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Fall 2006: The Grunge Report

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I RECALL VIVIDLY THE STRING OF ANXIETY ATTACKS I had as oral comps closed in on me in early 1971. My plight was clear—I either needed to reread (okay— read for the first time) all of my Econ text books, or I could simply walk in, profess my profound ignorance, and beg for mercy.

Option "B" looked pretty good to me, except that a draft lottery number of 106 probably meant I’d be in the Army by nightfall of my comps day of destiny. Option "A" was out of the question—there wasn’t time to read a single textbook. So I picked what I thought might be the minimal answer—I pulled out Paul Samuelson’s Principles of Economics, the textbook for Econ 1 and 2 in those days, and reviewed it. I hit on the major theories and principles.Y = C + I + G … the gospel of economics according to Paul Samuelson.

Armed with that, I walked into my oral comps and awaited my first question from Vic Powell.

"Mr. Runge—describe as best you can the meaning of a liberal arts education." A quick review, mentally, of Principles of Economics brought no help. I was truly on my own.

OFTENTIMES I AM HUMBLED by the memories our alumni have of their Wabash classes and professors. Many can cite a particular class, a particular subject, and even a particular day that they found life changing. Not me. I vividly remember my professors—Steve Schmutte, Robin Pebworth, Bill Bonifield. I loved the way Bonifield taught, the way he pushed all of us. But can I remember even one detail of those classes? Not really.

I do remember with some pride writing a paper on "The Maximum Utility Theory of Organizations." I also remember starting a written comps question with "This isn’t the book answer and is probably not what you want to hear, but this is my answer, and this is why I believe it is the best one."

But as I look back on those days, I think the essential part of my Wabash learning experience was not about concepts, formulas, or theories. It was about thinking, analyzing, and reasoning—the sort of thing Vic Powell made me do that day of my oral comps.

It was also about trying to see a problem from every vantage point. For a while in my life after Wabash, I was troubled by the fact that I couldn’t see things in black and white—I saw a lot of gray…and many shades at that. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that is the Wabash blessing, not a curse.

Today, everything for our young men is different…different facilities, different professors, different world. The one essential element that remains unchanged: a commitment to educating thinkers and leaders who in turn can be world changers. That, like the creak of the Center Hall steps and the timeless Pioneer Chapel, I hope never changes.

—Tom Runge ’71, Director of Alumni Affairs;


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