From the Editor
October 19, 2005
Ten years ago after I interviewed him for WM’s "Teachers"
issue, Professor Bill Placher handed me a copy of Professor Bob Petty’s lecture "The Margins of Humanities," where he states:
"Only at the margins of our knowledge can we discover some essential, critical perspective of the field we labor in, and come to a better
definition of what lies at the center—perhaps even what matters most."
The poet/biologist’s words brought the liberal arts alive for me; they re-shaped my world. I realized that even in our most solitary pursuits, our most specialized endeavors, we’re connected. To understand something essential to me, I need to listen to you.
In a decade of listening to Wabash teachers, alumni, and students, the learning has never stopped—an education of the heart, mind, and spirit.
When Tom Cole died in 1997, fellow biology professor Aus Brooks assembled a team to finish the work of his mentor, the man who Aus said "helped me to see the beauty in science."
Two years later and a day after treatments for cancer, Professor Paul McKinney found the strength after an hour-long interview to walk me to the College archives and show me the notebooks of his friend, Lew Salter—the physics professor and 12th president of Wabash.
"Talk about a beautiful mind," Paul said as he pointed to equations in journals, on scraps of paper, even one on a restaurant napkin.
I later learned that Paul had ensured that Salter’s final work would be published. When Paul died a year later, chemistry professors Scott Feller and Rich Dallinger made sure that Paul’s last work was published, too.
Everything I’ve learned at Wabash has a person attached to it.
When I use the "averted glance" method of starfinding, I think of
Professor Bob Olsen as a boy, hauling his homemade telescope into the minus-20 degree Superior, Wisconsin night to peer at the Orion Nebula.
I sing songs in Bagandan and play an African harp most people have never heard of, all because Professor James Makubuya took time to teach me; when we sing I think of the time he and the National Choir of Uganda sang for Pope John Paul II.
I can’t hear the word "Maya" without imagining the smell of wood smoke or hearing the rhythmic clucks of the tzotzili language; I think of the hospitality of Dave and Nancy Orr in San Cristobal and the laughter of Dan Rogers and his students standing under the thundering waterfall at Agua Azul.
And whenever Bill Placher publishes a book or wins another teaching award, I remember the first time we spoke and how he described his father: "The best teacher I ever knew."
Knowledge has a face at Wabash, and wisdom a voice. They are
handed down person to person, creating a bond and a yearning to give back—like the call and response of a hot jazz improv session; it’s 2 in the morning and you just want to keep on playing.
These 10 years at Wabash have been like that for me—and remarkable years for the College. A good place has gotten better. With the impending departure of two architects of those improvements—Dean Mauri Ditzler for the presidency of Monmouth College in July, and President Andy Ford’s sabbatical beginning June 2006—I’m reminded of the importance of reflection, and of savoring the relationships we have.
We’ve tried to do a bit of that in this issue: catching up with alumni we’ve interviewed these past 10 years; talking with students once featured in Works in Progress to see how their dreams have fared; taking a look at some of the improvements to campus from an angle you’ve never seen before.
I also asked faculty and staff colleagues to share their own memorable moments from the last 10 years. Reading responses from both newcomers and Wabash teaching legends, I’m reminded again of how personal learning is here, and how that emotional component imprints wisdom on the heart and mind.
Are all liberal arts colleges like this? All I know is that we’re blessed to be writing about this one, trying to capture a glimpse of a community where, as Professor Rick Warner reminds us in this issue’s Teachable Moments: "We learn together, we suffer together, and we rejoice together."
Thank you for reading.
Steve Charles | Editor