Irving Maurer's Inaugural Address
June 14, 1924
Standing upon this platform upon such an occasion as this, it is but natural that I feel conscious of precious associations which multiply within this room. It was to this church where our family came to worship, when my mother and my brothers, with myself, took up residence in Beloit, in order to make it possible for us to go to College. In this church were formed some of my most enduring friendships. From this platform, just twenty years ago, from the hand of President Eaton, I received my degree of Bachelor of Arts. When the question was raised as to whether or not the inaugural ceremonies should take place at the church, I was glad to decide for the church, as the relationship thus exemplified is very expressive of the actual situation. Modern education is the product of the Christian church. Beloit College is a Christian college. Undenominational and non-sectarian, it is interested in the promotion of Christian ideals; it believes that true culture is spiritual; it is concerned with the enduring loyalties of an inner life.
At such a time it is quite proper for the friends of Beloit College, both those who are connected with her life through actual contact and those who come here today to bear greetings from sister colleges, universities, and schools, to expect from me a statement of my thought, my hope, my plans for Beloit, and to ascertain the underlying principles by which I propose to be guided and controlled, as I take up the leadership of this college. At the outset I wish to pay honor to the distinguished fellowship into which I come as a novitiate. Within these few months I have experienced its genuineness and its fervor. I find American colleges in the hands of men and women who are courageously doing their work as teachers, who are maintaining intellectual courage and integrity in the midst of prejudice and obscurantism. The hope of the American civilization is in her teachers and in her schools.
Beloit College is an American College. Nurtured in New England traditions, her seventy-eight years have been years of discipline in the Puritan spirit. Her traditions go back to men of sterling character who believed in simplicity, in mental activity, and in moral idealism in public life. Her spirit has been democratic. The American life here realized recognizes no social caste on the basis of wealth or race, but is hospitable to genuine effort on the part of deserving men. The roots of the Beloit spirit precede the industrial awakening of America. They reach into the soil which produced abolitionism, the temperance question, internationalism. The Concord School of Philosophy was the breath of life in Beloit's earlier years.
It is my conviction that it is in this earlier American spirit where lies the hope of America today. Though we have increased our wealth and have developed a vast industrial system, through the operation of which American cities are growing and the American people are ultra modern, we do not experience a modern spirit which at all equals the sturdy moral idealism of that earlier life. Beloit College should stand for an Americanism today which is fertile in the birth of spiritual ideals, which is free from the false glamor of worldly success, which, though alert to all modern ways in economics and in industry, is faithful to a spiritual order. Beloit College should cherish so pure a thought of American life that the immediacy, the materialism of much of our life stand condemned. It should think of the American Commonwealth as a brotherly affair, where races live together in peace, and where the irrepressible conflict between various industrial groups is mitigated by a neighboring spirit. An Americanism of vast baronies, with laws designed to establish and to perpetuate the concentration of wealth, or an Americanism which is confined to a Nordic caste, or an Americanism which is sterile in the birth of a practical working device for world peace, is not the true Americanism. Beloit College should attempt repeatedly to show the genuine Americanism to itself, to bid it to have courage and to keep the faith.
Beloit College should be a cultural college. It should not permit itself to be led from that purpose by any consideration. The development by the state of a public educational system is an adequate attempt to meet our need for specialized and professional training. The tendency will be to accentuate and to accelerate such training. Since such adequate arrangements are at our disposal for such training, there is now opportunity for institutions like Beloit to give themselves to a cultural task. To turn into the world each year a hundred men and women who have given themselves to four years of study for a liberal arts degree, is a great contribution to American life. Our danger in education lies in our tendency to forego the added time requisite for such a training. But humanity is not satisfied with bread alone. Education is not complete solely with the preparation for a vocation or a profession. Fellowship with teachers who are humanists, whatever else they are, facing the question as to the meaning of life, sharing in the race's achievements by a study of history and by a philosophical quest, these things are of first importance. Learning the social contacts of a modern age, until one sees the men and the women behind the machines, and dreaming and planning for a social order in which there is possible for all a richer and a better life, this is a great interest in education.
To be a cultural college, however, means that a college should have a scientific spirit. Such a spirit involves an overpowering curiosity, untiring effort, and a deep sense of truth. For a college, this spirit demands today the best scientific material equipment. It may be that our cultural quest today takes us more often into the laboratory than into a Greek grammar, but the culture developed is none the less real. It involves spreading to students a contagious curiosity born out of a confidence of intellectual power, out of the idea that all things are ours, all things are here to be discovered. In such an endeavor, through the insatiate curiosity of the seekers, in laboratory, and in class room, we should seek to know the truth that makes men free. There should be, as a mark of true culture, this respect for facts, this sense of truth, which causes true character to display its loyalties. How sadly our world of passions and of prejudices needs that spirit of truth today. By it religious superstition is slain. By it outlived values are discarded. By it social orders are redeemed from stiffness and rigidity. The individual, by such a spirit, is overpowered by truth, so that he can help his brothers into a better order of life.
Beloit College should insist that there is no dividing line between science and religion. There is no closing of doors by religion which science may not open. There is, on the other hand, no freedom for the scientist from moral obligations. In this sense, Beloit should be a religious college, standing for a faith which invites intellectual freedom and for a culture which knows consecration to an unselfish order of life. Her knowledge should not rob life of the alluring mystery of greater possibilities yet in store. Nor should her faith be doctrinaire. The true knowledge of her motto should be joined to a pure faith, for it is in such an allegiance that we can expect the development of the life which Beloit was founded to nurture. And this union, to my mind, represents a modern thought of religion. The culture which Beloit seeks to foster and to cherish is the culture of a religious spirit, in which life is devoted to the spiritual development of men.
In the furtherance of such ideals, it is a profound satisfaction to note that Beloit has been a college of great teachers. Her real life is in the class room. We shall want Beloit to continue to be a place whither teachers like to come, where they are happy to live and to work; and we must have it a college whose teachers are on fire with a passion for truth, a college where are men and women who relate their subjects for teaching with an adequate philosophy of life.
Beloit must be a college which can offer training to selected groups of students, on terms which are within the possibilities of poor, deserving men and women. It must never become a college filled with young people who take a college training as a matter of course, something necessary to secure proper social recognition. The increased cost of an education lays upon the friends of Beloit College the responsibility of providing an adequate scholarship endowment fund, that worthy students may have continued opportunity to secure a cultural training. If liberal arts degrees should become a luxury, obtainable only by the sons and daughters of wealthy parents, the loss to American life would be irreparable. Friends of Beloit can do no more practical and constructive service than to give the College a larger scholarship endowment.
The Beloit life, to develop to its richest point, demands that for men as well as for women, there be a college life primarily identified with the College itself. I, therefore, take pleasure in announcing that the Board of Trustees, at its April meeting, authorized the appointment of committees to draw up building plans for freshman dormitories for men, an additional dormitory for women, and to organize a corporation for the financing of this project. The goal aimed at is the housing of the entire freshman class upon the two campuses, and the equipment of the college with additional buildings, with a woman's gymnasium and union, a men's commons, a recitation hall, that the life of Beloit may be identified with college groups and class activities, emphasizing the ineffable fellowship which should appeal to all friends of Beloit to support any administration in this enterprise which is really the fruitage of the previous labors of Beloit leaders.
The life of Beloit is beautiful in these days of June. Her walks and lawns, her trees and her Indian mounds are flooded with the promise of new experiences, as the new class graduates, or, as older Beloit men and women "in gladness hither turn again," with the mellow light of golden memories. As I get deeper into the college experience, and see something of the inner purposes of our young men and women, and as I see something of the courage and simplicity which characterizes the efforts of our teachers, I see a more lovely light play upon the roofs and trees of our college world. It is the glory of a spiritual faith, and may God grant that, as the years go by, the Beloit that is to be will continue to be a light to men, a city set on a hill, a community of high ideals; and that citizenship in that city will set a mark upon the forehead of earnest men and women, the mark of self-forgetfulness in the service of mankind.