Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Show Me Your Idols, and I'll Know Who You Are

I honestly can't explain why I read our chancellor's emails.  But I do, and sigh.

Here's a few tidbits from his latest:

"[Commencement] is a time when we can say without adornment that we have fulfilled that great promise of the Morrill Act of 1862 to educate this state's bright and motivated young
people and that we have ignited their curiosity and passions, and channeled
their boundless idealism for the betterment of the world."

I think you can only talk about the "boundless idealism" of students if you've never TA'd.  That shows you anti-idealism (pragmatism) like nothing else.

"There are so many wonderful snapshots when I look back on this academic
year and sift through the countless meetings and speeches, the casual talks
with faculty, staff, and students, the investitures and lectures. Or the
pleasure of just walking across the Quad as students rush between classes.
Those moments confirm to me how vibrant this university is and how engaged
its people are in the issues that concern our nation."

Okay, so students rush to classes.  But once they're in those classes, what are they being taught?  Do you ever sit in any of them?  Are students engaged in indoctrination or taught to critically evaluate what's spouted to them?

"One snapshot in particular was the morning I sat at the Krannert Center for
the Performing Arts with two of my grandchildren listening to Aaron
Copeland's 'Lincoln Portrait.' I thought back to my earliest memory of that
piece - listening to it on the Mall in DC and hearing Adlai Stevenson
recite the wonderful words that included the phrase 'the occasion is piled
high with difficulty.'

Way to name drop.  Hmmm.... who is this Adlai Stevenson guy, anyway?  Oh, yeah!  The guy who wore a hole in his shoe campaigning only to be defeated by Einsenhower two separate times, the guy who was known as an egghead, and, most notably, the guy who was a character witness of Alger Hiss.  Yeah, that guy.  He's your hero?

"It struck me that those words are being used with increased frequency and
decibels lately as we as a nation struggle with the recession, two wars,
and, lately, even the swine flu."

Wait, wait, wait.  Have you been listening to too much psycobabble again?  Since when does swine flu compare to our two ongoing wars?  Man.  It's okay to admit that you're a civilian and you might not face in a lifetime the kind of danger a serviceman faces in a day.  It's okay to admit that we may be equal under the law, but we're not equal in our bravery.  It's okay to laud the men and women that are braver than us.  It's okay.  It'd even be okay to give a shout-out to the ROTC members on this campus, who are not only facing the paltry threat of swine flu with us, but preparing to face the definite threat of a bullet or mortar.

"The reason that Illinois is such a great institution with limitless
opportunity, and will remain as such long past our short tenure here, is
its people (all of you reading this especially) and our broad, diverse
offerings - our palette of arts and culture, science and technology -
Krannert to NCSA, if you will. Commencement is a time to remind ourselves
of our greatness."

You really do see man as the measure of all things, don't you?  And hold it.  Even if we were as a campus as great as you say, what benefit is there in contemplating our greatness, except in inflating our egos?   If a man as great as Rene Descartes could say, "I am indeed amazed when I consider how weak my mind is and how prone to error," who are we to boast of our greatness?  Many great men with streams of accomplishments (such as Roger Tsien) do not boast of what they have done, but minimize it, and focus on what is left to do.  Even greater men boast only of God and His work!  This is the example we should follow.

"Commencement should also make all of us proud to be stewards of Illinois.
As such we must continue to be mindful that in all that we undertake
excellence must be our ordinary and only standard, whether in teaching, in
research, or in service.  That is one of our most precious core values, a
value, by the way, controlled more by motivation than by resources.

How do you define excellence? 

"Last fall when the recession hit its downward stride I said that my only fear was that in responding to the crisis that we would turn away from our bold ambitions and retreat into the hard shell of average... In fact, the opposite happened. You continue to amaze. You continue to follow the creative path of extraordinary. You chose to move forward toward a future less bound by the present and the past, while, at the same time, adhering to the bold values which have defined this great university."

A future less bound by the present and past, eh?  Why is this your goal?  Is it a correct goal?  If I told you that my goal is to live in the present, but understand the influence of the past and the ramifications for the future, what would you say?  Do you believe in progress for its own sake?  What are you interested in progressing the university toward?
       You mentioned that "excellence" is a value of the university, but what are the other "bold values" that you speak of?  Are they too bashful to be named, or are they reverentially named, but nonexistent?  When an undergraduate completes his requirements and receives his degree from this university, is he equipped to communicate wisdom eloquently?  This is the goal of the education at Wheaton according to its president, but what do you see as the goal of education?  While we're at it, what is the goal of man?  Too philosophical you say?  This goal is what shapes all policies at the university because it stems from the worldview of those who guide the university.  Who is your hero, your idol?  Adlai Stevenson?  Do you share his worldview?  Do you want to share it with the students on this campus?  What about the worldviews predominant on this campus will enable students to understand their place in the universe, encourage them to love and not shoot their fellow classmates, and believe there is ultimate reality they can probe and understand?  Do the worldviews predominant on this campus encourage a man to look at his fellow man with compassion, or is compassion only possible by borrowing ideas from Biblical Christianity?  How do the worldviews predominant on this campus ultimately take as God?  If this assessment is incorrect, and the God of the Bible is real, what does that mean for eternity?

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