Speaking at Tim Cloyd’s installation at Drury University

I had the privilege of speaking at the installation of Tim Cloyd who is an old friend of mine and now the president of Drury University in Springfield, MO. Like all installations, it was a great and joyous day for Drury and Tim and his family. Here are my remarks:

Chairman Reed, Trustees, Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni – congratulations!! Today is a great occasion in the life of your university. I can’t tell you how honored I am to be a part of it.

President Cloyd and Wendy – congratulations to you. Today is a day of celebration for you and your family. It is a day of affirmation and inspiration.

We have a saying in our line of work that every day you put on your robe is a good day.

Tim and I have something in common, which is that from time to time, we’ve thought about joining the clergy. I know from experience that by being a college president, Tim has more or less come to the same thing – for four reasons.

1.   He visits the sick.

2.   He asks his congregation for money.

3.   Occasionally, he puts on a robe, stands in a pulpit, and says something inspirational.

4.   Everyone thinks they know how to do his job.

There are more direct connections, of course. Our titles – chancellor, provost, dean – these all arose in the church.

As I’m constantly telling my dean colleagues – the deans were folks who made decisions.

And as they are always telling me – the provost was the person who kept the prison.

More about the clergy later.

But first to the people of Drury University – and to Drury University itself – congratulations. You have a proud history. Like many great institutions, you began in the church. And while some have shed their religious origins, you have proudly stayed in the church, and your Christian roots inform you to this day.

One of the things that is great about American higher education is the pluralism we enjoy with so many different kinds of institutions.

When James and Charles Harwood, Nathan Morrison, and Sam Drury laid the cornerstones of this campus in 1873, they could not have imagined how well their vision would be preserved – and how well it would be adapted to the changing times.

They are smiling today.

And so are we. Because today Drury University inaugurates a president who embodies the history and the future of this school – and of higher education, itself.

Our undertaking is at a difficult moment. Despite overwhelming evidence that college graduates are four times better off than students who don’t have a degree, a large portion of the public believes the opposite to be true.

That’s our fault. We haven’t told our story well enough.

Our calling

Tim is the right guy to tell the story for Drury and for higher education.

Why? First and foremost, he calls his job a calling. He knows that education is not a transaction. “Calling,” Tim has said, “is not a business plan. Calling is a passion of the heart.”

His heroes are people he met on the Navajo reservation while his parents were missionaries. He knows that identity is a powerful element of the understanding of humanity.

His influences are Socrates, Hume, Nietzsche, W.E.B. Dubois, and Cornell West – the preacher of the Socratic and the prophetic. Tim knows that deep thought and close reading are endangered and indispensable.

In his class he assigns a book called “Attacking Faulty Reasoning.” Because it isn’t just misconceptions about higher education that we are struggling against: there’s a cultural attack on evidence and expertise that is threatening our civilization. He knows that knowledge is the only way to win.

“We are all fallible and fallen,” Tim has said.  “When we claim to have or know the whole truth out of our particularistic identity, or claim that because of our particular identity we hold a virtue that others do not, this leads quickly to the silencing of voices different than our own.”

Virtue and virtuosity

The liberal arts tradition of Drury goes back to the very beginning. It is the idea that has animated this institution from day one. As Tim has pointed out, the Latin word liberalismeans “of or pertaining to freedom.” Truly, it is the liberal arts ideal that has produced freedom in America going back to Adams and Jefferson and from there to here — in what was known as the west in 1873.

The liberal arts education began in America before the founding of the republic.

It is that liberal arts tradition that underlies the twin ideas of virtue and virtuosity that Tim has claimed.

Drury’s virtue is not a blind virtue. It is a virtue that is proud of its doubts, its criticisms, and its contemplation. It is a virtue rooted both in the religious exegesis of rabbis and priests and in the critical analysis of philosophers and scholars.

It is a virtue that is not afraid of nuance and complexity. This virtue is synonymous with what Nobel Laureate Dan Kahneman has called ‘thinking slow’ – allowing our full mind to overrule our instant reactions.

Come to think of it, it’s more than virtue, it’s love. An unconditional love of the truth.

Sitting alongside this virtue, is the virtuosity. This virtuosity is more than skills, more than practice. Virtuoso musicians are not simply technicians proficient in playing their instruments. Their playing is informed by the theory and history of their music, by its impact on humanity and the soul.

“It’s about merging different aspects of one realm, which, in the realm of playing an instrument, is pure engineering,” says Yo Yo Ma. “But the mental process,” he says, “the emotional process, the psychic investment in trying to make something easy [is] infinitely hard.”

So it is with all virtuosity. True virtuosity doesn’t take place in a vacuum. It is aware of its impact; it is responsible for its actions. It can’t exist without virtue by its side.

This virtuosity is what we academics call knowledge. Knowledge is more than facts, more than skills. Knowledge is what equips us to engage in the world as citizens.

Virtue and virtuosity. Love and knowledge.

Love and knowledge

Now Tim and I share one other important influence that originates not in the 13 colonies or in Mesopotamia, but in Liverpool.

There is an enormous painting of John Lennon in Tim’s office, a print of the Let It Be Cover, and photographs of Tim at the Strawberry Fields memorial.

I have a lithograph of John Lennon’s “Friends” that was printed and signed by Yoko Ono.

The Beatles were considered radicals in so many ways, but the words they left behind changed the world.

All we needed, they said, was love. Love that can’t be bought.

The traditions of Drury remind us that the very same love is patient, kind, and keeps no records of wrongs.

And with a love like that, you know you should be glad.

Because while it’s been in many ways a long, cold, lonely winter, it is knowledge and love that will get us to a brighter future. And those are the pillars that hold up Drury.

The love comes when we allow ourselves to imagine.

Imagine enough food for 7 billion people. Imagine clean energy and a healthy environment. Imagine empathy and understanding in place of conflict. Imagine an equitable America.

Imagine all the people living life in peace.

And the knowledge comes when we allow ourselves to be amazed.

Amazed that Rosalind Franklin took a picture that ushered in the genetic revolution.

Amazed that Charles Darwin was not only brilliant at observation and inductive reasoning, but also science’s greatest writer.

Amazed that Martin Luther King could write so timelessly and powerfully, even when he was imprisoned and abused.

And amazed that Drury University had the good sense and judgment to choose a president who knows that words matter – and that words can change the world.

The words of Jefferson birthed our ideals of freedom and equality, the words of Paul started the Christian religion, the words of King challenged the white moderates — and talked of a dream.

You got yourselves a dreamer, everybody. And looking out at you all, I can tell he’s not the only one.

Get ready for knowledge. Get ready for love.

As Paul has said, love can lead to justification and life for all.

And as the other Paul has said, “Baby, I’m Amazed.”

People of Drury University, you have a new President.

Prepare to be amazed!

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