Emancipating mind, heart and soul
President Tom Kunkel
As a college president I’m certainly used to busy campuses. Yet wandering around our beautiful grounds on a recent, unseasonably mild Saturday, I couldn’t help but be struck by the buzz of activity.
Over in Schuldes our league-leading women’s basketball team dispatched Grinnell, after which the men’s team rallied to defeat their Grinnell counterparts in a one-point thriller. At the same time, playgoers were streaming into the Webb Theatre for a performance of Knight Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” produced and staged by the students themselves, to rave reviews. In the Campus Center, coed teams darted around the old gym in spirited broomball games, part of our revival of St. Norbert’s traditional Winter Carnival. At Dale’s Sports Lounge in the new Michels Commons, visiting alums stopped by for free hot chocolate and Chef Dan’s chili, while students watched a Wisconsin basketball game on TV. That evening, students returned to Michels for the Winter Carnival ball, while outside their friends skated around the new rink we put up just south of Main Hall.
These are the kinds of images that come readily to mind when people think about the college experience. One big reason to choose a residential campus is to immerse yourself in those pleasant, socializing activities that happen outside the classroom. Still, at its heart a college is about academic and intellectual pursuits. As I took in the bustle of that sunny Saturday, I knew perfectly well that somewhere out there faculty members were working on journal papers, researching impending conference presentations, poring over their latest lab results, redrafting book chapters, creating art in makeshift studios, designing stage sets and putting the finishing notes to new pieces of music. College is about the generation of new knowledge and the interpretation and conveyance of existing knowledge. Our faculty do these things very well – all the more so because, outside the classroom, they continue to learn themselves, through their research and creative work.
This issue of your college magazine provides an unusually good perspective on the intellectual pursuits happening on our campus. Howard Ebert, of our religious studies faculty, discusses the importance of academic freedom. Anthropologist Sabine Hyland takes you with her on her far-flung research travels. Physicist Michael Olson explains the science of one of his recreational passions, speedskating. And you’ll read about our former academic dean, Michael Marsden, and his contributions in a relatively new academic field that he helped establish.
Even yours truly tries to keep a hand in original research. For some years now I have been working on a biography of one of America’s most significant writers of nonfiction, Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell warrants attention first because of his elegant prose, but also because his themes are the enduring ones we see in great fiction – life and death, hope and despair, disappointment and redemption. To know more about Mitchell’s life and work is to know more about humanity – and that understanding, I hope, makes me a better college president.
I recently attended a conference where the former president of Duke University and Wellesley College, Nan Keohane, offered a rousing affirmation of the liberal arts college in the 21st century. In so doing, she quoted an observation that another president of Wellesley, Alice Freeman Palmer, made more than a century earlier. Why college? she was often asked. Her response: “We go to college to know, assured that knowledge is sweet and powerful, that a good education emancipates the mind and makes us citizens of the world.”
And so it does.
March 22, 2012