Beloit College
Banner Image

Miller Upton's Inaugural Address

October 29, 1954


Mr. Pettibone, members of the Board of Trustees of Beloit College, friends and witnesses to this investiture: I shall consciously avoid making any prolonged direct statement as to my deep sense of humility, gratitude, and reverence in accepting the trust that you have just assigned to me, Sir, for I cannot help feeling that to elaborate upon a point which is so manifest could do nothing but cheapen the significance of the whole ceremony.

I would rather hope that all would know me well enough to take this feeling for granted and to join with me as I reflect upon some other points for which I feel a special debt of gratitude. I consider, for example, the fact that my sponsor to you, both in fact and in this ceremony, is the man who hired me for my first college teaching job and counselled me well through most of my trying years. I have never secured from him approval of this appelation, but I have always considered him my academic godfather. The fact that he was my wife's academic advisor during her undergraduate years, serves to make my tie to him just that much stronger. I am acutely aware also of the fact that this service marks the first use of the reconstructed Chapel and that its completion in time for this ceremony is directly attributable to the determined and selfless effort of Vice President Wood, Architect Maurice Webster, Contractor Lawrence Cunningham, and the many sub-contractors and workmen who took almost a personal interest in the job. The fact that the old Chapel was in flames the night my wife and I first saw Beloit and that this present building is being first used for my inauguration is a coincidence that will always have more than mere coincidental meaning to me. The way the faculty and the wives have cooperated so fully on the preparation for this ceremony and have given of themselves so far beyond the normal call of duty, is a matter for which I will always be very grateful.

I reflect further on the happy knowledge that my oldest brother wears the hood and is the official delegate of Tulane University, the Alma Mater for two brothers and myself. And above all else, I rejoice at the fact that my wife and children, my parents, my wife's parents, and my other brother are all able to share in this ceremony with me today. In short and in truth, "my cup runneth over."

In preparing for this address, I followed what I presume to be rather standard practice of reading the inaugural addresses of my predecessors. I can assure you it was a most humbling experience -- so much so that in my mind it alone justifies perpetuating the custom of a formal inaugural address, or "discourse" as it was called in President Chapin's day. The experience cannot help instill in one a deep awareness of the magnificence of the responsibility which is his, together with a deep reverence for the institution itself and those who have brought it to its present stage.

I will readily admit that I was so humbled by the experience that I wondered seriously as to what I could say that would fit the occasion -- so many of the preliminary thoughts had been covered by these predecessors and in a manner that excels my own capacity for eloquence. I found myself relying for contemplated favor almost entirely upon my propensity to keep all my remarks very brief, for I cannot imagine a present-day audience possessing the temperament to sit through an address covering forty-five printed pages, as was the length of your first president's address. And yet, when I considered the magnificence of what President Chapin had to say and the way he was able to say it, I reckoned this fact also as a net loss to our society and our College.

Following further reflection on the matter I came to realize that just as our contemporary art and music break with the traditions of the past in forming a more meaningful historical pattern, so inaugural addresses must be contemporary in tone to treat effectively the major issues of the time, although they be but surface ripples of the eternal tide of human education. The important thing for me to do at this time, it seems to me, is to express my own ideas with respect to the major issues facing Beloit College today and tomorrow and to try to define the educational meaning for which it will stand. My discourse following this line will, in a sense, take on the character of an expression of a personal educational creed from which the essential qualities of Beloit College in the years ahead can be imagined.

In this connection, I feel I can assure you, in accepting the responsibilities of this office, that I will bring to the task one trait for which I neither apologize nor accept a secondary position to any of your foregoing presidents. This trait is an evangelistic zeal concerning the importance of formal education in general and the type of undergraduate education in particular for which Beloit College has always stood. I offer my parents and my wife as witnesses to this fact; they will testify that since my own senior year in college I have been a man possessed with one vision, one interest, one goal. Like all or most undergraduate seniors I devoted much time to thinking through my occupational preference, and like many students of the thirties, I was influenced in my thinking by the disastrous social upheavals of the time. Ministry, medicine, law, business, politics -- all held out for me a rather bleak promise in meeting what I perceived to be the needs of our time. The more I considered the matter, the more I became convinced then, and have never once faltered in my conviction, that we can never achieve the type of society which satisfies man's deepest yearning and God's highest will by defaulting to a few individuals who would aspire to establish their own ideal society by a sudden conversion of the behavior of all individuals, even through compulsory means, if necessary. Rather, such an ultimate goal can only be reached by helping each individual to develop himself to that sense of individual social awareness and responsibility whereby the sum total of individual voluntary action will constitute the ultimate in social interaction. This is why I believe that only through concentrated study and intellectual development represented in formal education can society raise itself by its own bootstraps and the individual member of society simultaneously realize his fullest sense of freedom, security, and fulfillment.

Quoting from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

"And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven; this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith."

"I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of the spirit." (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14)

"Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity."

"And Moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs."

"The preacher sought to find out acceptable words; and that which was written was upright, even words of truth."

"The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of the assemblies, which are given from one shepherd."

"And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of flesh." (Ecclesiastes 12:8-12)

One of the most significant current issues having great relevance to Beloit College is the meaning and importance of a liberal arts education. I believe that the main reason for the apparent confusion surrounding the term now and in years past is that there are used the two words liberal and arts which independently may have clear meaning but when combined in this way constitute an obscure fusion. To some extent added confusion surrounding the meaning of the term has resulted from a fairly general perverted and promiscuous use of the cherished word liberal in recent years. Let it be understood that my own meaning of the word and I would argue the only meaning that can consistently be given to it, is the traditional one synonymous with the words "free" and "independent."

The nature of the education that should be represented at Beloit and its type of college, therefore, seem to me best described by the statement, "an undergraduate liberal education" rather than "a liberal arts education." This change takes away the emphasis from particular content per se and places it on purpose and accomplishment. In other words, I believe that our goal must be a liberal education of the individual student, but such must be judged not by what it is but by what it does. An education is not liberal simply on the grounds that the curriculum includes portions of literature, classics, philosophy, and so on, but rather that these and other courses can be supported, if they can, as contributing to the liberalizing of the student's intellect. A liberal education is the responsibility of the whole college and not particular departments or particular courses therein. In like manner, the liberal character of the education of governed by the methods of instruction and by the general atmosphere that prevails, as well as by subject content.

For a college education to be truly liberal in this sense, it seems to me that it must be consciously devised to achieve certain end results of a liberal character, relying upon my earlier definition of liberal. For example,

Does it help to develop a liberal mind, that is, one which it relatively free of confusion, pre-conceptions, biases, fears, and anxieties?

Does it help to develop in each student a liberal attitude toward his fellow man, that is, a disposition which is openly friendly and free of prejudice, intolerance, and suspicion?

Does it develop in the student a liberal approach to change, an attitude free from fatalistic submission to the status quo -- creative, imaginative, adaptable ?

Does it foster a liberal concept of religious faith -- a recognition of an ultimate good ard, purpose free from hypnotic subservience to particular secular dogma?

Does it foster a liberal philosophy of life; one that is based upon abiding faith in the infinite potential and integrity of the informed individual free from external control and direction?

Does it help to cultivate a liberal approach to problems -- one that is free from panic and the tendency to make snap judgments and in place is contemplative, experimental, analytical, and aware of the diverse relationships involved?

Does it help the student develop a liberal manner of expression -- one which is clear in purpose, organization, and presentation and free of redundancy, disorder, opaqueness?

Does it inspire insatiable free inquiry and provide means of freely securing full and unadulterated information in response to this inquiring?

In short, does the education have as its prime objective the development of the individual intellect to the point that the student is enabled to become a responsible and secure person, free in thought, free in attitudes, and free in day-to-day living.

In this connection, I would like to digress a bit to argue strongly against the notion that we can enumerate our freedoms in the same manner that we name our children. There are not four freedoms, nor six, nor twenty, nor a hundred. There is only the one basic concept of individual freedom -- that divine right and opportunity -- given to every man to develop his own innate potential to the highest while accepting voluntarily his own social responsibilities. The right and the privilege are necessarily forfeited when the individual fails to accept the inherent responsibilities to himself and his society. And, education either formally conducted or informally gained, is the only means by which the individual can ever be lifted to a point of awareness and understanding which will assure acceptance of such responsibility. Having once attained this level of personal freedoms an individual will at one and the same time be free from fear, free from hunger, free from oppression, free from all of the superficial frailties of man and the hardships imposed, by our physical environment.

It should be clear from this elaboration of my concept of a liberal education why I not only favor it at the undergraduate level, but would argue strongly that it is the only form of education that can exist at the undergraduate level and still deserve the name "education." For after all, we must bear in mind that by the very definition of the word education we are trying to bring about change and growth, and having said this we are automatically committed to a fixed goal toward which to direct the change or growth. It can be established as an educational law that education in the fullest sense of the word cannot materialize without a definite idea of what the end product is to be. This fact imposes a great responsibility on all who are professional educators, but the inevitable result of failure to face up to this inescapable responsibility is a meaningless and wasteful educational program.

All of this is not intended to suggest that education of a precise professional sort is not important. Rather my purpose is to stress the fact that all formal education from kindergarten on up must be fashioned with a precise end result in mind. And all I would add is that it seems to me that the under-graduate college years are the most strategic of all in the chronology of formal education for dealing with the development of the intellect as opposed to the mind, for it is during these years primarily that the intellect begins to awaken and the mind develops its capacity for abstract thought. Accordingly, we should avoid incurring the danger of premature crystallizing of the intellect through too narrow an educational experience. Strictly professional and technical education should not be entered into completely until such time as the intellect itself has been suitably nurtured, challenged, inspired, and made reasonably self reliant on the basis of the particular qualities I enumerated earlier.

Having observed that a liberal education can be defined only in terms of educational objective rather than curriculum content, I realize also that neither I nor anyone else alone, has a broad enough experience to know what the curriculum should be and what teaching methods should be used to achieve these goals. As the President of your College I see my fundamental responsibilities of those of taking the lead in defining the goals and in establishing that administrative organization and atmosphere which will achieve the fullest and most meaningful participation of the strategic segments of the College in the realization of the goals. I am not here to provide the answers as such, but to establish the climate and the means by which we can expect the best answers to be determined.

There is, however, one personal conviction that has bearing on this whole point. I am sure that the type of education I have described is best accomplished under small-scale operating conditions. Relative smallness in size does not assure a quality educational product, but it offers a greater opportunity for success along this line. The potential still has to be implemented by a strong faculty, good facilities and wise administrative leadership, all of which require adequate financial backing. Given reasonable resources of this sort, the greater intimacy of the small campus, its more constant educational environment, the greater opportunity for personal student attention from the top executive officers down, and the greater opportunity for welding all elements of the College into a cooperative undertaking with a unified objective, all combine to make the small college the natural setting for a truly distinctive undergraduate liberal education. I can assure you that so long as I am President of Beloit College it shall remain small in size.

In saying this I am not blind to the tremendous problems that such a conscious policy imposes. Truly quality education of the sort I envisage is very costly. But because of this should we compromise with our convictions and high ideals? To do so would be a break faith with the founding fathers and President Chapin. If I may paraphrase Winston Churchill in this connection, I do not accept the Presidency of Beloit College to guard over the downgrading of her educational destiny.

At the same time, I trust I am a sufficient realist to reckon with practical ways and means for providing the material backing needed to achieve the ends I have in mind. Here again the problem is no different from what has always faced the College; it merely has some contemporary overtones. For one thing, I am convinced that Beloit College must never become a ward of the state in submission to this financial pressure I maintain this not because I am opposed to public support of education. To the contrary, I am strongly in favor of public education for the reason that personal freedom without equality of individual opportunity is a contradiction and a sham. The basis for my feeling is that Beloit to be distinctive in quality must be free to experiment and free to exercise control over its admission policies.

On the other hand, I am confident that our method of financing public education in the past has not always been wisely chosen. We have followed rigidly the practice of subsidizing institutions rather than the individual student and have sacrificed, thereby the freedom of individual choice and the healthy and constructive competition that such would foster. A state scholarship program with the individual free to choose that college which he thinks would offer him the best education for the money would seem to me to be a highly desirable policy. Experimentation and competition in education among a wide variety of autonomous units is just as essential to the development and preservation of vitality and growth in education as it is in business or any other phase of our social existence. This is why Beloit and other colleges of its kind must remain strong and independent of unified control of any kind and why as much state support of education as possible should take the form of subsidizing the individual student rather than a particular institution.

I suppose no single problem facing the independent undergraduate college is so widely heralded and understood at the present tine as this financial one. This fact is, of course, all to the good; I would say that the public cannot become too alarmed at the dire consequences that would befall our educational system were we to continue to drift in the direction of large scale centralized instruction and unified control. There is no partisanship of interest represented in this statement; the leaders of our great state universities feel the same way. That is why I do not recoil in anticipating the overwhelming character of this particular phase of my responsibility as President of Beloit College. For after all, we must all be salesmen of a sort in whatever we do, and I cannot think of a more deserving product to be sold than the type of educational endeavor for which Beloit College stands. In fact, I am not modest about the matter at all; rather than recoiling from this aspect of the job, I obtain personal satisfaction in the thought that I will be offering others, through their financial support, the opportunity to share in what I consider to be the most important undertaking that can be entered into by man.

I do not know, Mr. Pettibone and members of the Board, whether in your eyes I have strengthened or weakened my case to be President of Beloit College as a result of these remarks. I would like to feel, however, that regardless of the effectiveness of my words today, my future actions will justify to you and all others vitally related to Beloit College the magnificent confidence that has been placed in me.

No man could be offered a greater opportunity for personal satisfaction and a greater challenge for social service than I have been granted by your investing me with the powers of the Presidency of Beloit College. No other formal occupation of man is so closely related to man in both the individual and aggregate sense, for no other is so directly related to the one invariably distinguishing characteristic of man -- his intellect. It is this characteristic as we have observed so often in the past, which can make of man a divine instrument of God or a monster of perversity. The liberalizing of the intellect through formal & informal education must, therefore be the over-all objective of every college to which subsidiary specific and immediate objectives are established, Toward this end and in response to this responsibility, I shall exercise all of my ability to see that Beloit College remains small in size, independent in structure, experimental in character, intimate in its environment, and above all else, as a summation of these separate qualities, distinctive in performance. For if, in the final analysis, Beloit or any college like it is not truly distinctive in its mission and its accomplishments, then what would be the price of its loss