Inauguration address given by President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., on September 25, 2011, at Manning Alumni Green.
Thank you Dr. Bonchek, SEC Chair Schapiro '77, Trustees and Former Trustees, Students, Faculty, Professional Staff, Retirees, Alums, Parents, Friends, Lancastrians, the family of former President Keith Spalding, Presidents Fry and Kneedler and all who have invested themselves in this extraordinary learning community.
Thank you to all who are visiting; almost 100 delegates, 13 presidents-including my very close friends Jack DeGioia from Georgetown and Jane McAuliffe from Bryn Mawr-my friends and former students from Georgetown, my personal friends and family.
To my sister, Kate, and my brother, Matt, my brothers-in law Joel, Mike, and Mark, my sister in law Kathy, my in-laws John and Marlene, and all my nieces and nephews: Thank you for being here and, remember, from this day forward, only F&M gear.
To my mother, father and stepfather, thank you for your light and your love. Both of my parents earned their college and graduate degrees after the age of 30. My father is a retired Baltimore City public school teacher who now teaches at Johns Hopkins and is the author of award-winning plays. My mother is a retired Trustee Professor of History from Utah State University and a scholar of the American West. As you can imagine, the Porterfield children grew up in homes brimming with ideas, writing, creativity and civic engagement.
To my wife, Karen Herrling, thank you for loving me and our children and for always doing the right thing.
To Lizzie, Caroline and Sarah, you are the center of your mother's life and mine, and we love you with all our hearts.
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Some said we were fools to combine Inauguration, Homecoming and Family Weekend. But those people didn't know we had the best band in Pennsylvania: Debbie Martin and the Inaugurals. Please join me in thanking Debbie Martin '72 and the hundreds of students and colleagues who helped create, stage or staff this weekend's events.
There have been many magical moments:
I loved this week's talks by NAICU President David Warren, by five eminent members of the faculty and, just now, by our loyal alumna using her liberal arts education on the largest of stages, the extraordinary Mary Schapiro.
I loved seeing wins across the board this weekend for Diplomat athletics teams.
I loved the College community service project that generated $5,000 in donations so that we could help welcome with clear eyes and full hearts a group of refugee families to their new homes in Lancaster and America.
And, I loved the out-of-body experience 1,200 of us shared last night with America's hottest band, the mighty Cobra Starship.
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This morning we gather in a historic quadrangle for a ritual of renewal in which we honor those enduring commitments that define who we are, who we serve, what we do and how we work. Two of our core purposes stand as tall as Old Main's bell tower:
First, we help students develop themselves for their own long-term enhancement and empowerment. Second, we help society develop itself by growing the thinkers, the leaders, the knowledge, the preserved culture and the respect for reason necessary for a functioning democracy. This is the work for which we were built, and it's what we'll be doing 100 years from now.
For generations we have pursued these purposes in trademark F&M ways, embracing values like integrity, freedom, academic excellence, discovery, service, creativity, hard work, inclusiveness, community, respect and civility.
We live by these values. We use them to guide our choices. We emulate and feel enlarged by those giants in our history who embody those values—a John Williamson Nevin or a Sid Wise or a Bill Hutson or a Ruth Van Horn or a John Moss.
Walk this picturesque campus later today. As you revisit our gardens and rolling greens, stop by the museum or the library or the concert hall, and talk with the young adults who are the future of the planet, we hope you'll feel renewed by our timeless purposes and values, the sense of civilization this place evokes and the honor of being a member of the Franklin & Marshall community.
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The theme of renewal includes welcoming home a group of alumni delegates representing more than nine decades of graduates, including the new and noble class of 2011. There are four alums upon whom I'd like to draw your eyes.
Finally, I'd like to ask you to keep in your thoughts and prayers Dr. Max Solomon, born before World War I, educated during the Great Depression, a distinguished graduate of the class of 1930, who had hoped to join us today but instead will watch online. Dr. Solomon is the oldest living alumnus of Franklin & Marshall College.
Ms. Hopkins, Mr. Bridgett, Dr. Solomon and all alums: thank you for coming home today. In these next years we will re-weave the fabric of community with our graduates and, in particular, find new ways to help young alums make the most of their early post-college years.
It is now my pleasure to invite to the stage one more member of the F&M family—a can-do leader and good friend to all here today, the 14th President of Franklin & Marshall College, now serving at Drexel University, President John Fry, who is joined by his beloved wife, Cara.
Effective today, the gorgeous lawn that is enveloped by our College Houses will be named the "John A. Fry College House Green." Let me read the inscription on our plaque:
Through leadership characterized by vision, dedication and enthusiasm, John Fry changed the face of education at Franklin & Marshall College by introducing the College House system in the belief that every moment holds the opportunity for discovery and personal satisfaction.
Perfectly expressed. Thank you, John, and thank you, Cara.
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Franklin & Marshall is an institution of great strength, and that's good right now, because much will be asked of us.
When we look out beyond our long and lovely campus to the larger world in which our students and alums will create their lives, we see so much confusion, so much hardship, so much conflict, seemingly on a growing scale.
Here I could talk about the global calamity of 2 billion of people in dire poverty, and the scientific fact of an overheating planet, and the tragic conundrum that fixing the former might worsen the latter and thus undo the fix.
Or I could discuss an American economy that for a decade has largely consisted of red arrows pointing the wrong way: Unemployment up, poverty up, food stamps up … wages down, spending down, savings down … all on the eve of the mass retirement of America's biggest generation.
Who will create, and who will hold, the millions of high-skilled jobs America will need both to compete in a high-tech, global-knowledge economy and meet our commitment to the largest number of retirees this country has ever had?
In the face of such challenges, we do not see leadership from elected government. For goodness' sake, last month Congress almost crashed like a 1980s laptop over the technical issue of the debt limit, and now it looks like they want to do it again.
Who will build the unified national will and future-focused vision that has made this country great?
And as we renew our core purposes and values today, it is imperative that we at F&M and all liberal arts colleges embrace the idea that we can be high-impact forces for the long-term good in this world.
Why do I believe?
First, because I believe in this generation of young people. I've taught 1,000 young women and men in the past decade. I now have seen in action hundreds of students here. I work closely with terrific schools of all types and am personally recruiting to Franklin & Marshall a number of remarkably talented young people I so badly want us to have the chance to teach.
To every student and young graduate here today, I speak for all in this audience who have grey in our hair when I say that we believe in you. That is why we teach. That is why we invest in our school. That is why we invest in education.
And second, I believe because I earned not one, but two undergraduate degrees, first at Georgetown with its 450 year-old Jesuit tradition of liberal education, and then at Oxford, which has been at this for about nine centuries.
And so I know, in my mind and my bones, that liberal arts education is the single finest form of cultivating emerging human talent and character that this world has ever known.
Today, I'd like to discuss three core beliefs that sustain liberal arts education, and then three core aspects of the liberal arts college itself. These are qualities that we must know and name and grow and use if we're to achieve our promise in such turbulent times:
First, we have great faith in the power of ideas.
We understand the thought-making mind to be the greatest natural force our earth will ever know.
This means challenging students to master hard concepts that seemingly have zero immediate utility.
It means helping students dig down to bedrock knowledge and then learn how ideas layer upon ideas.
It means teaching students—get ready—that thought can be thought about, and that thinking about thought can be thought about, and that thinkers think about thought that can be thought about.
Believing in the power of ideas means building within students a hunger for precision and for breakthrough and—pet peeve alert—banishing from their writing all those mind-numbing, passive, dead-fish uses of the verb "to be."
And it means giving students for life the hard-won capacities to write prose like poets, to track back ideas to their assumptions, to support arguments with evidence, and to peel off softness from a thought by contending with counter-argument.
We hope to cultivate in tomorrow's doers and dreamers a restlessness of mind, a yearning for awareness, a radar for beauty, a rising reservoir of knowledge, the buoyancy to be wrong, a negative capability, a taste for grey and nuance, and for chipping like a sculptor at an intellectual block of rock until what emerges from within is a creation to call our own.
Admittedly, our focus is not technical knowledge or job training. We are about empowering and unleashing thinkers. We seek to create minds on fire in pursuit of big ideas that love both the heat and the chase.
To achieve that, then, we make a second commitment that defines a liberal arts education. We privilege the brain-to-brain contact with scholars and mentors that uniquely grows greatness in the minds of the young.
One of our first faculty members, Frederick Rauch, put it brilliantly 174 years ago when he was inaugurated as President of Marshall College, proclaiming, "Fire can only kindle fire. Mind can only awaken mind…. We must be acted upon."
We recruit and support the finest scholars so that they can "act upon" our gifted students through the format of the seminar, the discussion group, the red-inked term paper, the class blog or chat room, the cross-campus conversation, the rehearsal, the field trip, the laboratory exercise, the College House dinner, the advising session, the independent study, the co-authored research paper.
It is impressive, for example, that we at F&M fund some 80 students a year to spend the summer doing research directly with faculty. And that we only hire scholars who want to work that way with 18-, 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds.
We want our students to learn not just to answer our questions, but also to ask their own, so that someday they can find truths no one else has even thought to look for.
This kind of teaching—the kind that launches undergraduates into lives of intellectual leadership—can't get done unless superb students have access to working scholars who have themselves been trained to as field-shakers and boundary breakers.
Fire kindles fire, mind awakens mind.
Point three. Our tradition takes a distinct and expansive view of the student as learner. Again, let's listen to President Rauch:
"The fortune of our lives and our government depends…. on our character as citizens, and to form this character by cultivating the whole [person] is the aim of education in the proper sense."
What does it mean to educate whole persons?
It means seeing each student as a unique and irreducible collection of qualities and strengths and experiences and needs, constantly in formation, with personal, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral and civic development to be fostered with—and through—formal academic learning.
It means seeing the dignity of each learner, engaging with students where they start and respecting their freedom to choose where they want to go.
It means understanding that we don't all learn the same way or at the same pace. It means helping students develop their passions for the arts, for competition in sport, for social entrepreneurship, for spirituality, for social-justice advocacy.
It means holding back sometimes and letting students solve problems for themselves, even when that annoys them.
As my friend Jack DeGioia taught me to appreciate, it means helping students learn how to give body and soul to boundary-pushing work, 24-7 for a period of time, and then to learn how to swing back when the project is done into a more Aristotelian mean between extremes.
If you value the whole person, as we do, you want that student to have the affective experience of epiphanies, of belonging, of play, of friendship and of love.
You want each student to take pride in coming from a particular community, with a distinct history and culture, and to have that history and culture be embraced and recognized and valued and loved and learned from here in this inclusive learning community.
You care about each student's emerging capacity to experience joy and to cope well with difficulty and hardship.
You want them to grow by being a leader among peers, and also by having the chance to take an unpopular position and stand alone.
You understand the significance of anxieties, depression and high-risk behavior among college students and try to help individuals and peer groups develop skills and mindsets to keep each other safe.
You don't forget that we all make mistakes, and we all can make amends.
To see students as whole persons also means to see them as social beings, intrinsically in relationship with others, as members of families, as citizens in a diverse society, as employers, as custodians of a culture and the planet.
This is one reason why we prize having a diverse community. It is why we help our students go meet the world through community-based research in Lancaster, in South Africa, in Ghana.
It is why we so enthusiastically followed the lead of President Fry and College Dean Kent Trachte and our founding faculty dons in creating the College House system: to help students learn and grow from self-governance and shared responsibility.
The human beings who benefit from this tradition are better positioned to hit high marks in graduate school, better able to relate ideas across disciplines, better suited to unravel complexity and find falsehood in a seductive half-truth, and better prepared to work and serve in a rapidly-changing, polyglot, multicultural world.
It is in this context that we choose to highlight today Benjamin Franklin's brilliant formulation of how whole persons learn, and thus holistic educators work:
"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
A tradition of learning that prizes ideas, direct mentoring with scholars and treating students as whole persons has to be loved and practiced, but it also has to be sustained.
In America, we sustain work that matters through institutions, and as one, the liberal arts college offers resources as utterly distinct and as profoundly American as the iconic figures in whose names we do our work here. I'd like to discuss three of those resources.
First, you'll notice that we're including on our inaugural banners a signature line from one of the Supreme Court's most influential decisions, McCulloch v. Maryland, in which Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, "It is, after all, a constitution we are expounding."
With this decision, the Court established a coherent, grounding basis for defining the balance of powers between the Federal government and State governments—a seminal legal moment in defining two types of institutions whose co-existence is utterly central to our democracy.
In our way, liberal arts colleges are also defining institutions built to preserve defining values of a democracy.
For example, we pursue knowledge disinterestedly. We protect freedom of thought and freedom of speech. We are politically impartial. We try not to follow fads. We uphold high academic standards.
We commit to codes of ethics to protect the human and animal subjects of our research. We protect the rights of students and faculty to express unpopular ideas. We critique government and private interests.
As institutions, we practice democracy, we protect democracy and we promote democracy, intellectually and affectively, to each generation of students.
As institutions, we serve in another way. We want our students to learn to respect other institutions enough to help strengthen them, which is necessary for any democracy, and any civilization, to survive.
Not to belabor the obvious, but we have seen all too many institutions betray their own values with corrosive practices—from government to the media to the financial sector to organized religion—so it is all the more important that as an institution we model the John Marshall tradition of integrity and of not being for sale.
Second, many liberal arts colleges—certainly this one—have as part of our core mission another type of work that is aligned with, but also distinct from, the education we provide, and that's the research and scholarship of our faculty.
Of course, some of our scholarship looks pretty much the same as the high-value research seen in R-1 universities. But some is categorically different and not easily produced in any other context.
For example, our scholars don't work in the walled gardens of big R-1 departments that separate thinkers and disciplines from one another. Instead, just look at our new Ann and Richard Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building, designed to allow scholars of philosophical and cognitive approaches to the mind to think and teach together when at larger institutions they'd be long-lost cousins.
Our intellectual intimacy allows faculty to design, from the outset, multidisciplinary approaches to problems, like the nationally significant work done at the Clinic for Special Children that combines genetic research, public health and therapeutic care.
Because we aren't captive to the logic that says only sponsored research counts, we can be edgier and more innovative. We can attack orthodoxy from below.
Because every scholar who works here teaches undergraduates, our work tends to be more grounded, more translatable and less likely to tumble down the rabbit hole of excessive self-specialization.
The very fact that faculty conduct so much research in collaboration with undergraduates is a model that R-1 institutions could never emulate, even if they wanted.
And then, of course, the knowledge our faculty creates becomes a constant part of how we teach and what we teach.
The research and knowledge creation and artistic endeavor of the faculty is the work of the liberal arts college. It wouldn't be of the same quality—or flat out wouldn't exist—in a different type of institution.
Finally, critics sometimes stereotype colleges and universities as ivory towers willfully set off from the so-called "real world." At liberal arts colleges, the reality is exactly the opposite. Like so many colleges, Franklin & Marshall is fully integrated with our local Lancaster community. We view our destinies as one, while leveraging our location to work on issues that matter in other communities, near and far.
For example, here in Lancaster we do hands-on work that is integrated into classes for knock-your-socks-off impact, from cleaning streams to helping families file for EITC refunds, from testing for lead in playgrounds to building poetry kiosks, from tracking local labor trends to preserving Amish art, from helping refugee families to mentoring in public schools, and so much more.
Our educational approaches to promoting student-athlete leadership, to connecting with international communities and to preparing high-achieving students from underserved communities for success in college offer novel answers to questions almost every community faces.
And our faculty's research in environmental studies, urban studies, economics, public health and many other fields helps right here and provides case studies resonant far beyond this zip code.
That's what national institutions do. It doesn't matter if we're small. We offer outcomes-based solutions to local, national and global needs. And liberal arts colleges do this uniquely well because we're enmeshed authentically, human to human, in our communities, and thus think of them as home.
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I speak from conviction that the core purposes, the core values, the core assets, the core philosophies, the core relationships and the core mission of excellent liberal arts colleges remain as distinct and valuable for this nation and the world as they were that day 224 years ago when the great Benjamin Rush headed the delegation that brought Franklin College into being.
But in a troubled era, we liberal arts institutions have to fight for what's ours, and above all, fight for our students. We have to compete together, college with college, for support in all forms and to make impacts that will matter.
We're proud to be part of a group of liberal arts institutions fighting for the democratic soul of the nation and the democratic belief that each student should be educated for a full life and for the making of a more perfect union.
But I also have something to say, in particular, to this community, Franklin & Marshall College. And I think it's O.K. if our 100 visiting delegates overhear it.
Franklin & Marshall is blessed with a name, a place, a mission, a history, extraordinary people and a tradition of excellence.
Let's seize the moment now and get after it. Let's go for it. Let's go for greatness.
Let's make this College the place inspired schools look to when deciding who will draw out the unique and beautiful talents in their most promising students.
Let's make sure every graduate feels that you never really leave Franklin & Marshall because the College is such a force in supporting one's lifelong striving and trajectory.
Let's believe that the mind power and sweat equity and public spiritedness of this place will allow us to serve and heal an ailing world.
And let's support our students right now, when they come forward in their youth with the urgent idea they just know will change that world.
In two words, let's do what President Rauch said we must—let's kindle fire.
Let's see the greatness in our students.
Let's push them and prod them and draw out their best, launch them into the world ready to compete and make their way, and hold onto them as they cut their paths …
…. in the confidence that we will always be able to kindle fire in any person who ever went here …
… from the 2011 English major hoping to write a screenplay, to the 1977 Anthropology major now leading a major branch of government, to the 1930 pre-med major coming home 81 years later to celebrate our renewal.
Let's make sure, no matter where we are, no matter how long it has been, no matter who's in the room …
… that when we think of Franklin & Marshall, and the fires we spark, the first word that comes to mind, now and always, is "Wow!"