The School of Theology. Sewanee: The University of the South


Launching a New Year

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, in All Saints' Chapel, the University community gathered to launch the new 2012–2013 academic year. Student leaders spoke to the group to briefly share their aspirations for the year ahead. After an opening prayer by Chaplain Tom Macfie, President of the Order of Gownsmen Malcolm Taylor, president of the Student Government Association Scott Ward, and president of the St. Luke’s Community Lyn Stabler (transcript of her presentation may be found below) each gave a brief glimpse into their vision for their respective organizations. Vice-Chancellor John McCardell wrapped up the event by sharing some of the short and long term plans for the University (his address may be found below). He also spoke passionately about his expectations of the Sewanee by quoting Daniel Webster that “liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.”

A grand old-fashioned picnic in the Quad followed the presentations. Faculty, staff, students, and their families enjoyed a meal prepared by the university’s new Sewanee Dining Services, ably assisted by members of the University executive team who served ice cream.

Aspirations for 2012-2013

Lyn Stabler
Student Body President
St. Luke’s Community

Like many of you, I remember walking into All Saints Chapel for the first time. I was awed by the majesty, architectural beauty, and sense of history here. It seemed so overwhelming…even a bit cold and uninviting…footsteps echoing in this enormous space. Sewanee was not part of my timeline yet. But, I imagined that maybe one day, if I were to go to seminary, this space might become familiar, and I would feel a part of these surroundings. I returned hme with a postcard, a view from the altar, looking out to the Rose Window. I pinned it on the wall where I saw at it every day. During that time, I prayed, “Lord, if it is your will, please make a way for me to go to seminary.” When the time came, I considered other seminaries, but my future was already imagined at Sewanee. And now, five years later, who knew that I would be standing here feeling…well, still overwhelmed within these now familiar walls. My imagination had challenged me to grow, and to take risks. Sewanee has become part of my timeline now; it makes me want to know more about the events and people that shaped this community. 

The Preamble to the Charter for the St. Luke’s Community reads:

“The seminary community of The School of Theology of the University of the South defines itself as an intentional Christian community which plays an essential role in the lives and formation of all those who live, work, study, worship, play, and serve within this seminary community.”

But, there has not always been a thing called the St. Luke’s Community. 

The School of Theology was imagined as an essential part of the University from the very beginning and the spirit of its community was present at the laying of the cornerstone for St. Luke’s Memorial Hall in 1876. Seventy years later, the St. Luke’s Society was formed as the first student government organization. As the voice of the student body it was actively involved in advocating for racial integration in 1953. In 1968, the St. Luke’s Community Development Program helped strengthen the sense of Christian community among the theology students and their families. A few years later, in 1971, the St. Luke’s Society and the St. Luke’s Wives Society merged to become the St. Luke’s Community. Today, the St. Luke’s Executive Committee is the committee of committees that represents the St. Luke’s Community. We are a living, changing, growing community, with a past, and a bright future. 

This year we are blessed with the leadership of a new dean, Bishop Neil Alexander, one who is intimately familiar with St. Luke’s timeline and traditions, and there are already plans for the future being imagined and implemented. My aspiration for the school year, the thing I pray for and will work for with the help of my community, is that the St. Luke’s Community will live fully into these opportunities; honoring our own past, the good and the not so good, and joining with the University community. We can embrace our shared timeline and learn from it. We can imagine great things together, and we can take risks together knowing that our future is limited only by what we can imagine and our willingness to trust God and grow.   

Launching the New Year

Vice-Chancellor John McCardell
August 28, 2012

We renew this afternoon in somewhat altered form an old Sewanee tradition.  Though not strictly speaking an Opening Convocation, today’s gathering of the community reminds us of the start of a new academic year and affords an opportunity to chart our course for the year ahead.

I begin with a simple word of welcome – to our new students, the Class of 2016, and to our new faculty colleagues – and, to those returning students and faculty:  welcome back, welcome home. I begin also with a simple, inadequate, word of thanks to our support staff.  While many of us enjoyed a slower summer pace, our friends in physical plant, in ITS, in the library, and in the many offices that support our work toiled on.  And, as you know, on July 1, our dining service officially became self-op, a major, timely, and, by all reports, effective, transition.  We return to a campus strengthened and made more beautiful by their work, energized by their commitment.  Thank you, our staff, for all you do for our University.

A year ago on this occasion I stated my belief that this University has reached one of those moments in its history that may or may not prove to be defining, even transforming, but that is, at the very least, infrequent, if not rare, as the lives of institutions go.  Thanks to the prudent management of our resources, we are in sound financial shape. There is more I wish we could do – more on that in a moment – but that is always the case in places like this with high aspirations.  If we can exploit the opportunity presented by the present moment, our stature will continue to grow, our profile to rise, our reputation at long last to catch up with reality, our resources to increase.

My confidence has many sources, but arguably the strongest of these can be stated by a few simple, profoundly important facts.  The first has to do with a spirit of boldness so clearly present in our Board of Regents, which in February 2011 made a courageous, unconventional decision, to get out of the well beaten grooves of ever higher tuitions and ever more threatening discount rates to reduce tuition and fees by 10%.  Then, for the year now beginning, the Regents set tuition and fees at a level that will be guaranteed for four years.  Not only does this decision make Sewanee a true “value proposition” among liberal arts colleges, but it also allows families, in these uncertain economic times, to have at least a degree of certainty when it comes to their college costs. 

Others are taking notice, and not just the press but also other college presidents, a dozen of whom gathered here this summer for the “Sewanee Summit,” a facilitated conversation about the higher education financial model. We will reconvene, here, in October. Our leadership is having a very good effect.  It is at least in part responsible, I believe, for an entering class of record size, and for an increase in giving. Yes, this decision created a short-term deficit, in last year’s budget, which we have covered through a combination of giving, reserves, and endowment. But we are not spending a penny more of endowment than we spent a year ago.  And giving promises to continue its encouraging upward trend.

And so there is cause for encouragement as we look ahead. And that is why I believe – even more strongly, emphatically, confidently than a year ago – that the day of march has come for the University of the South, that, in the familiar words of the old hymn, we are called: “Rise up ye saints of God! Have done with lesser things.” What more meaningful, appropriate, or timely an imperative could we possibly hope to hear and to heed? Rise up! Have done with lesser things!

And so we look ahead to the coming year with confidence and with hope. As you know, The Regents and Trustees approved last fall a Campus Master Plan.  Among the projects at the top of the list are a new residence hall, about to rise on the site next to Cannon Hall, which is now undergoing renovation; a golf course, which will be completed by the end of this calendar year; and a new Sewanee Inn, on which work also will begin within the next several months.  Next on the list will be a second new dormitory; a new University Commons, centrally and visibly sited, a place where the entire campus community will gather throughout the day – and night;  and a significant renovation and renewal of the School of Theology campus, which will be made more visible and more attractive, as we move our undergraduates closer to the college campus while creating a community of seminarians on Tennessee Avenue, thus attesting to our goal of making the School of Theology the best and strongest of its kind, and reminding all who may doubt, that residential, theological education remains the best way of preparing the next generation of clergy to serve a church desperately in need of something more than sound-bite theology. We also know there are needs to upgrade our performing arts facilities, to finish renovations in Woods, and to make sure our now almost 50 year-old library will continue to meet the needs of students and faculty. It will be an ambitious list, and patience will be required of all of us as we work our way through it over the next decade.  But our campus will be the better, and the stronger, for it.

This Fall the Regents and Trustees will receive and, we hope endorse, a new Strategic Plan for the University. A process ably led by Provost John Swallow has produced a visionary, inspiring, and (I might add) attainable set of strategic goals and priorities for the next decade. It envisions a gradual increase in the size of both the undergraduate and seminary student bodies, an enrollment, in the case of the College, that will be attained in part by larger entering classes and in part by higher retention. The Plan addresses the main question before us as an institution: what does it mean to be the University of the South in the 21st century, and what South are we the University of?

The Plan comprises four strategic directions: (1) developing an exemplary learning environment; (2) realizing the full potential of the Domain; (3) extending the University’s reach locally and globally; and (4) fostering a diverse, cohesive, and inclusive community. Under each of these general headings one may find an ambitious list of sometimes visionary proposals.

Some of these proposals will be brought before our faculty this fall by a special committee on the curriculum that, under the able leadership of Professor Bran Potter, has been hard at work for much of the past two years. These proposals will address our General Education requirements and represent the first significant revisitation of our curriculum in more than 20 years. Also, thanks to a $250,000 grant from the A. V. Davis Foundations, a group of faculty are working on a pilot for a place-based freshman course, incorporating the best features of PRE, Orientation, and academics, in a semester-long course focusing on the Domain.

We also enter a new year of student life, aware as always of the challenges, as well as the opportunities, of life on this campus. Last year at this time we convened our first Greek Life Summit, from which emerged an Alumni Greek Council that has been of enormous benefit to our fraternities and sororities and thus to the enhancement of Greek life, and social life more generally. By now, my own view I trust is well known. It is best stated by the great 19th century statesman Daniel Webster, who noted that “Liberty can exist only in proportion to wholesome restraint.” Think about those words. Repeat them in your mind. And then consider how, if we can figure out the balance between those two traits, we might indeed make our Greek system the model from which others might learn. Liberty without restraint is chaos, anarchy. Liberty can be conferred, but it must also be earned, defended, and protected.  The conferral is meaningless, the defense impossible, without the counterpart, wholesome restraint.  Restraint without liberty is tyranny, oppression. And that is why restraint can never fully or effectively be imposed from outside or on high. It must come from within, from a heart and a soul that understands the boundaries of good behavior, and from an individual and a group that needs to understand that it is never off duty, that judgments of it are made on the basis of what others see, and the habits learned in college are likely to be the habits that shape a life.  Liberty. Wholesome restraint. It’s that simple.  And that challenging. I am committed to striving for, defining, and then sustaining that balance.

And so, let me turn now to a specific issue, and a new initiative.

Unfortunately, more often than many of us would prefer, we hear of encounters with unhappy outcomes, the result, sometimes, of impulse, sometimes of too much alcohol, sometimes of simply poor judgment.  Those outcomes take various forms: sexual misconduct, physical altercation, medical emergency, and thus, also too often, can result in hurt, shame, remorse.  These regrettable consequences of bad choices, made when judgments are impaired and recollection is thus blurred, affect the welfare of the larger community, tainting friendships, feeding rumors, doing sometimes lasting harm. We will never be fully spared these episodes. But we can – we must – do all we are able and thus not put trust, the bedrock of this community, at risk.

The issues of which I speak are not simply gender issues; they are not “women’s issues” or “men’s issues.” Nor are they only Greek issues, limited to fraternities or sororities.  Indeed, they are not entirely student issues.  They are not best or most effectively addressed by simply hiring someone to take care of them.  Nor are they best resolved by changing rules or procedures or adding more pages to our handbook.  No.  What I am talking about is something far more fundamental and far more pervasive.  What I am talking about is respect – respect that is routinely demonstrated, respect that is also routinely deserved, evidenced by the most basic of human courtesies and an awareness of boundaries, and deserved by behavior that puts neither oneself nor others to unfair, irresistible tests.

In saying this, and in naming the issue, I do not mean – understand this – I do NOT mean to indict our community.  All of us are flawed human beings. None of us is perfect; none of us is entitled to pass judgment unless we, too, are willing to be judged. Our community is a reflection of the society and culture from which we come.  The challenge is – can’t we do better? Can’t we be better? Can’t we aspire to something higher and nobler than the real world?

I believe we can.  And I believe that if we try, we can bring ourselves ever closer to the words of our Episcopal liturgy: to “strive for justice among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”
That charge begins not is some distant place.  It begins here. It begins now.

Over the course of the summer I have discussed how we might best approach this issue with a variety of members of our campus community. I have concluded that we need to proceed, in an orderly, logical, deliberate, and inclusive way, to explore what is, after all a very complex matter.  To assist us in this effort, I have engaged, as a consultant, Dawn Watkins.  Dawn is the former Dean of Students at Washington and Lee, and she led what by all reports was a highly successful effort to engage these questions on that campus.  Dawn has agreed to work with us in a similar endeavor.  This is very good news.

I also believe that we need to have someone based on this campus to chair what will become an ad hoc task force on this issue, someone of stature and credibility, someone who see things through the eyes of a parent and also through the eyes of a student, someone who understands our campus culture. I am delighted to announce that Coach John Shackelford has agreed to serve in this capacity.

Working with Dawn Watkins, Dean Hartman, University Legal Counsel, and myself, Coach Shack will help us develop a strategy for engaging the issues at hand. Only then will I proceed to make appointments to the task force, whose membership will be broadly inclusive and whose duty will be to transcend the boundaries of its own individual and collective limited understanding, as we all must, in order to serve the best interests of our University.”

There is so much more I might talk about, but I begin to test your patience and your stamina. And so I will conclude with simply one more thought, an important one I hope. We know, all of us, that we share here something special, even unique. That something involves, as I said to the Class of 2016 last Sunday afternoon, an awareness of history (look around you in this Chapel); a sensitivity to place (what a blessing to inhabit a 13,000 acre domain); a respect for the natural order (look at our many efforts to promote and achieve a sustainable campus – and a special nod to our own David Haskell, whose new book was the summer reading assignment for new students)); a commitment to honorable conduct in all that we do; and, not least, a love of the God who created all things. We acknowledge before that God our own human limitations and imperfections – this University surely knows what it means to inhabit a fallen world.

And now a story, and one that many of you know. Willie Six is a Sewanee legend. For 40 years he served as an athletic trainer. According to the University history, “he worked tirelessly to keep Sewanee men on the field, whether as stars or as scrubs.” Upon his retirement in 1947 this beloved figure was made an honorary member of the “S” society and received a varsity athletic letter. Willie Six Road memorializes his service to the University.

A reporter asked Willie, at the time of his retirement, what was the best year in Sewanee athletic history. This man, who had seen many great teams and many great moments answered without hesitation: “the best year? The best year is the one comin’ up.”

I like that a lot. Willie Six refused to look back, refused to live in the past. His comment neither denied nor demeaned that past. But that was the past. The best was yet to come. Willie Six, even in retirement, looked forward to the year “comin’ up.”

And so we take up our work in this new academic year, hoping in the end to be found faithful servants, striving to build a place where the worth and dignity of every human being are respected, where freedom does exist in proportion to wholesome restraint, where education does take place around the clock, in all venues, and where, even when the fog closes in, a kindly light still leads us on.

And so --
Rise up!
Have done with lesser things.
The best year is “the one comin’ up.”