength of contemporary American higher education and is to be found nowhere else in the world today.

10John Stuart Mill eloquently advocated for this position in “On Liberty.”

11Gregory Howard Williams, Life on the Color Line (New York: Plume Books, 1996).

12See Nussbaum, Ch. 3.

13Milan Kundera, “Die Weltliteratur,” trans. by Linda Asher, The New Yorker, January 8, 2007, pp. 28-35, p.30. 14Paul K. Feyerabend, contribution to “Discussion at the Conference on Correspondence Rules,” in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science IV, H. Feigl and Grover Maxwell, eds. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970), pp. 220-59, especially p. 247. See also Thomas Kuhn, “Reflections on My Critics,” in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965 (V. 4), I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 231-78, especially pp. 237-8.

15Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 104.

16Interview with George C. Wolfe, emphasis mine. Mason Stokes brought this quotation to my attention.

17Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 157.

18In a recent national survey of employers (both in large an small organizations) conducted by Peter D. Hart Associated Inc., for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), 82% of respondents stated that colleges and universities need to place more emphasis than they do on “teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings.” 72% said that more emphasis should be placed on “global issues and developments and their implications for the future.” 60% wanted more emphasis on “the role of the United States in the world,” and “53% called for more emphasis on “cultural values and traditions in America and other countries.” 46% wanted proficiency in a foreign language. More anecdotally, a Skidmore graduate from the late 1990s who works in the banking industry in Florida recently commented on her company’s multi-national workforce by saying, “I don’t manage people; I manage cultures.”

19Sheldon Rothblatt, “The University as Utopia,” the 2002 Hans Rausing Lecture at the University of Uppsala, Salvia Småskrifter, no. 2 (Uppsala: 2003), p. 18.

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May 19 2007
Members of the Skidmore Class of 2007 and honored guests. It is fitting that we gather on this day of celebration, a time when we mark the achievements of our graduates and also a moment when we paus...

Commencement 2007 Remarks

Philip A. Glotzbach
19 May 2007

Members of the Skidmore Class of 2007 and honored guests.  It is fitting that we gather on this day of celebration, a time when we mark the achievements of our graduates and also a moment when we pause to reflect on this significant transition in the life of an individual and a family.  On behalf of Skidmore College, I welcome everyone in attendance to our College's 96th Commencement Exercises. 

Before we continue with today's ceremony, I ask that we observe a moment of silence to remember our much beloved departed classmate Phillip A. Eckstein.

Thank you.

If I may be permitted a personal reflection, I want to acknowledge that Marie and I will forever hold the class of 2007 in a special place in our hearts.  Most of us began our  Skidmore careers at the same moment.  You were the first entering class we welcomed to Skidmore; you and your parents were the first group I addressed in orientation.  We all arrived at this new place inevitably feeling perhaps a bit lost and disoriented – not knowing how to get around, not knowing just what this new stage in our lives would portend for us.  In short, we became beginners together.   Like the central character in the Coen Brothers' film, Barton Fink, each of us became "a tourist with a typewriter" (or, more accurately, with a wordprocesser). 

Today, as you walk across this stage, you will take your first symbolic steps that lead from this now-familiar college existence toward your life beyond Skidmore.  As the title of this event reminds us, today you will COMMENCE the next part of your journey.  Once again, you will become a beginner.  Once again, you will become a tourist in some strange land.

Now as we know, becoming a tourist is not always a high-water event.  As the novelist Don DeLillo notes in his novel, The Names,

Tourism is the march of stupidity.  You're expected to be stupid.  The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly.  You walk around dazed, squinting into fold out maps.  You don't know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it.  Being stupid is the pattern, the level, and the norm.  You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence.  Together with thousands you are granted immunities and broad freedoms.  You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysenteric, thirsty.  There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event.

Goodness.  I don't recall that our collective experience in late summer 2003 was quite that dire.  But DeLillo's' comment certainly has the ring of truth.

And yet being a beginner also carries with it an enormous promise of possibility.  Precisely because one does not quite know what to expect around the next bend in the path, there's always the prospect of encountering some unanticipated marvel.  How many times did this happen to you – when you took a class in a subject that, at first, seemed foreign and perhaps unappealing, only to have it turn out to be fascinating, engaging, perhaps even the beginning of a path to your eventual major?  How often did you meet someone who struck you as unappealing, perhaps even as someone who made you uncomfortable, who put you off, only to find out that you had taken the first steps toward a truly lasting friendship?

Being a beginner – a tourist - gives you the chance to view your environment with fresh eyes – to see things that the natives have long since stopped perceiving. As Paul Simon says it in his song You Can Call Me Al,  even though you don'T "speak the language [and] you hold no currency, you see angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity."  Losing those angels in the architecture is precisely the price we pay as we get used to our surroundings – as we move from being beginners to experts, from somewhat dazed and confused first-year students to confident, and sometimes a bit jaded, seniors.

We should remind ourselves that experience carries its own dangers.  The company that built the Titanic, with its fatal design flaws, and the captain, who increased her speed despite warnings of icebergs, were the experts of their day.

But now each of you has the chance, once again, to open your eyes.  To place yourself in a new situation in which you don'T speak the language, where you, once again,  "hold no currency."

In fact, life should be like this:  In the language of evolutionary biology, it should be marked by a pattern of punctuated equilibrium– that is, by periods of development within one context and, occasionally, a jump to some new one.  We start some new enterprise, we work our way into some degree of comfort and expertise, we begin to know what we are doing. We become familiar with the landscape.  And then, we create the opportunity – or life  confronts us with the opportunity – to move to a different level, to begin again, once again to become a stupid tourist whose every morning becomes an experience in wonder.

And please don't think that beginning over requires some kind of significant disruption – changing a career or abandoning a longtime relationship.  Within any context, it's possible to take on a new project or responsibility that stretches you.  Even within a relationship lasting, say, thirty-six years, it's always possible to discover something new and amazing about your partner – something you never quite imagined before.

So my parting wish for you, is that you learn to cherish, on the one hand,  your experiences with both comfort and familiarity and, on the other, your encounters with the uncertainty of feeling a bit lost, of starting over in a place knowing that whatever you do will seem a bit ridiculous to the natives.  The French philosopher Albert Campus once remarked that "All great deeds and great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.  Great Works are often begun on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door."  Never lose the courage to shift your course on this journey that you call your life , to begin the process of turning a ridiculous idea into some great thought, or deed.

Always remember that those of us who remain behind at Skidmore will be following your progress not only with interest but also with enormous pride in you and care for your success – and with just a bit of envy. 

But above all, never forget to look for those angels in the architecture.

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May 20 2006
Newest alumni of Skidmore College, I hope you have enjoyed today's Commencement Exercises, even though they do provide one final excuse for your elders to render sage advice and counsel.

Skidmore College Commencement
May 20, 2006

Philip A. Glotzbach
President

Newest alumni of Skidmore College, I hope you have enjoyed today's Commencement Exercises, even though they do provide one final excuse for your elders to render sage advice and counsel. You have listened, this morning, with equanimity, and I ask you to hold on a few moments more while I add just one parting thought.

Let me begin with a story: Some years back, when I was a young assistant professor of philosophy at Denison University, Marie and I purchased our first home—a modest ranch house that was nonetheless large enough to accommodate our still-growing family. Like all such domiciles, this one came complete with a full roster of potential home-improvement projects. In the midst of one such effort, I enlisted the aid of a colleague who chaired the Theatre department, Jon Farris, someone who had more experience as a builder than I.

Now one thing that carpentry teaches you is to appreciate the stuff with which you work. Wood is truly a wonderful substance, particularly when it has been joined well, finished, and polished. The coloring, grains, and textures of each different wood type bring their own unique beauty, and knowing the potential of what a humble board can become motivates one to treat each piece of wood as a precious commodity. Besides, as a young faculty member on a limited budget, I could hardly afford to squander materials.

So I was delighted when Jon taught me a fundamental time- and money-saving principle of carpentry: Measure twice; cut once.

This simple maxim makes immediate sense. A mistaken cut usually forces one to discard both the resulting pieces. And if the economics of measuring once and having to cut twice are bad, the sense of waste—the needless loss of perfectly good material—can be even more painful. This maxim is a good example of a heuristic: a rule of thumb that increases the possibility of success but does not guarantee it. Having measured twice, it is still possible to saw badly. Still it is much easier to change a line on a board than to fix a cut in the wrong place. How much better, then, to make the small extra effort needed to measure that second time, to check your work, to get it right before you commit! Measure twice; cut once.

And yet, how many times have each of us violated this rule in other realms of action? Consider a relationship with someone we hold dear or respect deeply—a friend, a parent, a teacher, a lover, a colleague. There are times when we are under pressure, tired, angry, hurt, threatened, or just not paying attention, when we give in to the temptation to make an intemperate comment—a cutting remark, if you will—that jeopardizes the relationship, perhaps even damaging it forever. Like an ill-sawed board, the two parts of a severed friendship can seldom be rejoined. How much better to pause a moment and take the measure of what one might say, to consider possible consequences, before sawing away?

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates talked in a similar vein when he referred his daimon, a kind of internal voice that, he said, "frequently opposed [him], even in small matters, when he was about to do something wrong" or "held [him] back in the middle of ... speaking" when his speech might have led to an unfortunate outcome.1 Likewise, your parents, your teachers, and other such older folks sometimes have tried to get you to slow down and think about what you are going to say or do because, like Socrates, they have learned the value of listening to their own small internal voices that warn of impending problems. Socrates spoke of hisdaimon as something divine, but we don't have to embrace a theological account here. It may be that those of us who are relatively more experienced simply have had many more opportunities to make mistakes—sometimes painful ones—mistakes, that have convinced us of the value of measuring twice, cutting once.

One salutary feature of this rule is its extensibility—even to a global scale. Most researchers who work in planetary atmospherics, ecology, evolutionary biology, or any number of other scientific fields fear that the accelerating addition of carbon dioxide and other such "greenhouse gasses" into our atmosphere by human activity is leading inexorably to changes in climate that we know as "global warming." By any number of measures—the extension of species into new habitats, increased rates of glacial melting from the North Pole to the Antarctic or the reduction in days per winter in which lakes in northern New York are frozen over, to name just two—we are witnessing potentially profound and possibly irreversible changes that could raise sea level far enough to inundate costal cities world wide, increase the annual number and severity of hurricanes, and alter growing seasons for crops. Arguably, the biosphere of planet earth, where each of us must eat, drink, and breathe, represents the most precious material commodity of all. Even if additional scientific evidence is needed to round out this picture, shouldn't we collectively pause—shouldn't we all be measuring many more times than twice before we risk cutting the lifeline between every species now extant and its continued survival?

But even though it is important for all of now us to think on this global scale, it isn't always easy to do so. So let me close by reflecting on a more limited sphere: your own post-Skidmore life. We all hope that each of you graduates is still at the front end of your own personal history—your individual narrative. But even though your teachers have encouraged you to experiment with different courses and interests, and even though most of you will explore many different paths in your future life, there is a sense in which we human beings don't get to experiment at all.

Author Milan Kundera made this observation in his lyrical meditation on the vagaries of love, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Early on, the novel's protagonist, Tomas, contemplates whether to reach out to Tereza, a woman who had recently entered his life, to draw her closer. Or should he let her go? Faced with this choice, Tomas is vexed because he does not know what to do. Here is that moment as Kundera tells it:

[Tomas] remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural.

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.

Was it better to be with Tereza or to remain alone?

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold.2

Kundera's point is that in dealing with what ultimately is the most elusive human reality of all—lived time—we never get a second chance to reprise even a single instant. We cannot try out one history to see if we like it and then trade it in for another if we don't. Every new moment forces us to choose just one option out of many. And any course of action we select forecloses an infinity of other ones.

One possible response to this realization is to think that an unrehearsed life might not be worth living at all. 

What can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.

But a quite different response is equally possible: Because it is destined never to recur, each moment of any human life—your life, for example—becomes immeasurably precious. It is given to us just once and then is gone forever. So too for each life in sum. If we prefer this interpretation, then our choices of action from moment to moment assume not the least but rather the greatestpossible significance, and we would be well advised indeed to gauge our choices carefully in advance. 

And that is my parting thought for you—from one who is somewhat closer to the end of a personal history than you are, one who has had the opportunity to make many more mistakes. Time—the basic stuff of a life, the material with which each of us works—is truly wondrous. The coloring, grain, and texture of each unique moment present themselves to us to be formed and polished, promising their own inestimable beauty. Their potential is endless. So please, don't waste your most precious material: Measure twice. Cut once.

I now invite the Class of 2006 to rise and join in the singing of your alma mater.


    1Plato, Apology, in The Trial and Death of Socrates, G. M. A. Grube, trans., (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. Inc., 1975), p, 41.
    2Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Lovers' Story, Michael Henry Heim, trans. (New York: Harper Colophon, 1985), p. 8.
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Aug 18 2005
I have followed the discussions of Skidmore's proposal to construct a combined soccer-softball field on Denton Road with interest.
I have followed the discussions of Skidmore's proposal to construct a combined soccer-softball field on Denton Road with interest. Unfortunately, the College's principal reason for pursuing the project has sometimes gotten lost in the public rhetoric. Simply put, we're doing it for our students.

Every parent whose son or daughter plays sports understands their value, as well as the commitment and sacrifice they require. Because we compete in NCAA Division III, Skidmore's students receive no athletic scholarships or other privileges. They take the same challenging courses as other students, participate in campus activities, volunteer in the community, and frequently hold part-time jobs. They play not for glory or career aspirations, but because they love the game and value their relationships with teammates. So ensuring that they can practice and play at a level commensurate with our divisional peers and their own skills is very important both to the College and to me personally. No parent would want less for his or her child.

Accordingly we have undertaken a major enhancement of our athletics program. We've engaged a new athletics director and are reaching out to alumni and friends for increased support, upgrading uniforms and gear, and enhancing facilities—a benefit not just to our athletes and campus community but also to local school teams that use our facilities.

The Denton Road property that we purchased in 1987 specifically for athletics is critical to our plans. Teams often begin practice in the afternoon when classes are over, which in most seasons means that unlit practice fields are too dark. Currently some of our strongest soccer opponents refuse to play on our existing turf, and our softball facility does not meet NCAA requirements. The new facility will allow these teams both to practice—though generally no later than 8 p.m.—and to compete on fields that meet NCAA standards for dimensions and safety.

Certainly, we understand the concerns of our neighbors regarding lighting and other issues. Believing creative thought matters, we have found that mutually beneficial solutions are almost always attainable when people seek them with good will. Trusting that the Greenfield Planning Board members share that outlook, we are eager to partner with them in resolving the issues raised. We are confident that the Planning Board—representing the interests of all Greenfield citizens—will render a fair judgment. Skidmore will honor the Board's decision and will continue to work constructively with the Greenfield community.

The College views our place in the Saratoga region not only as central to our identity but also as a privilege. Skidmore has always striven to be an outstanding neighbor and citizen. Along with our positive economic impact (most of our annual budget directly enters the local economy, not to mention the spending by our students and parents), we contribute thousands of hours of volunteer community service by students, faculty, and staff; memberships in civic and religious groups; pro bono consulting; sponsorship of lectures and cultural activities (consider the Tang Museum, the Summer Jazz Institute, the Boys Choir of Harlem residency, our leadership in Saratoga Reads!); and, not least, free athletic events.

I truly believe, and will work to ensure, that the best is yet to come for our students and for our valued relationship with our neighbors.


(This essay was published in the Saratogian on August 18, 2005.)
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May 21 2005
I now want to address a few final thoughts to the members of the Skidmore College class of 2005--before we catapult you out into an unsuspecting world.

Skidmore College Commencement
May 21, 2005

Philip A. Glotzbach
President

I now want to address a few final thoughts to the members of the Skidmore College class of 2005—before we catapult you out into an unsuspecting world.

Let me begin where Dr. Kuroda left off: with the thought that what you do from this point forward—both how you construct your personal lives and how you make your mark upon the world—will represent the ultimate determinations of the value of your Skidmore education. Indeed, the best way to honor the professors who have done so much to assist you in reaching this point is to surpass them—in knowledge, in achievement, and in virtue.

Virtue is rather an old-fashioned concept, isn't it? Something that we don't often talk about these days. And yet the idea of moral excellence combined with courage—and that is a serviceable definition of virtue—is surely important today, perhaps more important than ever in the history of humankind because we have reached a point where your generation's individual and collective effects upon the world will far eclipse those of preceding generations.

Consider the issue of global climate change. In her three-part New Yorker article on this topic, writer Elizabeth Kolbert notes that:

A few years ago ... the Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen coned a term. No longer, he wrote, should we think of ourselves in the Holocene, as the period since the last glaciation is known. Instead, an epoch unlike any of those which preceded it had begun. This new age was defined by one creature—man—who had become so dominant that he was capable of altering the planet on a geological scale. Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winner, dubbed this age the Anthropocene. He proposed as its starting date the seventeen-eighties, the decade in which James Watt perfected his steam engine and, inadvertently, changed the history of the earth.1

Crutzen's point is that with the invention of the steam engine, human beings began pumping carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere in heretofore unprecedented ways: a process that began altering ratios of CO2 to other gases that had remained essentially stable for thousands of years of human history and that has accelerated alarmingly over the past century.

There is no question that through this process we human beings are altering our climate. The only question that matters is how we will deal with this reality. Will we work collectively to find a way to lead this process of change? Or will we abdicate leadership by acting as though this social process is somehow beyond our control?

The answer to this question will provide a good measure of your generation's virtue—your capacity to combine moral excellence with courage. I assume that you know the meaning of the term "courage," and I'm not going to attempt a definition of "moral excellence" here. But I will suggest that any serviceable notion of moral excellence includes a concern for others, a concern that extends ultimately to the future in which those others will live.


Well why should you care enough about the future that you might be willing to act courageously to make that future a better one? Let me suggest a reason for caring that does not pertain to most of you at this point in your lives—a biological reason that is hard-wired into our species: children.  


Well why should you care enough about the future that you might be willing to act courageously to make that future a better one? Let me suggest a reason for caring that does not pertain to most of you at this point in your lives—a biological reason that is hard-wired into our species: children. In a very real sense, to hold in one's arms a child that one loves is to hold a part of the future. Your parents had that experience, and part of the meaning of this day for them is that this moment symbolizes your entry into the adult world—a moment they hoped and planned for over so many years (for some of them, wondering if it would ever come!). My point is that to love a child is to worry about the kind of world that child will in habit. It is to be connected to the future in a concrete and experiential way that transcends any abstract intellectual awareness. This experience is surely one of the psychological foundations of human morality—of moral excellence and hence of virtue.

The conclusion to this line of reasoning is not that you should go forth and multiply—at least not immediately. Some of you will never experience parenthood at all, and yet we expect you to be virtuous even so. Rather, the conclusion I would like you to draw is twofold:

First, you still have a great deal to learn, and part of that learning concerns the existential meaning of children in the human community. Since we have spent the last few days praising your academic accomplishments, a small dose of humility at this point is surely not a bad idea.

Second, the sooner you begin paying attention to children, getting connected to them caring about them and the world they will in habit, the sooner you will be on the path to a mature understanding of moral excellence and hence, virtue. One way to forge that connection is by spending time with children in your extended family. A second way is to continue developing your moral imagination through literature, plays, and films that include children as meaningful characters. Along this lone, I recommend the book The Kite Runner, this year's Saratoga Reads selection, and a book that many of you already know.

Above all I urge you, as you begin the wonderful project of constructing an adult life, to pause from time to time and give some thought to the important concept of virtue. In doing so, always remember that you carry with you—into your future—the hopes and dreams of those who have nurtured you from the days of your own childhood as well as all of us at your alma mater, Skidmore College.



    1Elizabeth Kolbert, "The Climate of Man-III: What Can Be Done?" The New Yorker (May 9, 2005), p. 54.
close
May 22 2004
Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, parents, families and friends of the graduates, and most of all the Skidmore College graduating class of 2004, greetings on this day of celebration...

Skidmore College Commencement
22 May 2004

Philip A. Glotzbach
President

Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, parents, families and friends of the graduates, and most of all the Skidmore College graduating class of 2004, greetings on this day of celebration and triumph. And a special greeting to the graduates of our Master's of Liberal Studies Program and our University Without Walls—a number of whom have traveled some distance to participate in today's Commencement Exercises.

Each of you graduates has indeed earned this moment through the persistent application of your talents and energy, through the toils of many a long day and late night. To the gifts and good wishes others no doubt have bestowed upon you, I would like to add three of my own: one wish, one hope, and one suggestion.

First the wish: To borrow a metaphor from author Gail Blanke, many of you soon-to-be-graduates now find yourselves "between trapezes"—or you are about to be. That is, you are preparing to release your hold on the College that has been your home for these past four years, a place that has provided at least a measure of structure to your life and, I trust, guidance in your journey from callow but eager first-year student to more worldly senior. But now, like a circus performer, you have to let go of what has become familiar and comfortable in order to grasp the next stage in your life. Between those two points—the letting go and the taking hold again—is a moment of free flight. My wish for you today is that you choose to define your flight not as a time of anxiety but rather as a time of exhilaration. As Blanke puts it, this is precisely the moment to

give ... yourself permission to let go, ... [to] embrace uncertainty, ... relish the struggle, ... let go of the need to know, ... allow... yourself to float in the mind-expanding space and improvise. [This is a time to] discover... the thrill and the joy of reinventing yourself, reinventing your life.1
It is most important that you learn to experience uncertainty in terms of the possibilities it presents to you—as opposed to the peril it might represent—because, for better or worse, this is hardly the last time that you will encounter it in your life.

The good news is that you are not alone. Scarcely anyone's trajectory through life is predictable any more, so you will have lots of company as you sail through the air. More importantly, as I sincerely hope you never forget, you are able to fly at all only because so many people have devoted themselves to helping you get this far, and they are not about to abandon you now. First among these are your parents and family members and friends who have gathered here to share this day with you. In fact, I ask that you take a moment right now to stand, turn, and let them know with a round of applause just how much their support has meant to you.

Next, my graduation hope for you is that you always will carry with you from Skidmore the centerpiece of liberal education: the realization that it is possible to appraise the worth of an idea, a belief, a political proposition, a work of art, anything in fact, independently of the identity of its author. This seems like such a simple idea, but its implications are profound and far-reaching. The fact that an idea comes from your boss, or your parent, or your teacher, or your president—either of your college or your country—does not make it worthy. Its authorship might make it worth considering, but the more important the topic, the more important it is for you to interrogate and evaluate the idea yourself.

The Skidmore faculty members who have worked with you during your time here have labored mightily to provide you the tools and the habits of mind necessary to do just that: to test the worth of things yourself. In fact, the great paradox of education is that your teachers succeed just to the extent that they make themselves unnecessary to you. For they have been successful in sharing their disciplines with you only if you now can employ the critical apparatus of those disciplines—their specific ways of asking and answering questions—on your own. Of course, your mastery of any area of knowledge remains incomplete. Having satisfied the requirements of the Skidmore curriculum, you are truly just beginning the far more important course of study that you now must design for the rest of your life. You honor your teachers here to the extent that you continue to learn. You will honor them most of all when you surpass them in your own knowledge and accomplishments. 

Finally, I would leave you with a suggestion, one that is prompted by a story from the tradition of Zen Buddhism. It is entitled "A Cup of Tea," and it goes like this:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched ... until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!" [He exclaimed.]

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"2
Although the visitor here is a professor, this story is intended to speak to all of us. A moment ago I expressed the hope that you take away from Skidmore the ability to challenge the ideas of others and the habit of mind to do so. However, that capacity is founded on the more basic ability to challenge one's own ideas. So my suggestion to you is that you take this simple Zen story, as a parting gift from your alma mater. Let it remind you that you cannot continue to learn throughout your life until you have mastered the ability to empty your own cup—to un-learn tomorrow something that you believe is true today. The moment when we think we've figured it all out is precisely the moment when we are most at risk of getting it all wrong, which is yet another reason to cherish those times of chaos and uncertainty when we find ourselves between trapezes. For those are the times that force us to reconsider our preconceptions of what is real and, more importantly, of what is possible. Those times are most likely to inspire in us a moment of truly creative thought that turns an impending disaster into a triumph. 

Many of you are too young to have seen this incident play out unless via the Tom Hanks' film, but in 1970 three NASA astronauts were on board Apollo 13 headed for a landing on the moon. Suddenly, James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise found themselves in a situation no one ever had imagined when an explosion in one of their spacecraft's oxygen tanks reduced its electrical power virtually to zero. Initial evaluations of their situation gave them little chance of returning to earth alive. However, the crew was able to survive by converting their moon-lander into a cosmic lifeboat (a task for which it most certainly had not been designed), supported by NASA engineers and other ground personnel who worked brilliantly around the clock to jury-rig countless solutions to problems standing in the way of a safe return. In doing so, they reconfigured literally hundreds of procedures, and tested their proposed solutions in a simulator. Talk about being between trapezes and making creative thought matter!

Let me leave with you with a final example from Gail Blanke, whom I referenced before. (By the way, 'Gail Blanke' is her professional name. In her personal life, Gail goes by another name: Abigail Cusick's mom—Abigail is a member of the Class of 2004, and of course her very proud mother and father—Gail and Jim Cusick, and Abigail's sister, Kate—are here with us today.) In her book, Gail describes a performance of a concerto by the violinist Itzhak Perlman at Lincoln Center in 1985. As Perlman began to play, one of his violin strings snapped with a sound that reverberated throughout the concert hall. And of course, everyone there knew what that meant: Perlman simply had to halt the performance and replace the string. 

But here is what actually happened: 
[Perlman] waited a moment, closed his eyes, and signaled to the conductor to strike up the music again. Without missing a beat, he picked up precisely from where he had left off. That night, even for Itzhak Perlman, was not like other nights. That night he played with such extraordinary passion and power and purity that he transported us all to a place where it is actually possible to play a major symphonic work for violin with just three working strings. Such a place, of course, does not exist in reality. But that night, Perlman made a conscious decision not to know that, or pay attention to it. That night, he decided not to behave in accordance with the observable facts. You could actually see him modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his mind so that it could be played with three strings. ...

When he finished ... a split second of silence filled the hall before people spontaneously rose and applauded and laughed, some cheering, some screaming, some weeping. In response, Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet the audience and softly said to the now quiet room, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."3
That magical evening in Lincoln Center, Itzhak Perlman certainly found himself between trapezes. But because he had spent a lifetime mastering his craft, he had given himself the freedom to empty his own cup—to open himself to previously unimagined possibilities that were presented by a problem. In refusing to accept an ordinary view of reality, he was able to make a most unordinary choice. The result was an extraordinary experience for his audience—and, no doubt, for himself. In as powerful and compelling a manner as one could imagine, he made creative thought matter.

Now it's time for you, the members of the Skidmore College Class of 2004, to test your own capacity for creative thought throughout your post-Skidmore lives, to find out just how much music you can make over the coming years. Personally, I can't wait to hear it!

Good luck, and God speed!


    1Gail Blanke, Between Trapezes: Flying into a New Life with the Greatest of Ease (New York: Rodale Press, 2004), p. 5.
    2Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre- Zen Writings (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books), p. 5.
    3Blanke, pp. 15–15.

Skidmore College Commencement
22 May 2004

Philip A. Glotzbach
President

Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, parents, families and friends of the graduates, and most of all the Skidmore College graduating class of 2004, greetings on this day of celebration and triumph. And a special greeting to the graduates of our Master's of Liberal Studies Program and our University Without Walls—a number of whom have traveled some distance to participate in today's Commencement Exercises.

Each of you graduates has indeed earned this moment through the persistent application of your talents and energy, through the toils of many a long day and late night. To the gifts and good wishes others no doubt have bestowed upon you, I would like to add three of my own: one wish, one hope, and one suggestion.

First the wish: To borrow a metaphor from author Gail Blanke, many of you soon-to-be-graduates now find yourselves "between trapezes"—or you are about to be. That is, you are preparing to release your hold on the College that has been your home for these past four years, a place that has provided at least a measure of structure to your life and, I trust, guidance in your journey from callow but eager first-year student to more worldly senior. But now, like a circus performer, you have to let go of what has become familiar and comfortable in order to grasp the next stage in your life. Between those two points—the letting go and the taking hold again—is a moment of free flight. My wish for you today is that you choose to define your flight not as a time of anxiety but rather as a time of exhilaration. As Blanke puts it, this is precisely the moment to

give ... yourself permission to let go, ... [to] embrace uncertainty, ... relish the struggle, ... let go of the need to know, ... allow... yourself to float in the mind-expanding space and improvise. [This is a time to] discover... the thrill and the joy of reinventing yourself, reinventing your life.1
It is most important that you learn to experience uncertainty in terms of the possibilities it presents to you—as opposed to the peril it might represent—because, for better or worse, this is hardly the last time that you will encounter it in your life.

The good news is that you are not alone. Scarcely anyone's trajectory through life is predictable any more, so you will have lots of company as you sail through the air. More importantly, as I sincerely hope you never forget, you are able to fly at all only because so many people have devoted themselves to helping you get this far, and they are not about to abandon you now. First among these are your parents and family members and friends who have gathered here to share this day with you. In fact, I ask that you take a moment right now to stand, turn, and let them know with a round of applause just how much their support has meant to you.

Next, my graduation hope for you is that you always will carry with you from Skidmore the centerpiece of liberal education: the realization that it is possible to appraise the worth of an idea, a belief, a political proposition, a work of art, anything in fact, independently of the identity of its author. This seems like such a simple idea, but its implications are profound and far-reaching. The fact that an idea comes from your boss, or your parent, or your teacher, or your president—either of your college or your country—does not make it worthy. Its authorship might make it worth considering, but the more important the topic, the more important it is for you to interrogate and evaluate the idea yourself.

The Skidmore faculty members who have worked with you during your time here have labored mightily to provide you the tools and the habits of mind necessary to do just that: to test the worth of things yourself. In fact, the great paradox of education is that your teachers succeed just to the extent that they make themselves unnecessary to you. For they have been successful in sharing their disciplines with you only if you now can employ the critical apparatus of those disciplines—their specific ways of asking and answering questions—on your own. Of course, your mastery of any area of knowledge remains incomplete. Having satisfied the requirements of the Skidmore curriculum, you are truly just beginning the far more important course of study that you now must design for the rest of your life. You honor your teachers here to the extent that you continue to learn. You will honor them most of all when you surpass them in your own knowledge and accomplishments. 

Finally, I would leave you with a suggestion, one that is prompted by a story from the tradition of Zen Buddhism. It is entitled "A Cup of Tea," and it goes like this:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched ... until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!" [He exclaimed.]

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"2
Although the visitor here is a professor, this story is intended to speak to all of us. A moment ago I expressed the hope that you take away from Skidmore the ability to challenge the ideas of others and the habit of mind to do so. However, that capacity is founded on the more basic ability to challenge one's own ideas. So my suggestion to you is that you take this simple Zen story, as a parting gift from your alma mater. Let it remind you that you cannot continue to learn throughout your life until you have mastered the ability to empty your own cup—to un-learn tomorrow something that you believe is true today. The moment when we think we've figured it all out is precisely the moment when we are most at risk of getting it all wrong, which is yet another reason to cherish those times of chaos and uncertainty when we find ourselves between trapezes. For those are the times that force us to reconsider our preconceptions of what is real and, more importantly, of what is possible. Those times are most likely to inspire in us a moment of truly creative thought that turns an impending disaster into a triumph. 

Many of you are too young to have seen this incident play out unless via the Tom Hanks' film, but in 1970 three NASA astronauts were on board Apollo 13 headed for a landing on the moon. Suddenly, James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise found themselves in a situation no one ever had imagined when an explosion in one of their spacecraft's oxygen tanks reduced its electrical power virtually to zero. Initial evaluations of their situation gave them little chance of returning to earth alive. However, the crew was able to survive by converting their moon-lander into a cosmic lifeboat (a task for which it most certainly had not been designed), supported by NASA engineers and other ground personnel who worked brilliantly around the clock to jury-rig countless solutions to problems standing in the way of a safe return. In doing so, they reconfigured literally hundreds of procedures, and tested their proposed solutions in a simulator. Talk about being between trapezes and making creative thought matter!

Let me leave with you with a final example from Gail Blanke, whom I referenced before. (By the way, 'Gail Blanke' is her professional name. In her personal life, Gail goes by another name: Abigail Cusick's mom—Abigail is a member of the Class of 2004, and of course her very proud mother and father—Gail and Jim Cusick, and Abigail's sister, Kate—are here with us today.) In her book, Gail describes a performance of a concerto by the violinist Itzhak Perlman at Lincoln Center in 1985. As Perlman began to play, one of his violin strings snapped with a sound that reverberated throughout the concert hall. And of course, everyone there knew what that meant: Perlman simply had to halt the performance and replace the string. 

But here is what actually happened: 
[Perlman] waited a moment, closed his eyes, and signaled to the conductor to strike up the music again. Without missing a beat, he picked up precisely from where he had left off. That night, even for Itzhak Perlman, was not like other nights. That night he played with such extraordinary passion and power and purity that he transported us all to a place where it is actually possible to play a major symphonic work for violin with just three working strings. Such a place, of course, does not exist in reality. But that night, Perlman made a conscious decision not to know that, or pay attention to it. That night, he decided not to behave in accordance with the observable facts. You could actually see him modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his mind so that it could be played with three strings. ...

When he finished ... a split second of silence filled the hall before people spontaneously rose and applauded and laughed, some cheering, some screaming, some weeping. In response, Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet the audience and softly said to the now quiet room, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."3
That magical evening in Lincoln Center, Itzhak Perlman certainly found himself between trapezes. But because he had spent a lifetime mastering his craft, he had given himself the freedom to empty his own cup—to open himself to previously unimagined possibilities that were presented by a problem. In refusing to accept an ordinary view of reality, he was able to make a most unordinary choice. The result was an extraordinary experience for his audience—and, no doubt, for himself. In as powerful and compelling a manner as one could imagine, he made creative thought matter.

Now it's time for you, the members of the Skidmore College Class of 2004, to test your own capacity for creative thought throughout your post-Skidmore lives, to find out just how much music you can make over the coming years. Personally, I can't wait to hear it!

Good luck, and God speed!


    1Gail Blanke, Between Trapezes: Flying into a New Life with the Greatest of Ease (New York: Rodale Press, 2004), p. 5.
    2Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre- Zen Writings (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books), p. 5.
    3Blanke, pp. 15–15.
close
Mar 1 2004
Among the various objects Aristotle identifies in his Nicomachean Ethics as goods associated with the most virtuous and therefore the happiest and most successful human existence are friendship and co...

Reflections on a Paradox of Academic Community1

by Philip A. Glotzbach
President
Skidmore College

If we look deeper into the nature of things, a virtuous friend seems to be naturally desirable for a virtuous man.—Aristotle

Oh, you've got to have friends!—Bette Midler

Among the various objects Aristotle identifies in his Nicomachean Ethics as goods associated with the most virtuous and therefore the happiest and most successful human existence are friendship and contemplation. For Aristotle, the contemplative life is the most pleasant and most humanly fulfilling imaginable, but even such an intrinsically satisfying existence would be incomplete, he says, in the absence of virtuous friends. Assuming that he is not far from the mark, it is only a small jump to imagine that an academic community—more specifically, a college or university in America in the early 21st Century2—should offer its members just such an ideal combination of intrinsically satisfying activity and supportive companionship: a life of "learning among friends," as Kenyon College states in its promotional materials.

Despite their quirks and idiosyncrasies, academic communities are about ideas and ideals. They also are about people. The ideals are lofty, the people imperfect. We all are fallible human beings who frequently, to borrow from a Jewish prayer, find ourselves "poor in word and deed." Even so, academic communities are places where magical transformations occur on a yearly, monthly, and daily basis—transformations with surprising and far-reaching effects in the lives of students and faculty members too. Academic communities certainly have their unique dynamics, and they require their own special forms of nurturing from those of us in leadership roles—whether we hold administrative posts or are members of the faculty, board of trustees, or alumni. My aim here is to reflect on one aspect of these social dynamics and propose an analytical framework that may be useful to academic leaders as we think about this primary responsibility: fostering an effective academic community.

Academic communities and truth

At least in principle, an academic community is a social structure that affirms and supports its members in the pursuit of a set of defining values centering on the search for truth, one that makes possible the enterprise of teaching and learning envisioned in the various mission statements of our colleges and universities. Within this context, the central commitment to truth-seeking is modeled by the teacher-scholars who comprise its core—the faculty—who not only have devoted their professional lives to this quest in their own disciplines but who make it their responsibility to inspire a similar commitment in the second most significant, but more transient, population: their students.

Let me pause to acknowledge that such an unapologetic appeal to truth might strike our highly developed post-modern sensibilities as a bit old-fashioned if not hopelessly naïve. The concept of truth has come in for some hard use in recent years, perhaps as epitomized by a passage in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions:

"You have no use for truth?" said Beatrice.

"You know what truth is?" said Karabekian. "It's some crazy thing my neighbor believes. If I want to make friends with him, I ask him what he believes. He tells me, and I say, 'Yeah, yeah—ain't it the truth?"3

Unfortunately, there is some truth to this caricature of truth: communities (academic communities included) build connections around beliefs, and affirming those beliefs is frequently part of the price of admission. It is easy to find examples in which this function of social bonding cancels out other possible functions of this concept.

But an academic community should be committed to the notion that Vonnegut's formulation is wrong (or, at best, incomplete). The members of such a community should believe, instead, that what persons think or create actually matters, that some ideas or scientific hypotheses or works of art are better than others, that there are many different ways to interrogate, question, challenge, criticize, and evaluate such cultural products. Some of these ways involve appeal to evidence—i.e., some claims are more empirical. Others are tied less directly to specific facts or observations and are more dependent on their theoretical context. Neither does this mean that any theoretical idea is as good as any other. Even in the humanities, there are standards of decision-making, accepted ways to separate better-grounded claims from less well-grounded ones. If we want to argue about those standards, as we should do periodically, then we fall back upon other shared understandings. No particular belief or claim may be beyond challenge, but it is not possible to challenge every background belief at once.4 Theorists who criticize the notion of truth itself typically have specific concepts (theories) of truth in mind; and even if they don't, in their discourse they implicitly make truth-claims for which they argue or provide other evidence. In short, they simply can't escape the concept of truth as regulative ideal guiding diverse processes of inquiry. And neither can we. 

So I hope we can agree that an individual college or a university is a particular community of discourse or community of conversation whose primary loyalty must be toward the process of inquiry itself. Maintaining the possibility of discourse must stand among our highest values, which is why we can permit (and, in fact, should encourage) vigorous dissent and criticism but not actions that would disrupt or silence discourse. This means that those of us in leadership positions must take special care that the conditions necessary to maintain a community of discourse actually obtain. Some of these conditions are material (e.g., adequate salaries, equipment, library resources). But other and equally important conditions are social, having to do with the form of life of a given community itself. As such, these latter conditions have to do with attitudes, with ways of interacting, with the subtle subtexts of discourse including what philosophers have termed conversational implicatures—the unstated intentions or beliefs we infer or presuppose (sometimes without articulating this inference or presupposition at all) from what someone actually says.5

Academic community and friendship

Turning to the concept of friendship, let me relate an edifying tale. In the spring of 2002 in Victoria, British Columbia, a young woman at the margins of a university community experienced a tragedy that any academician would dread. A part-time lecturer at the University of Victoria, Linda Olsen suffered a fire in the trailer she had been using as an office and as a storage place for family heirlooms and clothing. The flames consumed all these along with her professional library as well as 20 years of research on medieval literature, including handwritten notes she'd taken over the course of four years in British libraries, and two nearly complete journal manuscripts.6

Although she was able to rescue her blind dog, she could not save even her laptop computer. None of her files was backed-up. In addition to her own materials, she lost 177 books from the university library—virtually its entire collection on medieval women—for which she later received a bill for $5,744. There was no insurance on the trailer's contents.

Even prior to the fire, Olsen's personal story is noteworthy. A high school dropout, she earned her equivalency diploma by correspondence and then enrolled in junior college. She eventually moved on to the University of Victoria, winning an award for academic achievement. She then studied in Britain on a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship (working with rare manuscripts of Augustine's Confessions) and in 1999 won the Medieval Academy of America's Van Courtland Elliott Prize for the best first article in a scholarly journal. For family reasons, she turned down several offers from prestigious American universities and found herself in that trailer near the Pacific Ocean, with a post-doctoral scholarship from the University and teaching whatever courses needed an instructor. Nonetheless, she certainly had defined herself as a serious scholar and legitimate citizen of the academic world—an admirable accomplishment, given the obstacles she faced.

More remarkable still was the academic community's response to her plight. University colleague's donated clothing and shoes. A graduate student interrupted his dissertation research to develop a web-based book registry—like a bridal registry—listing 300 book titles she had lost so that people could purchase replacement copies. (The registry eventually was taken over by the University Bookstore, which offered the books at a discount.) The University's development office set up a fund so that contributions could be tax-deductible. Student volunteers photocopied lost articles and digitally input her dissertation giving her electronic access to it. The English Department and the Dean cooperated to defray part of the cost of the library bill, and there was hope that the library would forgive the rest. By July of 2002, colleagues at the university and scholars around the world had donated $2,500 and 500 books. The English Department even found her a shared office space. Her research back on track, Dr. Olsen was completing plans to publish a co-edited text with the University of Notre Dame Press, which previously had offered her any of its own titles free of charge.

Such a story reminds us of the better angels of our collective nature and can make all of us proud to be members of this special world, which is above all a gathering of human beings. Seen in this light, an academic community resembles the following description of the early American republic offered by Joseph Ellis in Founding Brothers:
First, the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in the mix. Their interactions and juxtapositions generated a dynamic form of balance and equilibrium, not because any of them was perfect or infallible, but because their mutual imperfections and fallibilities, as well as their eccentricities and excesses, checked each other in much the way that Madison in Federalist 10 claimed that multiple factions would do in a large republic.

Second, they all knew one another personally, meaning that they broke bread together, sat together at countless meetings, corresponded with one another about private as well as public matters. Politics, even at the highest level in the early republic, remained a face-to-face affair in which the contestants, even those who were locked in political battles to the death, were forced to negotiate the emotional affinities and shared intimacies produced by frequent personal interaction. The Adams-Jefferson rivalry and friendship is the outstanding example here, though there are several crucial moments when critical compromises were brokered because personal trust made it possible. Though the American republic became a nation of laws, during the initial phase it also had to be a nation of men.7

At their best, academic communities likewise provide a setting for collective achievement that is strengthened by a diversity of perspectives and that also works, in part, because of the life-long professional and personal relationships established among its members. In brief, a well-tempered academic community does instantiate Aristotle's twin virtues of contemplation and friendship. 

Unfortunately, as we know, this does not always occur. Personal and professional relationships within departments, within a faculty as a whole, and between the faculty and the administration can be marked by the most extreme forms of enmity, distrust, and rancor. Such unhappy breakdowns in the social fabric can undermine the collegiality necessary for scholarship and artistic creation and can even spill over to contaminate the experiences of our students. Academic leaders—both administrators and faculty leaders—surely are responsible for attending to these social relationships as well as nurturing an environment supportive of the quest for truth. So, to do our job, we need to be intentional in reflecting on these social relationships and develop strategies to improve them. But this project is more complex than just helping folks to get along—exhorting them to share their toys and play nicely with one another. For the relationship between truth and friendship may not be as straightforward or complementary as it might at first appear. To make this point, let me return to an intriguing but little-noticed comment Aristotle makes at the beginning of hisNicomachean Ethics.

Truth v. friendship

During a preliminary discussion of the ethical theories of his predecessors, Aristotle includes the following paragraph:

We had perhaps better consider the universal good and discuss thoroughly what is meant by it, although such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by friends of our own. Yet it would perhaps be thought better to do our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us closely, especially as we are philosophers or lovers of wisdom; for, while both are dear, piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.8
The first time I cited this passage a few years ago in an address to the faculty at the University of Redlands, I saw it as little more than a terse (and rather obvious) historical gloss on our fundamental mission as academics. But as is so often the case in teaching, the odd throwaway remark becomes the one thought that one's listeners carry away. On that occasion, responses from a number of thoughtful and well-intentioned faculty colleagues focused on this comment in ways epitomized in the following e-mail:
You did say that truth is more important than friendship, didn't you? And then that discourse is central to [the quest for] truth. But isn't discourse predicated on friendship and therefore isn't truth developed through friendship? Are you really that fiercely Western man on a lonely quest for truth (a truth which is not far from context independent logic)?

Indeed. 

My former colleague raises the spectre that only someone as detached from normal human intercourse as Plato's idealized character of Socrates or his more contemporary doppelganger, the Star Trek character Mr. Spock—both of whom viewed our human emotional entanglements from an ironic distance—could hope to live up to Aristotle's expressed ideal. Here is the question in a nutshell: If academic community is necessary for the central work of teaching and learning, and if friendship or something like it is essential for the creation of genuine academic community, then how can we rationally "honor truth above our friends?" Does this paradox reside at the heart of the academic community itself? To begin untangling this question, let me pull back from the more idealized stance with which I began and admit what we know all too well—that, pace Aristotle, we academics are not always as adept at pursuing the truth as we would like to think we are.

An academic case in point

Perhaps the most celebrated instance of such infirmity is the case of the 20th-Century philosopher, Sir Karl Popper. Popper built a long and influential academic career on the proposition that neither science nor any other human enterprise that advanced empirical truth-claims or claims with empirical implications (including, most assuredly, ethics and political theory) could ever conclusively verify even a single such thesis. The best that such enterprises could do, Popper argued, was to remain open to the possibility of falsification. In fact, the hallmark of those with the most intellectual integrity was to actively seek it out. They were to do so by carefully articulating hypotheses and conjectures that admitted of being contradicted by the discovery of recalcitrant facts. This openness to confutation, and with it a fundamental commitment to critical discourse, thus became for Popper the ultimate test of whether a process was scientific or even rational. His position, so described, represents a special case of the academic community's fundamental commitment to open critical discourse.

Ironically, by all accounts, Sir Karl himself was constitutionally incapable of living up to his own most consistently promoted ideals. Even those commentators most favorable to Popperian theories have been forced to admit that Sir Karl the human being was among the most irascible, self-centered, self-serving, and self-regarding philosophers in history. More to the point, he seemed unable to accept criticism of his work as anything but a misreading or a misunderstanding of his position—usually a willful one.9

In a poignant memoir of a youthful pilgrimage to meet with Popper at his residence in 1975, Adam Gopnik describes his own emerging realization that his heretofore-intellectual hero actually had feet of academic clay:

"Tell me," I said, "what criticism have your received in your career that has helped you—that you regard as really useful?"

He stared off for a long moment. "None," he said. "I have never received any of this kind of criticism." He looked away again.
...
It is difficult to convey, after all these years, the vehemence with which he put forth his views—the silly, the profound, the trivial, and the deep. This was a man alive with resentments, vindictive anger, and persecution mania; at the same time, he had a kind of large-spiritedness, not remote from simple naiveté that led him to open his door to a kid from Canada and fill him up with all his dogmas and doubts as though he were an old colleague.10
Popper's well-documented antipathy to criticism of his work could be ignored as an idiosyncratic curiosity in the history of ideas if we also had not observed such an inability in our own colleagues and, if we are to be honest, in ourselves. For his part, Gopnik generalizes this realization to cover virtually all intellectual activity:
But what really underlay the contradiction between what [Popper] thought and what he was, I now think, after a quarter-century's reflection, is a perversity of human nature so deep that it is almost a law—the Law of the Mental Mirror Image. We write what we are not. It is not merely that we fail to live up to our best ideas but that our best ideas, and the tone that goes with them, tend to be the opposite of our natural temperament. Rousseau wrote of the feelings of the heart and the beauties of nature while stewing and seething in a little room. Dr. Johnson pleaded for Christian stoicism in desperate fear of damnation. The masters of the wry middle style, Lionel Trilling and Randall Jarrell, were mired in sadness and confusion. The angry and competitive man (James Thurber) writes tender and rueful humor because his own condition is what he seeks to escape. The apostles of calm reason are hypersensitive and neurotic; William James arrived at a pose of genial universal cheerfulness in the face of constant panic. Art critics are often visually insensitive—look at their living rooms!—and literary critics are often slow and puzzled readers, searching for the meaning, and cooks are seldom trenchermen, being more fascinated by recipes than greedy for food.

It is not so much that we are drawn to things that frighten us as that we are drawn to things that we can think of as things—as subjects that exist outside [emphasis mine] the boundaries of all that is just the way we are. It is not merely that we do not live up to our ideals but that we cannot [emphasis mine], since our ideals are exactly the part of us that we do not instantly identify as just part of life. An original thought is like a death mask of a man, with the solids made hollow and the nose a cavity, a portrait pulled inside out. We are our ideas (Popper, with his long, slightly overformal sentences, lucid but unornamented by wit, sounded like no one else), for they include everything we are—but turned right around to face us, and looking back at us in surprise.11

In sum, Gopnik questions not just of how deep our cherished ideals of liberal learning and the primacy of truth-seeking in academia actually do penetrate but rather how deep they can ever penetrate. 

To the extent that it may be true, this psychological conjecture helps to explain what otherwise might appear to be a puzzling anomaly: how a community of scholars devoted to the highest ideals of inquiry should ever give rise to divisive—and not infrequently ad hominem—disputes that are nasty, brutish, and seldom short. It is all well and good to tout the unencumbered search for knowledge, but we fallible and self-interested human beings do sometimes fail to live up to our most fervidly professed ideals. And even if it is not true across the board, Gopnik's conjecture serves to remind us that it is more difficult to live up to the ideal of truth-seeking than we usually want to admit.

Friendship within the academy

As usual, the reality of how we actually behave lies somewhere in between the extremes of our best ideals and our worst fears. So while acknowledging the difficulty of living up to the Aristotelian norm, we should take a more optimistic stance for one primary reason: All of us certainly have seen people accept criticism and change their minds - both on the larger academic playing field and at individual schools where we have lived and worked. There are academics who behave far better than Popper and entire academic communities that function as one thinks they should. But even the latter are fragile and subject to various kinds of breakdowns if not attended to carefully, which brings us back to the topic of leadership and the problem of fostering communities that do somehow combine truth and friendship.

So let us return to the Aristotelian paradox: How can we, as academics, rationally prefer truth to friendship if friendship (or something like it) is essential to support the inquiry that leads to truth? The answer lies in a more sophisticated understanding of friendship that can be constructed in Aristotle's own terms. In one of his most lasting contributions to ethics, Aristotle argued that we should regard human actions and social relationships in terms of a continuum, with vices on each extreme and virtue existing in the middle—not as a metaphorical arithmetic mean but as a moving, context-sensitive point somewhere in between the extremes.12 Thus if we place misanthropic enmity at one end and self-effacing solidarity or absolute discipleship at the other extreme, then the varieties of friendship fall somewhere in between.

Lawrence Thomas has argued that "companion friendship" is marked by three salient features: (1) "Companion friendships are a manifestation of a choice on the part of the parties involved." (2) "Neither party to the relationship is under the authority of the other." (3) "There is an enormous bond of mutual trust between such friends."13 His point is that even though friendships are based on personal attraction that may "befall" us (sometimes to the point of being surprised that we have become friendly with someone who initially may have put us off), we ultimately have a choice about whether to advance the relationship (or even to continue it), as opposed to, e.g., the relationship between child and parent.

Entering into such a friendly relationship does require us to open ourselves to one another and build bonds of trust, and such trust and openness are at variance with relationships of authority. No matter how one may feel personally, the relationship of superior to subordinate (if taken seriously) imposes bounds that impede the development of true friendship. Moreover, the closest forms of friendship (e.g., that between two lovers) lead to commitments that might appropriately entail a choice of friendship over truth. So the quick resolution of the Aristotelian paradox is the realization that the friendship that should stand at the heart of an academic community needs to be of a managed sort, one that does not go to the full extreme of solidarity that characterizes the very deepest friendships. This is true, in part, because in an academic community each of us is in a real and an important sense under the authority of the other members.

This authority is manifested in the periodic reviews that depend upon honest (truthful) peer commentary. But in a deeper sense, to accept membership in an academic community is to place oneself under the continuing authority of one's peers for the evaluation of the products of one's intellectual or creative labor: A community of inquiry just is a context in which one's ideas or art works are subject to evaluation on an ongoing basis. Moreover, this evaluation does not depend on hierarchy or seniority. Every president knows the pleasure of being challenged in public by the newest junior faculty member or youngest student. And even the work of the most senior faculty colleague is subject to similar scrutiny.14 To recognize such authority is to place limits on friendship.

Two failures of academic community and their remedies

This realization helps us understand two very different ways in which academic community can break down—ways aligned with the ends of the Aristotelian spectrum of attitudes that include friendship. First and most obviously, it can collapse under the weight of enmity and distrust. When academic debates become marked by personal rancor and ad hominem attack, we lose faith that rigorous critique is offered in the service of truth and not in service of some baser motive (self-aggrandizement, revenge). The colleague who has fallen so far into cynicism—a generalized and destructive mistrust of the other members of the community and its activities—that he or she can no longer participate precludes the possibility of discourse altogether. The most extreme manifestation of such malaise is a refusal even to be present at departmental or faculty meetings, thus precluding the possibility of persuading or being persuaded by colleagues.

But academic community is equally threatened by behavior at the other end of the continuum: by excessive political solidarity (sometimes verging on discipleship) among a group of colleagues who make themselves impervious to argument or critique from those outside their group and so have come to prefer friendship to truth in a deep and destructive sense. A less virulent form of the preference of friendship to truth is more commonly found among students than faculty, in the confusion of the democratic principle that (a) everyone has a right to his or her beliefs with the notion that (b) anyone's belief is therefore as good as anyone else's. Such a position represents an extreme form of tolerance - actually, a type of intellectual euthanasia—that facilitates living together at the cost of undermining critical discourse. Most insidiously, excessive solidarity (under the guise of collegiality) threatens academic integrity when colleagues fail to do the hard work of rigorous and principled peer evaluation at times of reviews for reappointment, tenure, or promotion.

Academic leaders need to remain vigilant in the face of both these alternatives, challenging either when it rears its head. More positively, leaders need to work constantly and consciously to create the underlying conditions of trust within our communities that make genuine critical discourse possible. Our first responsibility is to model a spirit of openness and responsiveness to the ideas of others in our own behavior. It is important to avoid seeming defensive in the face of criticism. However, the most powerful sign of openness is a willingness to admit that one was wrong or to indicate publicly that one actually has changed one's mind on some important issue as a result of engaging in the shared conversation. We also need to model a readiness to take risks in the service of truth. In a lecture to the AAC&U a few years ago, the historian Patricia Limerick talked about being willing to "step on landmines" in the course of a difficult conversation—to be candid and name a problem that was present but unacknowledged.15

Second, leaders need to be carefully attuned to messages implicit in the common discourse that can be variously interpreted by persons at different stages in their engagement with the community. For example, imagine that a college is dealing with a difficult and controversial question, one that finds the administration on one side and a sizeable number of faculty members on the other. In the context of a heated discussion, a faculty member proposes that the meeting go into "executive session," excluding all non-voting members—i.e., all administrators—so that the faculty can "speak freely and develop its own position," absent external influences. Senior members of the body will interpret this request (including its conversational implicatures) against the background of their long experience with the institution and their particular knowledge of the person making the motion. Perhaps she speaks from the best of intentions, or perhaps he is known to be someone who lets no occasion pass to cast aspersions at the administration. Perhaps the institution has suffered at the hands of an autocratic president who really has stifled open discourse by inflicting harm on those who have disagreed with her; or perhaps the opposite is true and the president has struggled mightily to work collaboratively with the faculty. Either way, those who have been members of the community will understand the background.

But consider how a relatively junior colleague, one new to the institution and still trying to figure out its particular history and political dynamics, might read this moment. Absent comments to the contrary by other senior colleagues, that person would be justified in parsing the request as a reasonable attempt to advance the discussion by removing a potential obstacle. The new person would also be justified in wondering whether her administrators are truly unworthy of her trust, whether she might indeed place herself at risk by speaking freely in their presence. Even if such inferences are not warranted in this particular case, they will stand unless others—and most effectively, senior faculty leaders—challenge them at that moment. The more general lesson is that we need to be intentional in attending to the tenor of our shared discourse and understand that many members of the community will (with some legitimacy) interpret silence in the face of some particular claim as assent to it. Leaders often have the opportunity to set the agenda and can make the discourse itself a topic of conversation when necessary. Moving to this meta-level of inquiry can be one powerful way of getting a discussion back on track.

The deepest obstacle to preferring truth may well be the intrinsic difficulty of expressing disagreement. That is, despite the stereotype of irascibility that sometimes is used by others (or by us!) to portray the academic world as if it were indeed populated by so many Poppers, a more accurate view would acknowledge the force of our own basic human desire to like and to be liked by our colleagues. That is to say, we are more likely to subvert academic community through excessive solidarity than through cynicism. If this observation is accurate, then as academic leaders we need to acknowledge that our most essential virtue may well be the courage needed to place friendship at risk in the service of truth. Before the final day of the battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee had a conversation with his second in command, General James Longstreet. As portrayed Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels Lee tells Longstreet that the most difficult choice of a general is to risk the very thing he loves the most, his army, by committing it to battle without reservation. And yet without a willingness to risk that most beloved thing, the general forfeits the possibility of victory.16 As guardians of academic community, we must be equally willing to risk that most precious friendship that we feel for our colleagues and possibly strain the bonds of community by remaining committed, without reservation, to the service of truth. In doing so, we must trust in the better angels of our compatriots—that they too are committed to this common purpose.

As a scholar, Sir Karl Popper ultimately will be judged by the value of his ideas, not by his personality or his actions. Academic leaders, by contrast, must be judged by their actions—ultimately by their success in nurturing the central values of those academic communities of which they are members. Each of us certainly would like to embrace the "large-spiritedness" Gopnik discovered in his (fallen) idol and encourage the kind of colleagueship and camaraderie represented in the story of Linda Olsen while preserving, at the same time, the capacity for genuine critical discourse. Even so, when faced with the choice, we need to affirm critical discourse as the ascendant value. To the extent thats action follows thought, I hope that these remarks provide some measure of assistance in thinking and acting creatively in regards to this most intriguing relationship between friendship and truth.



Notes


1This article was developed from a plenary address to the Conference on Leadership in Liberal Education co-sponsored by the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD) and Phi Beta Kappa at the College of Charleston, Charleston, SC on October 25, 2003. An abbreviated version appears in Liberal Education, V. 90, No. 1 (March 2004). The present version is published on the ACAD web site by arrangement with Liberal Education.

2In defining community in this way, I am placing a premium on its instantiation in individual colleges and universities, as opposed to the extended international academic community that itself comprises the various disciplinary communities. However, much of what I say here could apply mutatis mutandis to these broader contexts as well. 

3Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Breakfast of Champions (New York: Delacorte Press/Semour Lawrence, 1973) p. 209.

4See W. V. O. Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," reprinted in From a Logical Point of View, W. V. O. Quine (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1961) and Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: J. & J. Harper Editions, 1969).

5See H. P. Grice, "Logic and Conversation," in P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics, V. 3 (New York: Academic Press, 1975), pp. 43-44.

6Janice Paskey, "What the Fire Taught Her," The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 26, 2002, p. A56. My account of these events is taken from this article.

7Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Random House, 2002), p. 17.

8Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Richard McKeon trans., in The Basic Works of Aristotle, R. McKeon ed. (New York: Random House, 1941), p. 939 (1096b 11-16), emphasis mine. 

9See David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Wittgenstein's Poker (New York: Ecco, 2001).

10Adam Gopnik, "The Porcupine: A Pilgrimage to Popper," The New Yorker, V. 78, No. 7 (April 1, 2002), pp. 88-93, p. 91.

11Gopnik, p. 92.

12To cite a classic case, if cowardice occupies one end of a spectrum with foolhardiness the other, then courage falls somewhere in between. But similar actions may represent courage in battle but foolhardiness on a city street. 

13Laurence Thomas, "Friendship," Synthese 72 (1987), pp. 217-36.

14More than thirty years ago, as a young and very green instructor still working on my doctoral dissertation, I authored a critical review of Popper's (co-authored) book, The Self and Its Brain. That paper, along with others, was presented at a symposium attended by Sir Karl himself, at which he took exception to criticism in ways quite consistent with the picture presented above. Regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of my contribution, the inclusion of such a junior colleague in this gathering was certainly not anomalous in itself.

15It is possible to become more adept at performing this difficult function through attention and practice. Those wishing to work on this skill might consult a book by Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (New York: Viking, 2002).

16Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974), pp. 202-3.
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Oct 18 2003
Let me begin by expressing sincere thanks to all of you who have gathered here today to help us celebrate not simply the inauguration of an officer of the College, but more importantly, the one hundre...

Let me begin by expressing sincere thanks to all of you who have gathered here today to help us celebrate not simply the inauguration of an officer of the College, but more importantly, the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of an idea—an idea that evolved into this extraordinary institution that today is Skidmore College.

So to Chairperson Sue Thomas and other members of the Board of Trustees and trustees emeriti, members of the faculty, staff, and administration, current students, alumni, parents, delegates representing so many sister institutions of higher learning (with a special word of greeting to President Song of China's Qufu Teachers University who has traveled so far to join us today), as well as governmental and civic organizations, those who have contributed musical selections to enhance this ceremony, families of former Presidents —John & Bettina Moore, Ruth Wilson, Anne Palamountain, Helen Porter, Gary Smith—personal friends and colleagues, and friends of Skidmore from the community, I say thank you for joining us. To former Presidents Porter and Studley: thank you for being present; our task is to build upon your accomplishments

Let me also extend a special word of gratitude to Bob Boyers, James Longenbach, Mary Lynn, and Laurence Thomas who yesterday challenged us to reflect on the future of higher education, as well as to Mark Lewis and Mary Burgan, who have inspired us today by their words. And finally, let me acknowledge the good work of all those who participated in the planning and realization not only of this inauguration but of all the events of this week (for example, all the hard-working folks in Facilities Services, Food Services, and CITS) —most especially Michael Sposili and the members of the Inauguration Committee and from my office, Liz Bourque, Jeanne Sisson, and Susan Weeks. Finally, let me thank the members of our family who have joined us here today: the Millards, the Cavanaughs, and most especially Elizabeth, Jason, and Marie Glotzbach. Your support means more to me than you could know; I simply could not do this job without it.

Last May, you invited me —and with me, my confidante, partner, and toughest critic, my wife, Marie Glotzbach—to serve Skidmore College as the seventh in a line of distinguished Presidents. Today, I formally and most enthusiastically accept the responsibilities of this office. I do so with relish, with energy, with profound respect for the achievements of so many who have created the Skidmore we know today, and with unfailing optimism for the Skidmore of the future. Or to put it another way: Sue, now you're really stuck with me.

I also accept with deep humility and awareness of my own limitations. Indeed, the beginning words of a prayer from the Jewish tradition seem most apposite: "Lord I stand before you poor in word and deed." That truly is how I feel in standing before you today. The water indeed is wide, and I cannot swim over alone. Consequently, in order to fulfill your expectations and help us achieve our collective dreams, I must depend upon all of you for assistance, for support, for inspiration, and of course for criticism when I go wrong. (I surmise that our faculty and staff will be well up to that task.) The broad and deep community that is Skidmore can carry all of us. And I assure you that what we cannot begin to imagine as individuals we shall accomplish if we choose to pull together.

As human beings, we all at least occasionally find ourselves poor in word and deed. And yet for those of us who devote our lives to higher education, our limitations and failings are subsumed in the realization that we participate in an enterprise far grander than our personal shortcomings would otherwise allow—an enterprise that is collaborative and inspirational to the core, and one that represents some of the most important work human beings can undertake: educating young persons at their point of transition between late adolescence and early adulthood. As a liberal arts college, Skidmore is committed to providing its graduates with both the essential skills and an entree to the accumulated knowledge that our species has collectively developed over the course of recorded history. This is no small undertaking. And I do not exaggerate in saying that upon the success of our efforts depends the future of the world. The future of the world perhaps sounds a bit strained or pretentious. But who will address the extraordinarily daunting challenges facing us if not the young people now preparing to take their place as leaders in business, the arts, science, government, education, and the not-for-profit sector of tomorrow's world? And who will prepare them if not us? Indeed, Skidmore is uniquely positioned among our sister colleges to perform this work because the value of creativity is deeply ingrained in our history and it permeates our thinking today.

We must not, we cannot fail our students, simply because human knowledge is not like a recessive gene that can remain hidden in one generation and yet emerge to be expressed in a subsequent one. Rather, a generation that fails to gain access to some area of knowledge will be incapable of providing it to its successors. That indeed is a lesson of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose—there may be nothing more powerful than knowledge, but it is paradoxically fragile, always in danger of being lost for eternity. A similar observation holds true for the development of new knowledge, new works of art, or new solutions to global problems: none of these can occur without a base of information and skills that others have developed. True creativity cannot occur in a vacuum, and creative thought does matter.

It is, then, our task and our privilege as educators to inspire in each successive generation of students the passion for knowledge or artistic creation that led those of us here on the faculty to make teaching and learning our life's work. It is the task of the rest of us who have grown to love Skidmore College and who work to support the central labor of teaching and learning to lend our efforts to this work as well. But the work is not always—and perhaps not often—easy. Certainly our students know this best of all. One of our new admissions postcards captures this reality quite graphically: On the front is a photograph of a young woman bent over her desk writing, an intense expression on her face. The caption reads, "PAIN." Turning the card to its obverse side, we read: "IT HURTS. The throbbing rolls through your brain like a line of thunder boomers. Who said Advanced Calculus would make it rain? Check the weather."

So what passion can inspire us to make the effort on a daily basis to do this most difficult work of teaching and learning: to meet our classes, to grade the papers, to keep our scholarship or creative work moving along, to deal with administrative challenges, to keep Skidmore College functional and well maintained in times of scarce resources? Let me suggest three sources of such inspiration that are available to each of us in the extended Skidmore family.

First, I am certain that many of us, at some crucial moment in our lives, have been inspired by a teacher; and the more fortunate of us have had this experience on multiple occasions. But to make this point more concrete, I want to pause for thirty seconds and ask each of you to think back and identify just one such teacher in your past —someone who has had a transformative influence your life.

I hope that a name and recollection quickly came to each of you. In fact, I suspect that a number of us may have thought of a Skidmore professor, perhaps even someone present here today. That obviously is not the case for me, but still, my experience may not be atypical. Mark Lewis already has told us one story. Now it's my turn:

In my junior year at Notre Dame, as an unfledged but eager philosophy major I asked a professor I had come to know, Dr. Fredrick J. Crosson, to sponsor a directed study on the main work of the twentieth-century French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty: a 456-page book entitled The Phenomenology of Perception . Merleau-Ponty was a contemporary —indeed, a friend and colleague—of Jean-Paul Sartre and wrote Phenomenology of Perception about the time when Sartre was completing Being and Nothingness , the early 1940s. I knew that Dr. Crosson had studied with Merleau-Ponty in Paris in the late 1950s, and I was eager to study with someone with so direct a connection to the source. Fortunately, he agreed to this project, and we spent the spring of 1971 meeting on Thursday afternoons, working through one chapter per week. Think of it as my Thursdays with Fred and Maurice.

I will not attempt to summarize this complex philosophical work, but I do want to provide a few relevant details. Merleau-Ponty's book is about an unlikely philosophical topic: the body of the perceiver, that is to say, each of us. This topic is unlikely because traditionally philosophers have been expected to write of more lofty conceptual matters. Indeed a dominant rationalist tradition in Western Philosophy reaching back to the Greeks, holds that human beings are best understood as disembodied knowers (as spirits in a material world), with Descartes as an archetypal example. An equally venerable but opposite tradition, the materialist tradition, holds that thinking can be explained as a physical operation described, ultimately, in the same terms that the science of physics uses to explain the behavior of falling bodies and the like. (Think of the radical behaviorists of the 20th Century.) Much of the history of western philosophy (and psychology as well) can be viewed as an oscillation between these two incompatible alternatives: rationalism and empiricism.

Merleau-Ponty, by contrast, charted a middle course: a third way, describing the body as experienced —the body as lived—as an entity that was not explainable in the terms of either the rationalist or empiricist alternatives. 1 Moreover, in making his case, Merleau-Ponty employed the data of empirical psychology (including the best neuropsychology of the time) arguing that neither of the traditional alternatives could explain the observable data of language learning, perception, the effects of certain kinds of brain damage, and more generally the way we physically operate in a perceptually rich environment.

I say all this because that semester's introduction to the work of one philosopher set me on a path that led through graduate study and fifteen years of teaching and research. Although I never wrote an article dealing solely with Merleau-Ponty, his was an explicit or implicit presence in virtually everything I did write. That influence on my life continues today. It is serendipitous that Merleau-Ponty's refusal to restrict his discourse to traditional philosophical topics, narrowly conceived—the power of his appeal to psychology, to art, to music, and to neuroscience—as well my own experience in interdisciplinary teaching and research, resonates so strongly to what I see as a unique ethos of this institution: Skidmore's breadth, its interdisciplinarity, its predilection not just to teach, create new knowledge, and make works of art but to synthesize those processes of teaching and creation in uniquely original and meaningful ways.

But the truly salient point of my narrative is this: When he agreed to work with me, Fred Crosson was not only a professor but also Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. He was incredibly busy, and offering a directed study to some wet-behind-the-ears philosophy undergrad surely was not in his formal job description. On the other hand—as is the case with so many Skidmore faculty members—he understood his job in vastly broader educational terms. And in his passion to share his own love of philosophy, he saw his mission as helping students learn. Certainly, my experience in college and with Fred Crosson is unique to me, but I suspect it was structurally not very much different for a number of you. That youthful passion of mine for Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, stimulated by Crosson's knowledge, his own passion for teaching, and his excellence as a mentor and role model, reinforced my sense of the academy; not simply as a locus of intellectual life, but as a vibrant and indeed supportive community of kindred spirits. My experience working with him truly was transformational, and he no doubt would be pleased to learn that two of my own former students have continued on to earn Ph.D.s, specializing in the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty—just as generations of exceptional Skidmore faculty have passed their knowledge, and their passion for that knowledge, along to many of you and thousands of others.

And I know, not just from personal conversations and intuition but also from documents such as the Distillation Report, that this is precisely the case at Skidmore. The work of the Skidmore faculty in the classroom, laboratory, or studio and, even more, in our mentoring, advising, and collaboration, has inspired and nourished this passion for learning in our own students yesterday, it does so today, and it will continue to do so in the future. This summer, Marie and I met a young alumnus in San Francisco who said that literally everything he values as an adult he learned about at Skidmore. Those of us not directly involved in teaching and learning at Skidmore especially need to keep such narratives in mind. For they help us focus on the core work of the College and in doing so enable us to see the value of our own efforts in contributing to the transformational experiences of our students.

This talk of passion leads me to introduce a second source of inspiration: Skidmore's unique heritage, a heritage both present throughout our history and sedimented (to borrow a word from Merleau-Ponty) into our very buildings and grounds. For colleges too are embodied entities; they are communities of brick and mortar as much as communities of learning.

One hundred years ago a fifty-year-old widow of independent means stepped outside of her own job description, narrowly conceived. That is to say, when Lucy Skidmore Scribner founded the Young Women's Industrial Club to meet the educational needs of the middle- and working-class women of Saratoga Springs, she did not need to go to the trouble. No one expected her to do so; no one would have criticized her for thinking it was someone else's problem. But Mrs. Scribner perceived a social need and responded to it in the context of a personal mission to leave the world a better place than she found it.

As we know, it took nineteen years for the institution Lucy Scribner founded to evolve into an accredited College, another forty years for Skidmore to acquire the land that became the site of the present campus and begin making that transition, and another ten years still to reach the decision to admit men. But throughout those years and to the present day, the College has held to its own middle course, its own third way, we might say, as charted by Mrs. Scribner and her successors—a course that initially combined practical instruction (in the beginning business and other "industrial arts") aimed at providing young women the wherewithal to obtain gainful employment as well as "cultivation of such knowledge and arts as may promote [students'] well-being, physical, mental, spiritual." 2

This dual legacy of hand and mind, praxis and episteme, remains apparent in Skidmore's broad curriculum that offers students choices among a full range of traditional majors in the letters, arts, and sciences, along with selected professional majors and strong interdisciplinary programs. More tellingly, it is reflected in our culture of encouraging students to make their own choices, to define themselves through curricular options that serve their individual needs and respond to their interests, resulting in both expected and quite unexpected combinations of majors that students pursue with a purpose. Over the years, Skidmore has sent forth its alumni into the arts, sciences, law, medicine, and education. Her graduates have included an ambulance driver in France during World War II, generations of nurses, officers of charitable foundations, social workers, investment bankers, members of the media, writers, artists, and contributors to the entertainment industry. Our students marched for Franklin Roosevelt, protested the Viet Nam war, and stood in silent vigil to commemorate the victims of 9-11. Going back to Mrs. Scribner herself, the history of Skidmore College is a story of individuals making unordinary choices and extraordinary differences in the world. Creative thought has indeed mattered in their lives. Creative thought also has mattered to students who have completed our Higher Education Opportunity Program, and who over the years have graduated at rates approximately 15% higher than our overall student population. It has mattered to readers of Salmagundi , to students and teachers in our summer arts and writing programs, and to students who have completed degrees through our University Without Walls and the Master's in Liberal Studies. It has mattered to our students who have studied in China at Qufu Teachers University or in our London program.

Yet these statements, as true as they may be, have not yet captured Skidmore's uniqueness. So let me try a different description, excerpted from the 1961 Charge to the Architects and Planners of the new campus by former Chairperson of the Board, Josephine Young Case. Mrs. Case began her two-page statement with the following admonition:

You will design a campus which will provide for both student and teacher a feeling of freedom and wide horizon, and you will provide the physical opportunities for attaining that freedom in the mind and that horizon in the spirit.

You must allow space for contemplation and for play; privacy for thinking and study; and a pervasive atmosphere which will be at the same time serious and gay, somber and warm, traditional and forward-looking, made up of time past, time present, and time future.

The architecture that resulted is both physical and symbolic, incorporating intentional traces of the old campus, in the choice of red brick, in our tree-lined main quad whose path lights suggest the street lights of old Saratoga Springs, and even in the semicircular windows that crown Scribner library and echo the decorative semicircular windows so characteristic of the Victorian structures on the old campus . So even on the present campus, we live, quite literally, in the midst of our history as we create our future.

A third source of inspiration, one that Marie and I have felt virtually everywhere since we arrived, is Skidmore's unique sense of community. In talking with alumni from the 30s to the 90s, to our most recent graduates, in talking with current students, members of the faculty, members of the staff, and trustees, we hear a similar theme: Skidmore is a College that inspires love. A number of our employees, across all areas of the College, have worked here for more than thirty years. Our alumni find it easy to connect across the generations. Our students immediately learn that they are members of a close-knit, caring community, and our faculty members speak about the connections they feel with their students and with one another. This expression of community is so powerful and apprehensible that even prospective students visiting campus can sense it, and it correspondingly drives numbers of them to know that this will be their place too!

My use of words such as 'love' and 'passion' throughout these remarks has been quite intentional. In one of the first philosophical treatises on education, Plato's Republic , the character Socrates provides his own list of attributes that characterize the most promising of young students— those who are capable of attaining the highest levels of knowledge and thus are worthy of being admitted to the theoretical institute of higher education that he is describing. The first such trait identified is "a constant passion[emphasis mine] for any knowledge that will reveal to them something of that reality which endures forever and is not always passing into and out of existence." Here Plato employs the same word that signifies passion between a lover and a beloved. In short, the true student, according to Plato, must be smitten with the desire to learn.

Now, it would be a stretch to argue that all students enter Skidmore with such a passion— just as it would be a stretch to suggest that I entered Notre Dame in that manner—but it's not at all a stretch to claim that many, perhaps most of our students, graduate with that passion. Again, the sentiments in the Distillation Report make that clear, as does our research; and, although I'm quite reluctant to validate it, so does the US News' college rankings—in which Skidmore is cited for graduating a significantly higher percentage of its classes than the data of our entering students would forecast. Clearly, something very special happens here during a student's four years that literally transforms her or him and is not infrequently inspirational. Passion is engendered, in part by what our faculty members do and how they do it, by the care and commitment of our staff, by the very place itself, and by our heritage and the indomitable spirit of the institution.

But as with the fragility of knowledge, so the fragility of academic communities themselves. We must recognize that Skidmore, as with so many colleges and universities across the country, faces challenges—very real and daunting challenges—that must be addressed over the coming years. Many of us know these all too well: ensuring adequate funding to sustain our enterprise; compensating our faculty and staff in a manner that satisfies comparative norms; controlling our costs; maintaining our financial aid so that the students who can most benefit from a Skidmore education are able to matriculate here; supporting a governance structure that is representative, participatory, fair, and above all, functional; recognizing that we can't do everything well, and having the wisdom and conviction to decide what we should and should not do; providing more adequate resources for departments and units that are both critical and critically under-supported; making meaningful assessment part of our professional lives; and finding ways to make it possible for our faculty to both teach small classes and labs and still closely mentor and advise individual students. Maybe I would have been better advised to specialize in stoicism, but I would like to assure you that without underestimating the gravity of these challenges, I remain supremely optimistic.

So let me outline the ambitious agenda that lies before us, an agenda that will build upon our proud heritage that grows out of many conversations that already have occurred, and that will continue to be shaped by conversations yet to come. For the only agenda that will be completed is the one we create and embrace together. This agenda will not be accomplished in the near term, but it clearly continues our tradition of making no small plans. And it is essential that we do so because, as former President Palamountain eloquently stated twenty-seven years ago, "Institutions such as colleges cannot and do not enjoy equilibrium: they either grow, in quality and/or quantity, or they decline. These are the only two alternatives." 3 And I affirm to you today that I did not come here to preside over the decline of Skidmore College!

Academic Vision: The notion that creative thought matters captures an important dimension of who we are. My own first encounter with this phrase came in reading the prospectus for the presidency of Skidmore. It struck me then, as it continues to strike me now, as a unique apostrophe that underscores the power of hand and mind, of embodiment, of the third way. But we have not yet fully realized the potential of this idea. As I have said on another occasion to our faculty, understanding just how to enhance creativity across our curriculum and for each of our students may be our greatest challenge. Just what does it mean for us, and how do we do it? I would love to see us take up these questions collectively and see where they lead us.

Here is an idea that could become part of this conversation: Quite reasonably, we tend to interpret the phrase creative thought matters as creative thought is importantcreative thought counts. But it also admits of a second possible reading, one that emphasizes its final word: creative thought must be made material. For an un-completed thought—the building that is designed but never built, the novel envisioned but never written, the peace plan that is promulgated but never put into practice—remains decidedly un -real, a chimera, an illusion. 4 Truly creative thought must be embodied . Who can teach this lesson better than our artists who quite literally give their ideas material form? It is the special mission of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum to embody thought as well — to give concepts physical shape and texture and in doing so, quite literally, to create new ways of knowing, hence the forthcoming Luce Professorship of Fred Wilson. If this notion sounds elusive, then I would encourage you to visit the Tang and experience the death penalty exhibit (which was created by two of our students in collaboration with a faculty advisor) or Nayland Blake's challenging exploration of sexuality, race, and interpersonal relationships. We are charting new academic territory with the Tang, and I for one am eager to see where it will lead us in the future.

Other curricular ideas are also presently in play in lively discussions of the emerging Academic Vision Statement under the very able guidance of Dean Joseph and the members of the Committee on Educational Policies and Planning. Without at all attempting to preempt that conversation, let me add my support for the direction in which it is moving and highlight several features. I believe that we do need to pay increased attention to the crucial and formative experiences of our students during their first year, both as we mentor them in advising and as we bring them into our academic community in introductory courses. The latter need to be owned by all members of our faculty, with active leadership from our senior faculty. As we focus on the communication skills of our students, let us constantly remind ourselves that we write not just to convey our ideas to others but more importantly to develop— that is, to realize, to embody—our ideas in the first place. Moreover, students need to learn that writing is very different across the disciplines— writing in history looks quite different from writing in psychology or writing in business. So we need to make an increased commitment to own the teaching of writing across all our courses and at all levels in the curriculum. The same can be said for the elusive but all-important value of critical thinking.

Diversity and Global Thinking: All of us who live in the 21 st Century —and most of all young persons just entering adulthood—need to be adept travelers in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, global milieu that scarcely could be imagined even a decade ago. Moreover, given the now widespread recognition that increasing the diversity of a college community brings it new vitality, it is important to be clear about how concerns with diversity fit into the larger framework of fundamental values.

Liberal education puts in play a multiplicity of ideas, viewpoints, and cultural perspectives. Enhancing the diversity of a college or university advances this project because persons from different identity groups frequently experience divergent forms of life that expand the range of ideas and insights they bring to the table. At the same time, even though we all are shaped by our backgrounds, we need to remind ourselves that we cannot read the quality of one another's character from color, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, or any other such traits. Each of us is a unique individual, with a rich personal story that needs to be heard before we can be understood, much less judged. Most important of all, the deep affinities we share as human beings influence us far more profoundly than do our sometimes more apparent differences. Ultimately these commonalities simply matter more than do our dissimilarities.

These realizations support the Academic Vision Statement's attention to the issues of citizenship broadly conceived. Josephine Case concluded her Charge to the Architects with the words, "One thing we do not want for our new campus and that is walls or gates. For we want the world to enter." We still want the world to enter Skidmore, and we want Skidmore's students and faculty to enter the world, bringing a global perspective to their work. At the same time, all of us need to understand the dynamics of race, ethnicity, gender, culture, sexual orientation, and so on as they historically have played out in America and continue to do so today. I would situate these two projects —gaining a global perspective and understanding domestic issues of diversity—as part of a larger overarching agenda, but they nonetheless represent quite distinct kinds of inquiry. So as we follow through with the commitment to diversity articulated in the Strategic Plan we need to pursue the complementary goals of becoming a more diverse and open community and continuing to develop our capacities of cross-cultural and multi-cultural understanding.

The umbrella of citizenship also encompasses an increased commitment to community involvement, particularly as that involvement advances specific educational goals for our students under the broad heading of internships and service learning. One noteworthy example is the Expanding Horizons program in conjunction with the Schuylerville School System that at once provides assistance to the Schuylerville students and learning opportunities for our own students. We are presently exploring ways to increase such opportunities. And in fact, it is my goal that each of our graduates leaves us not only having earned a degree but also having identified a social cause that she or he finds personally compelling—his or her own way to leave the world a better place.

Academic Departments and Programs: Josephine Young Case included one additional comment in her Charge that merits our attention:

Buildings do not cause academic programs, but they can impede them. Therefore, all [the] learning rooms [of the new campus] must be so placed and so designed that the campus expresses the unity of knowledge. Access between departments must be easy, so that students moving through this rich array feel from the first a single impact, and gather from the harmonious interplay of disciplines some inkling of the universality of human experience. 5

Regardless of what we might say today about Case's references to the unity of knowledge and the universality of human experience and even noting the very real vitality of Skidmore's present commitment to interdisciplinary, I am not convinced that we are have fully realized the promise in Case's vision. Both our students and our faculty would benefit if we were to take a fresh look at the functioning of our academic departments and interdisciplinary programs. Departments especially need to see themselves not as walled city-states but rather as cells in a common living tissue that survive only because of the permeability of their external membranes. Departments are the local instantiations of larger disciplinary communities, and as such they represent crucial concentrations of expertise that are valuable in their own right and provide essential support to interdisciplinary.

But to do their work well, academic departments and interdisciplinary programs must be open communities that bring their disciplines to campus both in their formal curricula and informally through reading groups, colloquia, symposia, and other activities that bring students and faculty members together around topics of interest. Indeed, every major and program should have a clear answer to two important pedagogical questions: First, what kind of substantial independent project will each student complete by the end of senior year? And second, what does it mean for a student to be a major or minor � that is, how are students invited to engage with the discipline—beyond completing the formal curriculum? The most ambitious goal would be for us to think systematically about how departments and programs can move students from membership in an undergraduate learning community to membership in a disciplinary learned community.

I also would like to open a dialog with departments to help them do a better job of informing students about career options our major programs open to them. This is not a point about our curriculum; it is not about somehow making the liberal arts more vocational. My motivation is rather to free our students to pursue their own passion for a liberal arts major, secure in the knowledge that at a later time that major will help them construct a successful professional life.

Shared Governance: Let me acknowledge that the members of Skidmore's faculty, support staff, and administration frequently feel stretched beyond capacity, and today I am envisioning a future that will ask even more of all of us. I cannot make this request without addressing the question of resources. I will return to questions of finance in a moment, but for now let me address a question of an even more precious resource: time. Skidmore has a deep tradition of community involvement in institutional decision-making, a tradition that is woven into the fabric of this community; however, it is clear to me and to many others as well that our present formal governance structure simply makes inordinate demands on the time of too many members of our community. This burden falls disproportionately though not exclusively on the faculty. Later on this year, I propose to work with the Committee on Faculty Governance and other groups as appropriate to search for ways to continue our tradition of strong shared governance with a more efficient structure that makes fewer demands on our time. As part of this project, let us devote increased attention to taking collective responsibility for the tenor of our shared discourse. And let me acknowledge that any changes we collectively decide to make in our formal governance structures must be predicated on increased levels of mutual trust—a goal toward which we already are moving together.

Resources and Strategic Planning: Lastly, as we continue to set our course for the future, we must deepen our analysis to ensure that we understand the cost of each potential initiative we envision. We need to factor in a plan to ensure the upkeep of our beautiful campus that is now beginning to age; we need to build a new music building not only to support that program but to provide a large gathering space where we can bring the world to Skidmore; and we need to create new student housing to make this campus even more residential than it is at present. Even more importantly, we need to set and achieve strategic goals regarding compensation for all those who work at Skidmore. A few moments ago I referenced some of the challenges that impede our path to achieving these and other goals. In response to those challenges, we have made difficult choices already this year, and in all candor I must say that more such choices lie ahead of us. Even so, my remarks today have continued in the Skidmore tradition of making no small plans—envisioning a future that at present is simply not affordable. In the past we have marched ahead often not knowing how the necessary resources would be forthcoming.

Skidmore always has been an institution on the edge, surviving by cunning and audacity, by a willingness to take risks and pursue objectives that sometimes seemed to defy rational thought. This history of risk-taking and institutional audacity has served us well in the past, and we have modeled these values for our students to their great benefit. And in the process, we have created a school that is competitive with some of the finest and most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the nation. By any measure, we are today—as we have not always been before—in the game. Unfortunately, our collegiate playing field includes institutions with one or even two hundred years' more history, with thousands more alumni, and with endowments millions of dollars richer. We cannot contend successfully on this playing field by trying to imitate our competitors. That is why we must know just who we are and make the unordinary choice to go our own way. We have done so successfully in the past. If we continue on our present positive trajectory and successfully communicate precisely what we do and how we are different, we can become known and respected as a unique model for collegiate higher education in America.

However, it is time for us to realign our thinking about Skidmore in one fundamental way: Given our present financial realities and even with a willingness to make difficult decisions to control our costs, we cannot realize our dreams without a significant infusion of new resources—primarily in the form of increased endowment. Our endowment has grown substantially over the past decade, and superb management by the Investment Committee has protected our corpus during the recent economic downturn. Still, our current endowment remains insufficient to take us where we need to go over the coming years. One of our Board members—a person whose own generosity to the College has been remarkable—recently observed that our community has never been asked to support Skidmore at a level beyond what they thought they were able to do. I say to you today that that era must come to an end. If we are truly to compete at the topmost tier of selective liberal arts colleges, if we are to fulfill our potential and our promise as a unique and compelling institution where the presence of creative thought permeates the warp and woof of our communal fabric, we must persuade the extended Skidmore family as well as other friends of the College to see us as worthy of substantially higher levels of support than we have received in the past. We must ask our alumni and friends to step forward and demonstrate their own passion for Skidmore in ways that are historically unprecedented. I am prepared to ask for such levels of support, and I trust that I can count on the affirmation of this community in doing so.

Let me conclude by returning once more to the theme of risk: Lucy Skidmore took a risk in founding her original club and then a second one in positioning it to become a liberal arts college. Closing the nursing program was a risk. Creating an entirely new campus was a risk. Admitting men certainly was a risk. Adopting the Liberal Studies curriculum was a huge risk when it was introduced. Building the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery was a risk. Adopting a radically new Admissions recruiting strategy was a risk. And proclaiming to the world—first through Admissions and now institutionally—that creative thought matters may be the most significant, and most important, risk of all.

Although I'm old enough to appreciate the virtue of caution, I hope I never forget that a considered and prudent risk can be an enormous tonic for the spirit. Several years ago I found myself standing at the crest of a Mammoth Mountain black diamond ski run at 13,000 feet with my son Jason (who does not know fear). It was a very windy day; the hill was mostly ice. I was not altogether sure I could negotiate it. But at the same time, having committed to the ride up, I was painfully aware that there was no other way down. I still can recall the feeling of dropping over the edge, the adrenaline rush, and the eventual realization—somewhat delayed, in my case, being a philosopher—that I hadn't been killed, followed by the subsequent and overpowering urge to go back up and do it again. It is no exaggeration to say that that is precisely the way I experienced the directed study with Fred Crosson so many years ago: anxiety to the point of queasiness in anticipation, wondering just what I had gotten myself into, uncertainty whether I could do it, and then great exhilaration over both the experience itself and the final result. More recently, at the beginning of the current semester, I had a conversation with one of our students—a senior sociology major—who described her own impending senior seminar in precisely the same terms. It is one of my goals as President that each of our students should have at least one such academic experience prior to graduation, preferably many more than one.

Many of them are up to this challenge. At a recent gathering of new members of the Honors Forum, I addressed a series of questions to the group that included "Who among you will write a Pulitzer prize-winning novel?" (And that that group of students collectively had already written more than seven novels.) Later on a young woman came up to me and said, "I know those were rhetorical questions, but I want you to know that you were talking about me: I'm going to write the Pulitzer prize-winning novel." That is why we are here: to ensure that the confidence and native talent so evident in that young woman is buoyed and seasoned by knowledge, by understanding, by perspective, and by the skills to take her as far as her inherent ability, desire, and commitment may lead.

So let us never lose our taste for taking risks, and let us never forget that to love is to take the ultimate risk. Within the academic community we know that danger. We know that our scholarly or artistic pursuits can fail us: that the answer to one's most important question can remain elusive; the muse can fail to settle lightly on one's shoulder. Revealing one's passion for one's discipline to one's students is to risk a most profound form of rejection for it involves laying bare one's soul. Teaching is psychologically dangerous work. Setting our sights on a Skidmore that will set a new national standard for its distinctive kind of educational experience is to commit ourselves to a very unordinary and risky choice as well. We take those risks because to succeed is to know the joy of the gods.



1. For example, he wrote that the "experience of one's own body runs counter to the reflective procedure which detaches subject and object from each other, and which gives us only the thought about the body, or the body as an idea and not the experience of the body or the body in reality." Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception , trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1962), pp. 198-99.

2. Constitution of the Young Women's Industrial Club, quoted by Joseph C. Palamountain Jr., "'Such Growth Bespeaks the Work of Many Hands': The Story of Skidmore College," address to the Newcomen Society, 1976, p. 10.

3. Palamountain, p. 20.

4. This is hardly a novel realization. Karl Marx (who derived it from Hegel) emphasized it in his theory of production.

5. Lynn, p. 246.

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