This post continues our month-long seminar about President Adam Falk’s Induction address.
A third story also informs deeply who we are. At the Haystack Prayer Meeting of 1806, five Williams students, led by Samuel Mills, conceived the American missionary movement. In doing so, they identified the purpose of their time at Williams as preparation to serve the world in the way they best knew how. A Williams education, as this history indicates, provides not merely a private good, found in the betterment of individual graduates, but a public good, measured in the impact those graduates have on the world. Since the days of the Haystack Movement, we’ve celebrated our alumni above all else for their betterment of their communities, their nation, and this world. Scan the list of Bicentennial Award winners – numbering now more than one hundred, and five of whom we have honored today – and you’ll see men and women who’ve made our world better in myriad ways. We show our truest values through those we honor – the good, the purposeful, and the true, not merely the rich and famous.
These stories tell us both who we’ve been and who we aspire to be. We aim to prepare students for service to the world by providing them learning experiences that are intimate, personal, rigorous, and modern, in a community committed to educational leadership by example. This aspiration demands our best efforts, while attaining it requires us to contend with competing forces familiar from our own history.
Commentary after break.
1) I don’t know what to make of this third example. Do you? Citing the Haystack Prayer Meeting is a not uncommon trope of Williams induction addresses, e.g., Oakley (1985) and Sawyer (1961). (By the way, I suspect that Adam Falk asked the archives to gather these speeches. Next week, I will show clear evidence that he read them. This is reason #23 why I love Adam Falk: he cares more about (and knows more about?) Williams history than 95% of the current faculty.) Yet, as best I can tell, Falk highlighted this story to a greater extent than any Williams president in over 100 years.
2) I don’t know nearly as much about the Haystack Payer Meeting as I should. Do you? Pointers welcome. But, my initial take is that this is a somewhat politically incorrect part of Williams history. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Basic idea was to bring the Gospel to the heathens. Anyone have a marvelously White Man’s Burden‘ish quote from one of the Ephs involved in the meeting? You can be certain that their views of native culture were much less, uh, generous than those of current Ephs.
3) Continuing to project my own preferences on to Falk’s speech, I will note that the American missionary movement launched by the Haystack Prayer Meeting was all about engagement with the broader world. Perhaps Falk cites this story to indicate the importance he places on thinking of Williams as not just an American institution. Given the language that he uses, that interpretation is a bit of a stretch, but those who have read ahead can understand my reasoning . . .
4) If Mountain Day and Fall Break caused you to miss the last three days of the seminar, go back and read the discussions from Friday, Monday and Tuesday. They capture the most important aspects of the first part of Falk’s speech.
Alright– , I was going to try to make this short, and just quote, with an elision:
Since the days of the Haystack Movement, we… … alumni above all else for their betterment of their communities, their nation, and this world.
and say we can discuss the Missionary Movement and political correctness in the comments, but we either accept the above, or we don’t.
But I came back, and I read again, and though the word ‘boilerplate’ is somehow in my head, I’m not quite sure.
Let me try a very quick, close reading:
A third story also informs deeply who we are.
Once again, we define ourselves, — or at least seek to understand ourselves, by history.
At the Haystack Prayer Meeting of 1806, five Williams students, led by Samuel Mills, conceived the American missionary movement. In doing so, they identified the purpose of their time at Williams as preparation to serve the world in the way they best knew how.
As David, I’m not quite familiar enough to comment on the events of 1806. But I emphasize a few things, above. Perhaps all I want to point out, is that this is a unique vocabulary, which descends, in part, from the Missionary movement– and is still a part of Williams’ Mission Statement.
A Williams education, as this history indicates, provides not merely a private good, found in the betterment of individual graduates, but a public good, measured in the impact those graduates have on the world.
This, on the other hand, seems a very different sort of vocabulary– one of goods (that seem to be imagined and measured as economic goods, on the one hand) and of public good in tandem with private good–
“measured in the [positive] impact those graduates have on the world.”
Maybe this is platitude and boilerplate– maybe such words have lost their meanings, in our time– but let me take President Falk at his words.
Given all the complexities of the historical terms above– service, education, ‘worlds,’ impact, public and private goods–
by what means do we begin to measure and take stock of what we are doing and its impact upon our world? How do we make choices? What are we making choices, between?