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President Roger Hull's Inaugural Address

October 5, 1981


It is a great honor for me to stand before you today. More than an honor, though, it is a privilege -- a privilege to do what few have had a chance to do; a privilege to join in a compact forged more than a century ago; a privilege to share past dreams and dream new ones.

When seven young men from the East first dreamed of establishing a college in the hostile frontier, they combined a faith in God, faith in the people and potential of the area, and faith in themselves. Their faith was well-placed. Although they were visionaries, they were the most practical of men, for their dreams produced an enduring compact and a college in 1846 firmly rooted in what was to be Wisconsin soil.

I say "what was to be Wisconsin soil" because at the time there was no state of Wisconsin. Think about that for a moment. Before there was a state of Wisconsin, before there was a University of Wisconsin, there was a Beloit College.

That there was a Beloit was the work of these seven men of vision; that there is a college today is the result of 135 years of effort during seven administrations. Chapin, Eaton, Brannon, Maurer, Croneis, Upton, Peterson. Over the same span that there have been -- from Polk to Reagan -- 29 Presidents of the United States, we have had but seven leaders at the Beloit helm. An astounding fact; an extremely humbling one, too.

Evidence of the rich heritage of Beloit College is all around us. From Middle College to Eaton Chapel to Morse Library, our buildings stand as concrete monuments to the efforts of the seven founders and seven administrations.

The real monument, though, is not physical but spiritual. Indeed, the buildings are a symbol of a belief in the liberating power of ideas and reason, of a faith in something larger than self, of a respect for the past and an excitement for the future, and of a willingness to work to convert challenge into opportunity.

The buildings, and the land on which those buildings are situated, are also a reminder of an unusual event in the early history of the college and town. Shortly after the college's founding, a lawsuit was initiated to determine the validity of deeds which had been granted to the early settlers, some of whom had donated land to help provide a campus for the college. The defendants in the suit, fearful that their claims would be nullified, hired the best real estate attorney available. The attorney was ultimately successful, both in his defense of the suit and in subsequent political activities. The year - 1854; the attorney - Abraham Lincoln.

With their future thus assured, the college and the town marched onward. The road they traveled was not always a smooth one, but it seemed always to keep them headed in the right direction. They grew together, they complemented each other, and they provided the support without which neither might have survived those early years.

Not surprisingly, I feel a special affinity for those pioneers from the East and for the New England college they envisioned for Beloit. It is impossible for me to walk across the campus without hearing echoes of my past.

Yet Beloit College is a special place. The words are simple, even cliched, but I find myself repeating them often. Although echoes ring of other times and places, the resonances that are Beloit are easily distinguished. In its tradition, in its excellence in its human scale, in its tolerance, in its practicality, and, above all, in its continuing commitment to the liberal arts, the college carries forward the founders' compact and dreams.

What Beloit College is and what it can become is clearly defined by our heritage. That heritage mandates that we not forget the compact between the scholars of the past and those of today, between those who were here and are here and those of who are yet to come, between donors and beneficiaries, between the college and the city, state, region, and nation, and between my predecessors and me.

Deeply imbedded in the compact is the college's location. Beloit city is an asset for Beloit College; the college is also an asset for the city. To the people of Beloit, the college has offered for 135 years a window on the world. For the most part, the window has let in welcomed light; at times, though, it has been clouded or cracked or even shut (sometimes from within, sometimes from the outside). We today are committed, in every possible way, to insure that the window remains forever open. We are a residential college, but we are also a part of Beloit - and Beloit is a part of us.

The college's roots are in the Midwest, but Beloit draws students and faculty from across the country and throughout the world. The result is a singular mixture, cosmopolitan yet comfortable: a Midwestern college which, by nurturing its roots and sending out branches far across the land, serves both the region and the nation.

In the course of the difficult years of the 1970s, the college was forced to prune some of its branches. If I were to tell you today that the pruning process was a beneficial one, I would, at the very least, raise some eyebrows. Yet the fact remains that it was both stressful and beneficial, for it forced us to examine ourselves and to undergo a needed review. And if beneficial to us, it might be even more so as an example to others for whom the years ahead may well present similar problems.

Through it all, we have retained the commitment to quality and intellectual rigor which are at the very heart of the Beloit compact and dream. One measure of that excellence and quality is the success of the college's graduates which has been carried forward to every sphere of human activity.

Excellence, though, is not measured only, or chiefly, in the success of our graduates. It is reflected also in the Beloit faculty and in their primary accomplishment -- teaching. Beloit has been, is, and will always be a teaching institution. As opposed to colleges where a student rarely has contact with a professor, Beloit students not only see their professors in class but also get to know them on and off the campus.

This boast is not mere rhetoric. It is a central, basic fact about this college. We tell faculty that, if they don't like students and teaching, Beloit is not for them; we tell students that, if they don't want the rigor of one-on-one teaching, the college is not for them either. And we mean it.

As a result of escalating costs, many institutions have abandoned the personal approach to learning. We have not and will not. To some, our brand of education may appear anachronistic; from our standpoint, it is the most cost effective of all. It is also our comparative advantage.

Small may not necessarily be a virtue; large is not necessarily a vice. Only in a small college, though, can a continuous dialogue across disciplines, and between faculty and students, be maintained; only in such a setting can it be the rule, rather than the exception, that learning experiences are unbounded by classroom, dormitory, or office walls. We think that this approach is what education is all about. At least it is what a Beloit education is all about.

An openness to new ideas and an acceptance of diverse ones is the hallmark of all great academic institutions. Beloit can take pride in its traditions in this regard. A varied student body and a heterogenous faculty mean that an important element of a Beloit education is exposure to widely divergent views and, concomitantly, practice in the art of tolerance.

In a large university or even in a small, homogenous college, students can retreat to an enclave of ignorance or prejudice; at Beloit they learn that intolerance -- be it on the campus or in society -- is intolerable.

For that reason, we are more concerned that our students learn to think than with what they think. We accept radical and reactionary, liberal and conservative; we do not accept a lack of concern or of thought. As a college, we encourage involvement beyond self, not self-indulgence; support the right of students to examine both ends, as well as the middle, of the political spectrum; and recognize the inherent relationship between a system that fosters a free economic market and a free market of ideas.

Steadfastness of purpose enabled the college's founding fathers and Beloit's presidents to weather many a difficult storm over the past 135 years. Lesser individuals might well have given up. They did not, and we never will.

As the prophets of doom predict disaster for small liberal arts colleges in the 1980s, we are secure in our knowledge that we have learned well from the past. Past decisions have left us lean but strong -- in ideas, in energy, in the capacity to innovate, and in the confidence that we can meet whatever lies ahead.

Survival dictates that institutions, like people, must control their environment or adapt to it. There is, accordingly, an unfortunate tendency on the part of some colleges to face the future with fear and to retreat from or abandon the liberal arts; there is an equally unfortunate tendency on the part of others to sit smugly back and assume that their stature or endowment will insulate them. If we are not fearful, we are also not smug.

We know how good we are. We know what we have to offer. We also know, however, that we, like our sister institutions across the land, have failed to translate intelligently what it is that we do so well. Rather than fearfully or smugly withdrawing to ivory towers, we must emerge from our citadels of learning well-armed with a cogent message.

Our message is, as it has always been, the liberal arts. We cannot and should not attempt to provide technical, vocational education that other institutions or private employers can offer more effectively. Our strength is the ability to train people in the most basic skill of all -- the ability to think. In a world of accelerating change, it is the only skill which will not become obsolete. Procedurally, we must articulate our message more convincingly; substantively, we must march to our own drummer's beat, never swerving from the teaching of the liberal arts which remains the best investment that can be made in the human capital of this nation.

To some, it may appear that a college owes students nothing but the opportunity for an education. We disagree. Beloit College is an institution at which students are given a broad background in the liberal arts; the ability to think critically; the power to express themselves cogently, both orally and in writing; and the practical experience which comes from internships and field terms and from campus visits by leaders in a variety of areas. Not everyone who graduates from Beloit will make a contribution; all who graduate will have the intellectual instruments to fashion that contribution both professionally and socially.

It all sounds simple. Yet the simplicity is grounded on a solid track record. While others champion specialization and vocationalism, we believe that a liberal arts education is the most practical training available. Is there any other form of education which has produced so many leaders, made so many advances, and done so much good?

Although a narrowly trained person may sometimes be more likely to obtain an entry-level position upon graduation, the reverse is likely to be true when a liberal arts generalist is armed with practical experience. In any case, though, it is clear that once an entry-level position is obtained and the individual looks up the ladder of success, the rungs will appear wider and wider apart for the person who has only specialized knowledge. The paradox is that what may be needed initially in a profession may not be ultimately desired at a higher level, as the perceived requisite specialization is seen to be less helpful than the broad judgment which comes from a diverse liberal arts education. Is the person who rises to the top -- or the person we want to rise to the top -- in business or in government or in a particular profession, one who has a narrow, specialized skill, or one who has the ability to think and to judge?

The majority of positions available to students upon graduation today will not be in existence in a few decades. We must prepare students, therefore, for changing times and conditions. Is a student who is vocationally trained for a specific position likely to be able to make the transition to a position which cannot even be conceived of today, or is the twentieth century "Renaissance student" who has learned to learn more likely to make the adjustment?

We at Beloit realize that we are not Solomons and that there is never only one right answer; we recognize the worth of other approaches to education. We also recognize, however, that we must continue to preach and teach the liberal arts as they exist at Beloit, for, by doing so, we will continue to produce graduates who are able both to be profitably employed and to make a profitable contribution to the society in which they live.

The Beloit College compact has never been an easy one to maintain. If anything, it may become more difficult to sustain tomorrow than it was yesterday. Excellence, though, has never come cheaply -- and it never will. We must seek, therefore, new sources of support to insure that faculty salaries are at a level to preserve quality; to assure that sufficient scholarships exist to guarantee both a diverse student body and attendance at the college by anyone who is academically qualified to attend; to provide a quality of life on campus which is in keeping with our tradition; and to maintain funding for innovative (but sound) programs.

At a time when people want government off their backs, we must enlist support to maintain Beloit on its feet. The seven men from the East who dreamed of a college in Beloit, and the seven presidents who carried forward their dreams, needed help. We, too, have dreams; we, too, need help; and we know, with that help, that our dreams will become reality.

Beloit College -- first a dream and then a compact between the scholars of the past and those of today, between those who were here and are here and those who are yet to come, between donors and beneficiaries, between the college and the city, state, region, and nation, and between my predecessors and me -- is evidence of the practicality of the liberal arts and of the men who practiced them. The founders of Beloit were probably seen as visionaries in their time. Yet what can be more practical than the enduring college which evolved from their dream?

As we take the next step along Beloit's long road, I am honored and privileged to join with my predecessors in reaffirming my commitment to the college's unending compact; as we do so, I also ask those who love Beloit to join with me in the dream of preparing students for tomorrow's tomorrows, of having the college -- through its graduates -- make a disproportionately large contribution to society, and of establishing Beloit as the premier liberal arts college of its size in the land. We can do no more; we must do no less.

Thank you very much.