The Instrument for Leadership


By WALTER A. LUNDEN, President, Gustavus Adolphus College

Inaugural Address, November 4, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 116-118.

THE rapid succession of events which have swept in upon us in the past few years has brought us face to face with a social world we thought would never arise again. Forces, issues and ideas are at work on such a vast scale that no human agency can integrate and interpret them with any degree of accuracy. They present apparitions that defy human understanding. Because of these, some men say that we are witnessing the birth pains of a new world order while others maintain that we are hearing the death rattle of a decadent society. No man this side of tomorrow can answer the question today.

Because these changes are so rapid, so wide and so deep, men have grown fearful and apprehensive. They have become afraid of the very structure which they have been building during the past century and a half. A few are beginning to wonder whether the house has been built on rock or shifting sand. This same specter of apprehension stalks the halls of our college and campus. Of this we may be sure, the storm that is upon us will put our academic house to a test.

As we view this vast theater of action, let us not fall victim to the same disease which has been so much apart ofour thinking in the past half century—myopia—shortsightedness. Let us not grasp at the straw in the wind of adversity. The wisdom of Gamaliel may stand us in good stead even in this hour. That which has survival value will remain while that which in the words of the late President Coffman, is "shamm and cheap" may go by the board. It may be that time is overtaking our educational household as it appears to be doing with the whole of society. It may be that the quantitative cheapness in higher education, so common during the flush twenties, may be swept before the wind as the dead leaves of autumn. Perhaps the mills of the gods are at work on the ivory tower and the shoddy structure we have chosen to call higher education.

Every social institution as every organ in the human body has a specific function to perform. As long as an institution carries on its primary and basic purpose, it will survive. But if or when it assumes other functions or deviates from its main objective, it soon disappears or suffers reverses. As long as the monasteries of the middle ages remained true to their purpose, they were a strength to medieval society. When they lost sight of their high task they fell into decay. As long as "Dante and the wool-carders understood each other," scholarship in Italy remained on a high level. Later when Italian scholars became lost in pedantry and neglected the common problems of the land, they "prepared their own suicide." At this point the words of President Lowell reveal much wisdom. "Human institutions have rarely been killed while they are alive. They commit suicide or die from lack of vigor, and then the adversary comes and buries them. So long as an institution conduces to human welfare, so long as a university gives to youth strong active methods of life, so long as its scholarship does not degenerate in pedantry, nothing can prevent it from going on to greater prosperity." Thus for President Lowell. The basic and elemental function of any college is to teach to direct, to inspire, and to promote the young men and women of our nation to become the leaders of tomorrow. It is true that Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy as well as Christian charity requires that we popularize higher education to the point where every man may enter college. This we grant as a broad basic principle of education. But this is not the elemental function of higher education. A nation cannot survive without strong intelligent leaders any more than the body can live without the head. A democracy requires intelligent followers but it must have far sighted leaders. The cry of our nation and of every country today is for competent courageous leaders. Our present crisis has taught us another forgotten basic lesson. Generalship still counts. All honor to the common man in the ranks but there must be a leader. Unwise judgment in the high command brings ruin and disgrace upon the brave men in the line of battle. Contrariwise alert, and clear sighted generalship with ability to coordinate an army means victory to the nation. When a college fails to produce the leaders for a society, then the function of education will pass to some other agency. As long as the colleges of England supply Britain with her leaders, Britain is strong and the schools are secure. As long as the colleges of America can give God-fearing and clear-visioned men to America, the colleges will survive.

Soon after those men of the Massachusetts Colony reached the soil of New England in the 17th century and when they had built their homes, they then founded a college. They were aware of their needs. Let us here repeat those words which no college dare forget.

"One of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in dust." In the framework ofthat day these men were keenly aware of the need for intelligent leadership. In this statement they expressed the basic principle of higher education. They sought leaders with vision, understanding, courage and a faith to see the people through the vicissitudes of the years.

There is but one central process in the whole program of higher education. Search out and select the intelligent young men and women in the country, then open the doors of our colleges to them regardless of their station in life. Search for them as we did for gold. Having found them, then give them the opportunities for study. In spite of our claims to a democratic society, many brilliant men and women do not reach college. Thus much potential leadership is lost. We do not purposely close the doors of our schools to these capable men but the end result is the same. A monarchy may obtain its leaders from a self contained nobility but in a democracy leaders arise from any class. Therefore we must deepen the channels and widen the opportunities for the capable youth of our own land in order to provide the leaders for tomorrow.

No man today who sees beyond his own doorstep can fail to understand that in the years that lie ahead America will take a greater part in the affairs of nations. In order to meet this expanded horizon there must be trained men in every important position in our social order. Experience and research have shown that the best leaders in our country come from our colleges. And a goodly share from our small colleges. America must understand that these colleges are the social instruments for the development of leadership. Investments in the college and the youth of the land brings dividends tomorrow. If you want to create disorder in our world community, bar the doors of our colleges to our brilliant men in the land.

If the youth are to be properly trained, they must have great teachers. Mediocre men in a college faculty cannot lead the youth of the future. President James B. Conant expressed the wisdom of this proposition when he stated a few years ago that the fate of any college is determined by the men who make up the faculty. Numbers and bigness in a college are valuable to a point but no amount of display can take the place of the great teacher. The capital stock of a college is composed of men inspired with ideas and not campanili and stadia. The University of Paris was great in the 12th century because there was a brilliant teacher in the classroom. Williams College is a great school because there was an inspired man in the classroom—Mark Hopkins. Cornell is a great institution because there was an Andrew D. White. Harvard is great because there has been a James, an Eliot and a Kitteridge. The University of Minnesota is great because there was a Folwell, a Northrup, a Mary Sanford and a Coffman. Any system of business, statecraft or education that fails to place a high value on the individual man or teacher will fall short of its mark. A college, no matter how large or how small, that places other factors ahead of intelligent teachers fails in its mission to the students and to society. Scholarship combined with intelligence and a love of teaching is the very essence of education. As long as boards of directors and leaders in our communities hold to this principle and carry it out in actuality, the colleges in America will produce great leaders.

Not only must a college have strong men in the classroom as teachers but there must be students who appreciate their opportunities. There has been a tendency in the past years to turn our colleges into country clubs or winter vacation spots. Because some of our scientists have produced seedless grapefruit and spineless cactus, some college people have been clamoring for a painless college education—or an education untouched with human intelligence. The library, thetextbook and the daily lessons are the last thing to be done after all other extra-curricular activities have closed for the night. If a student is allergic to one subject, some of our progressive educators offer less harmful subjects to the frail minds. It may have no coincidence that the hard times of the thirties followed the soft educational policies of the twenties. While these men have been engaged in building this educational pagoda, they have developed an educational philosophy devoid of loyalty, devotion, integrity and sacrifice. They have sold the youth of America down the river of easy sailing and soft music. Now that our youth are facing a world filled with struggle, they find themselves ill prepared to meet the stark realities beyond the campus. It has given the student a feeling of futility. It is high time that the college students of America take their place with the collegians throughout the world. When the colleges of China were blasted by the Japanese, the students and teachers moved into the interior and carried on. When the soldier-students of Europe find themselves in the prison camps of the war, they organize their own colleges. They are not to be denied the truth for which they search. They are willing to make sacrifices to continue their education. They are willing to pay their tuition in toil. The world today calls for men of courage, vision, men of untiring devotion to the cause of God and humanity.

But where and how shall we discover these men? When we examine the globe of the earth carefully, we soon discover that if we go far enough east we reach the west and vice versa. In somewhat the same manner if we search far enough into yesterday we arrive at tomorrow. There was once a man other men called a Nazarene. He was a great teacher. Men said that he spoke as never man spoke before. From a modern standpoint his educational program may have been devoid of present day techniques. Yet this man possessed something. You may call it several things. From a purely human standpoint his understanding surpassed the wisest men of his day. In spite of the lack of equipment and endowments, he was an effective teacher. At thirty years of age this teacher selected twelve mento attend his college. He selected fishermen, a tax-collector, a physician, a tent-maker and others. They followed him as he taught in the market place where he demonstrated a principle. He taught them in the grain fields, at the lake-shore, near the hill top, at night under the stars and finally on a certain hill outside the city gates, the place where he died. This teacher explained to his pupils the nature of the world in which they lived. In place of ease, comfort and luxury he spoke to the pupils about service, devotion to a cause and possible sacrifice. They learned their lessons, for one of them died in a Roman jail, another spent years in exile while still another died as did his teacher. There was only one of the twelve who failed that teacher. He hanged himself because of shame.

However inadequate these Nazarene educational methods may have been, there was a quality in his instruction which enabled his students to face the world as they found it. No other twelve men have had such a great influence upon human relationships and society. They wrote few books but they were great books. Their books have stood the test of time. Men read them everywhere. They were graduates of a great school tutored by a great teacher.

In all our search for methods, technique and procedures in education, the answer to our quest is in the small band of men, their teacher and their search for truth. There was no sham and no superficiality. There was nought but a relentless search for the essence of life. That college had three important elements, a great teacher, devoted students and the desire to serve in a great cause.

Could not the colleges of America gain great objectives if they would lay aside the external and set out earnestly in search of truth, justice and devotion to an ideal? Could not the faculty transform the students if they taught that the greatest man is he who serves most? Could not the students reach new goals if they valued the individual man more than buildings and equipment? What would hinder us if we actually believed that the spirit of man is more important than the house in which he lives? Then every college in America would become a social instrument for leadership.