The inaugural address of ACU’s ninth president, delivered Feb. 19, 1982
In our age, there is certainly no shortage of challenges. Our graduates are entering a world increasingly burdened with issues that call for constructive action – issues that seem to minimize the role of the individual.
After all, how does one person deal with issues like freedom, ignorance, poverty, injustice, unemployment, inflation, disease, illiteracy or the quest for lasting world peace? One individual with conviction can and does make a difference in our world. Our heritage proves it. And education that is content simply to free man’s spirit is deficient; we must educate to empower the spirit as well.
There are at least two compelling reasons for supporting the mission of Abilene Christian University:
In the first place, our students want to make choices that will lead them to the highest possible view of life.
The making of choices, which sounds so simple, is the key. Choice is the basis of all rational thinking and acting. Choice is involved in whether we speak or keep quiet, say on a matter or say only what is helpful to a situation. Choice, in fact, is involved in every kind of creativity and every kind of decision – whether to attend a concert, read a book, or watch TV. We are inundated by a never-ending stream of choices.
Several years ago, an advertising researcher reported that the average adult American is exposed daily to several hundred distinct audiovisual or print messages. I have no reason to doubt this.
These images and messages bombard us from dawn until midnight. They urge us to buy or believe something. They inform and misinform; they guide and misguide us; they amuse and disgust us. Most of these messages are unsolicited – and more than a few unwanted. We are offered a glut of commercial choices, yet I prefer this to the alternative system of allowing the state to restrict our choices from one to none.
Every person is vulnerable to the strong herd instinct in our culture. Daily life is offered to us as a result of a nationwide poll – the Top 40, the bestseller list, the Nielsen ratings. We really don’t know whether something is good; we just know that it is popular. And sometimes, it seems we are losing the ability to tell the difference. Worse yet, we may not care.
Many of our choices are superficial, but we are also asked to make choices much more significant than our selection of soup or cereal.
We must evaluate the claims and counterclaims of ideological exponents, and we face a wide range of cultural choices in our society – in the theatre, the cinema, radio, television, music, literature.
How do we sort out fact from fiction, truth from error, the uplifting from the debasing, the real from the counterfeit? It’s not easy. It has never been easy. It is precisely at this point – in the making of individual choices – that an education from a Christian perspective can make a unique contribution to the lives of young adults. For this purpose Abilene Christian University was established 76 years ago: To inspire within each student the desire to make moral choices.
When this educational objective is realized, we will also be helping our students to approve of that which is excellent in all of life; and to discriminate in favor of service over individual status.
This aim is not new. The Apostle Paul wrote:
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent. (Philippians 1:9-10)
Understanding why the making of choices is so crucial in our society is not difficult. False philosophies are brilliantly presented all around us. They promote instant gratification and easy, quick-fix solutions; they foster a spirit of pseudo-individualism that leads to dependence; and although affirming a humanistic base, they are, in fact, morally bankrupt.
Mediocrity is another enemy faced in every institution. Productivity in the classroom, the library, the laboratory, or even the boardroom is not seen as a compelling goal to be achieved – but pain to be avoided. Not only must our graduates make the right choices in life – they must accept and bear the pain that those choices may bring. The educational task, then, is to concentrate not only on liberating the student from ignorance and bias, but to give them the inner strength to make and accept painful choices.
If the mission of education is to conquer ignorance, then the mission of Christian education is to supply purpose and motive for the conquest.
In addition to making the right choices, a second compelling reason for our working to advance the mission of Abilene Christian University is:
Our students can be inspired to be servant-leaders in a society craving character and sensitivity more than just knowledge and professional expertise.
Leaders in any field of human endeavor, in the truest sense of leaders, must first become servants. This concept of servant leadership is becoming increasingly popular in business management circles. An exponent of this view writes:
A great leader is seen as a servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.
Again, this is not new. Jesus said the same thing almost 2,000 years ago:
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. (Matthew 20:26-27)
This lesson of servant-leader has been learned well on this campus. Our heritage dramatically reflects this.
The heritage of Abilene Christian University is documented by our distinguished graduates and former students.
Consider the thousands of young women, educated on this campus, who are makers of Christian homes. They are devoted wives who have helped their husbands. They are full-time mothers to their children, dedicated to the task of creating whole persons. They are engaged in a calling more challenging, more fulfilling, and more creative than that of chemists, artists or professors. They exemplify a regard for service over status.
Or consider those men and women in full-time Christian service – with local churches, on mission fields, in Christian education and other Christian ministries. Their circles of influence are extending beyond time and space. Remember, for many, the initial sparks that ignited their spirits and set their lives of Christian service on track were generated on this campus.
Other graduates serve and lead with distinction in many fields – in public education, as classroom teachers, principals, coaches, and administrators; others in business, law, medicine, architecture, health, science, and higher education; and still others in government, the military, and public health. We have evidence that this strong tradition of service will continue. Of our present students who have declared majors, more than 50 percent are now committed to careers designed to serve people.
The ACU heritage is a living demonstration that the teaching and learning that take place on this campus do make a difference – to our families, our communities, our nation, and the church.
The future of private education is not risk-free! We must find innovative methods to compete in the economic environment of tomorrow as well as in century 21. New levels of giving must be generated.
Whatever the ebb and flow of our economic tides, we will hold fast to our historic, unchanging, and non-negotiable principles.
We shall continue to make a conscious effort on this campus to enable each student to confront basic spiritual issues. These include God’s call to all men. Every day on this campus these spiritual realities are exalted:
- God, who is the source and sustainer of life;
- The Word of God, which gives meaning and direction to all human learning; and
- Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who calls us to renewal, hope and immortality.
These realities are reinforced in courses taught from a Christian perspective. Our teachers also transmit these values by word and by personal faith.
These stabilizing and inspiring influences of Christian teachers – far from being intangible – are the silent building stones in this university’s educational process. Our teachers, scholars, researchers and staff are united in these efforts that transcend the classroom.
If our founding principles must be sacrificed as an alternative to survival, then let us die honorably – to the glory of God. As my predecessors have observed, the name of this institution is not merely Abilene University, but Abilene Christian University.
Finally, we will have met our test as an academic institution when every student who earns a diploma has that special quality of greatness described by Karl Trevor:
The great man lives in the midst of the multitude, essentially alone.
His world is their world, but he has visions of a better.
He rises above his age like a mountain out of a plain.
He is the prophet of tomorrow.
His contemporaries thus fail to understand them.
His thoughts are not their thoughts; his language is not their language.
He faces the future; they face the past.
He summons them to climb to the heights; they are satisfied with the lowlands.
Their world is provincial, his universal.
They worship tradition; he is a devotee of progress.
Our numbers are not few. Our resources are not small. On this day, I find that exciting: to think that we in the Abilene Christian family have so much to work with, so much more than those before us. We can aspire to a destiny that others could not imagine.
Students are here, and others are coming. The faculty and staff are in place. Our cause is a magnificent one. Let us together renew our commitment to the building of a university dedicated to instilling a sense of the sacred in our students.
If we truly believe our purpose is noble, then our response will be noble. Let us stay near to God and close to man, doing what we can to bring the two together. I now ask for your help and your prayers. With God’s help, I pledge myself to this task. Thank you.