What is foremost in my mind today is the same question that has preoccupied me for much of my 23 years as president of St. John’s College: How can our colleges remain alive to learning and to making the discriminating choices we expect of our students?
Fortunately, I am brought back to this question regularly by our thoughtful students whenever they think we may have betrayed a commitment to free inquiry or become bogged down in the inconsequential. A liberal education ought to free the intellect, imagination, and spirit from the pressures of the moment, the prejudices of the day, and the allurements of novelty in order that the individual may come to a sufficient understanding of the self and of the surrounding world to make intelligent choices about how to live.
We owe it to our students to exemplify in practice the freedom of intellect, imagination, and spirit that we ask of them. We must be able to discriminate between the fundamental challenges we face and the faddish ones. We must field the faddish ones expeditiously, conserving our resources to meet the fundamental ones courageously. For it is only in the encounter with the enduring challenges that we will uncover new truths and discover better ways to help our students learn how to choose their own meaningful and satisfying lives.
Christopher B. Nelson, President, St. John’s College (Annapolis, Md.)