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Chapter 5: The Enterprise Begins

Reflections of an Inaugural Convocation.

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The Opening of Hampshire College

An address by Archibald MacLeish. October 3, 1970.

There was a time, not longer ago than an assistant professor can remember, when the innovation of a college was a routine occurrence to be recorded, if at all, on page eighteen or twenty of the Times back among the retrospective exhibitions and the amateur performances of the B Minor Mass. Colleges provided education. Education was a good thing. And good things weren't news.

They still aren't but the rest of the equation is out of date. Universal agreement that education is a good thing ended with the invention of the Silent Majority. Nothing, according to those who have been able to penetrate that enormous apathy, distresses the Silent Majority as much as a college unless it be a college student. And as for college students, there are even some of them who share the Silent Majority view. The best college, in the opinion of certain outraged gentlemen at Columbia a few years back, was a closed college--preferably burned.

That kind of intellectual reorientation alters even a newspaper's notion of news. Whatever the opening of a college may have been back in the cheerful days of the Great Depression or the two world wars, it must now be regarded as a major event: not merely news but drama and even melodrama--another fleet of costly buildings, another cargo of irreplaceable books, another crew of hopeful teachers and ambitious students and courageous administrators launching themselves into the eye of the hurricane on a voyage as daring as Magellan's with the wild sea ahead already strewn with wreckage and haunted by confused, faint cries.

I have no idea, of course, what the Editors of the Times will think of the college opening we witness here today or on what page they will report it but I know very well what our emotions ought to be. We should see ourselves as gathered, not on the comfort of folding chairs under an autumn tent in a quiet inland valley, but on a promontory steep as the Butt of Lewis from which we peer into the driving sleet for a last glimpse of brave departing sails.

I persist in my metaphor not for the metaphor's sake but for the truth's. What is new, and newly exciting, about this occasion is precisely the sense of departure, of adventure, of voyage. We are now in the sixth or seventh year of what, following the mellifluous Irish, we might well call The Troubles--meaning, of course, The Troubles in the University. And the opening of Hampshire College is the first action I can think of seriously aimed at doing something about them.

Down to this time, universities and colleges have acted defensively if at all. They have treated The Troubles as private, or at least internal, ructions between their students and themselves, and have attempted only to gird themselves for each Putsch as it came along. Parietal Rules have been modified not to say abolished. Administrative procedures, meaning disciplinary procedures, have been altered. Relations with the community have been reconsidered and frequently improved. A few changes of a public-relations, rather than a scholarly, significance have been offered in the curricula. But no important, positive efforts have been made by those best equipped to make them, which is to say by university and college faculties, to determine what these famous Troubles actually are or how they affect--should affect--the University's undertaking to educate the young.

We have been hearing, in the last few days, about the development of new police methods for academic use, including body guards for presidents and the F.B.I. on twenty-four hour alert. We have seen a good bit of faculty linen, not all of it well washed, hung out to dry. We have learned that there are still courageous Chancellors prepared to battle not so courageous Regents to the verge of coronary and beyond. But the only confident educational pronouncements of this troubled time have issued, not from the Colleges or universities, but from Mr. Spiro Agnew. And all Mr. Spiro Agnew has had to tell us is that the whole thing is the doing of wicked boys and girls egged on by "the disgusting and permissive attitude of the people in command of the...campuses." By which Mr. Agnew means that the Troubles would go away if only the trouble-makers were eradicated...

This unfortunately, is a conclusion which fails to satisfy. Those who know most about these wicked boys and girls--the men and women who teach them--are pretty well agreed that, far from being a generation of criminal delinquents, this new generation of the young constitutes the hope of the world--such hope, that is, as this raddled, soiled, abused, exploited world still has. The contemporary young have their faults, obviously. They include in their number the usual shoddy elements familiar to every undergraduate generation: the campus politician, the adolescent marching and shouting association and the plain bad actor--together with a new phenomenon, a certain scattering of young exploiters of the idealism of the young for whom there is no adequate epithet. But by and large the contemporary young are nevertheless, and have been for some years back, the most deeply concerned, the most humanly committed, generation we have seen in this century with the single exception of the returning veterans of the Second War.

But though it is fairly clear to those who face these facts that Mr. Agnew's simple explanation explains nothing but Mr. Agnew, it is still true that no other explanation has been forthcoming. No one--no one at least in a position to do anything about it--seems to have asked the next, the crucial, question...until Hampshire. If Mr. Agnew is wrong--if The Troubles cannot be blamed on some sudden, mysterious plague of viciousness affecting an entire generation of the young--where then shall the blame be put? How are we to explain the restlessness, rebellion, indignation, violence in college after college, university after university, from one coast of this country to the other and in Europe as well as the Americas, Asia as well as Europe?

This would seem to be the one inescapable question of the time, and particularly for the teachers of the time, for the scholars, for the faculties in all of their disciplines. If The Troubles are not "student troubles" in the simple-minded Agnew sense they must be something other than "student troubles." They must afflict the universities and colleges, not because the university, the college, has a particular relation to the young, but because it has a particular relation to something else. But what else?

The established faculties have not told us, but Hampshire College, struggling to draw first breath, has faced at least the question and has hazarded an answer of its own. It sees the "something else" with which the university, the college, has to do, as something existing not within the academic pale but outside it in the time, in what we used to call the world. The Troubles, that is to say, are not disciplinary troubles whatever the politicians, the hard hats and the middle-aged generally may say about them. Neither are they, as the more romantic of the young believe, "revolutionary"--meaning political--troubles. They are troubles at the heart of human life, troubles in the culture itself, in the civilization, in the state of the civilization--troubles which cannot be cured by ranting at the government, however misguided or misdirected government may be, or by sending in the national guard, whatever the provocation, but only by restoring the culture to wholeness and to health--which means, by restoring the precarious balance between the society and the self which defines the culture at any given place or time. And that restoration, Hampshire College believes, is the business of the college, of the university.

I may not be summarizing the College's beliefs precisely for the crucial word, culture, means more to me, I must confess, than it seems to mean to learned men quoted in Hampshire's working papers. But on the essential question, the question of the responsibility of the college, of the university, I am not, I think, far wrong. Hampshire proposes--explicitly proposes--to accept for itself a responsibility for the restoration, for the maintenance, of the difficult balance between society and self. And in that acceptance it seems to me not only courageous but entirely right. That balance is the business of the universities and colleges.

Individuals--thinkers, organizations of thinkers, philosophers--can help. A true statesman, another Jefferson, even another Wilson, would be a Godsend. But it is the university, the college, which must bear the brunt of the responsibility because it is the university, the college, which is the trustee of the culture, the trustee of the state of the civilization, the trustee of the means by which the civilization descends from the always disappearing past into that eternal becoming which we call the present.

And it is as trustee of the culture that the university has failed in these years in which the culture has lost its human values and deteriorated into a mere technology which exploits knowledge as it exploits everything else, using even science itself not as a means for the advancement of civilization and the enrichment of life but as a ground for gadgetry and invention regardless of the human value of the thing invented, so that the triumphs of the epoch make no distinction between the glories of modern medicine and the horrors of modern war. When a civilization can declare tacitly and even explicitly that whatever can be concocted must be concocted regardless of the human consequences, we are already far into that disastrous epoch for which Yeats provided the image and the name:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold...

Hampshire College, to its eternal credit, has dared to face Yeats' vision and the reading of history which underlies that vision. It has accepted as the critical contemporary fact the failure of the balance between society and self and has found the reason for that failure in the dehumanizing of the culture on one side and the dehumanizing of the self upon the other: the conversion of a once diverse and fruitful human culture into a crassly technological semi-culture, and the withdrawal of the withered self toward the uttermost wilderness of the self--toward that desert of solipsism in which some ghostly modern selves already wander. Moreover, having accepted the failure of the balance as the underlying ill, Hampshire has gone on to make the restoration of the balance its explicit undertaking: it has committed itself "to a view of liberal education" (I am quoting) "as a vehicle for the realization of self in society"--and it underlines the in.

It is a measure of the decline of the human in this sorry age that, far from resounding as a declaration of the obvious these words ring like trumpets--like the first courageous trumpets we have heard since The Troubles began. What would once have been a platitude becomes a call to arms. It is only, of course, in society that a self can ever be realized--in what John Keats called the arable field of events. But what would have been self-evident to the Father of the University of Virginia comes as a shock of blinding revelation to the generation of the depraved Los Angeles murders and the cold-blooded tortures in Connecticut and the brutal killings in Ohio and Mississippi. We suddenly see, as we reflect upon those words, what the self which has turned its back on society can become, and what society can be without the sense of self.

Our generation is the first in American history to understand what Daniel Webster meant when he cried, in those dark decades before the Civil War, "Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever." Even Emerson misread him. Emerson rejected "Union" in that context as the young today reject what they have christened, the Establishment. Liberty was all that mattered--human decency--the freedom of the slaves. But when the Civil War finally came Lincoln took his stand where Webster had taken his--upon the preservation of the Union. For without the Union there could be no Liberty. And this, as always with Lincoln, was no such shrewd political calculation as we know so well today. It was human truth. Yeats's truth. Without a center that can hold, "things fall apart...The falcon cannot hear the falconer." Without a center that can hold, human liberty becomes an inhuman liberty to mutilate and murder. Without a center that can hold, freedom becomes the opposite of freedom.

Only when freedom is as human as humanity is free can a nation of free men exist. Only when the balance between society and self is both harmonious and whole can there truly be a self or truly a society. Hampshire has been founded on that proposition.

I do not know, ladies and gentlemen, how it is with you, but as I think for myself of this all but impossible commitment, and as I look around at the faces of the men and women who have made it, I feel a surge of excited hope. In a time like ours, it is only the impossible commitments which are believable, for only the impossible commitments are now worth making. If the probabilities of the future overwhelm us there will be no future which men, as we have known men in the past, will wish to live. It is precisely the probabilities--even the certainties--that must change. And only education can perform that miracle.

I think we may be present at a greater moment than we know. (p.2-4)

The First Hampshire College Catalog

Hampshire College, 1970. Click here to download a pdf of the full catalog.

Some Base Points of Hampshire's Planning

The Idea that Hampshire's Campus is the World. Without intended pretentiousness or melodrama, the curriculum of Hampshire aims at overcoming a dichotomy between "academic" and "real" life, which may seem irrelevant and unimportant to an older generation but is very much a reality for many undergraduates. The academic program of Hampshire College is intended to utilize field experience actively in connection with course work, to allow students time out either before or during college for extended leaves, and to use the January Term for off-campus work and study projects, especially after the student's first year.

The College does not take a passive position of permissiveness in this area, but intends to cultivate purposefulness, not opportunity for random drift...

The Idea of Academic Coordination with Related Colleges. In practice, Hampshire's academic program is planned to complement in useful ways the programs of the other Valley institutions (Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts), to offer their students certain distinctive opportunities at Hampshire, to avoid wasteful duplication of offerings, and to enable Hampshire students to pursue certain advanced or special studies on the other campuses.

The Idea of Academic Program Flexibility and Student Responsibility. Hampshire College's academic program will offer students work in a variety of basic, intermediate, and advanced studies. But an accumulation of any given combination of courses is neither compulsory nor equivalent to satisfactory completion of the collegiate phase of education...

The Idea of the Student as Teacher. A principal concern of Hampshire's academic program is the active and practical preparation of students to teach themselves. And students will be engaged in teaching others through leading discussion seminars, through acting as assistants to faculty in classes and through serving as tutors and research associates...

The Idea of the Teacher as Teacher. The view expressed above is complemented at Hampshire by a stress on the central role of the teacher. The faculty at Hampshire, as at any college worth the name, will be more important than the organized curriculum. In Hampshire's program, with its emphasis on enabling the student to teach himself, a strong faculty role will be indispensable. If students are to become scholars, in the sense of having the will and ability to pursue learning on their own, they cannot do so in an atmosphere where the adult models available to them are neutral...

The Idea of Technology and Learning. The College proposes to be bold in exploring the potential educational and economic advantages of new technologies for the support of learning. The College intends not only to use new technologies where it is sensible and economically possible to do so, but to introduce its students to their meaning and use as a part of liberal education in the present age...

The Idea of Successive Approximations. Curriculum development is a continual process; it is not possible to prescribe a fixed curriculum which will remain adequate to the demands liberal education must meet in a world of revolutionary change. Hampshire's academic program will arise out of a continuous process of phased planning or approximations in which a variety of people play important parts.

The Idea of Continuing Self-Study. Along with academic program development by successive approximations, Hampshire subscribes to the view that continual evaluation of all of its work is essential. Institutional "self-studies" on an occasional basis are helpful. But for an experimenting college to be what it claims to be, there must be provision for steady observation, assessment, and interpretation of the consequences of the enterprise...

The Idea of Maintaining an Innovative Climate. The preceding two paragraphs are integrally related to a third view Hampshire represents: that what starts as an experimenting college should continue to be one. An initial innovative stance can too easily soften into institutional stasis. Academic program development by successive approximations, backed up by a process of continuous evaluation, will help to maintain an innovative climate. But more will be required than this... (p.26-29)

What Hampshire College is NOT

The publications of Hampshire College, including this catalog, are aimed at stating affirmatively what Hampshire will be; it may be useful to state as explicitly as possible what Hampshire will not be.

  1. Hampshire does not assume that a student can pursue only his self-defined interest in the College. Many of the comprehensive examinations will require the integration of materials from a wide number of fields, and passing those examinations will require a reasonable mastery of those fields. Though there are no "required courses" in the conventional sense, there are required examinations and most students will find it advisable to take a full program of courses in order to prepare for them. In short, the college sees its obligation as encouraging the expansion of a student's definition of relevance, not pandering to it.
  2. Hampshire does not assume that a student is the only reasonable judge of his own educational progress. The rigorous, periodic examinations, requiring hard work in preparation, will provide feedback essential for any education.
  3. Hampshire does not assume that learning is a relaxed or casual experience. The system of not assigning grades in courses is a means of achieving higher standards, not a guarantee that any minimal amount of work will do.
  4. Hampshire does not assume that the intellectual tradition of the West is irrelevant to the growth and development of its students or the solution of pressing social problems. To the contrary, the College is committed to the proposition that engagement with this tradition is essential for any person wishing to obtain a liberal education.
  5. Hampshire will not assume that all of its students are capable of full independent work from the first day of their stay at the College. Rather, Hampshire assumes that all students can become capable of such work, but that it takes time and a great deal of effort.
  6. Hampshire does not assume that field work is separate from theoretical work. To the contrary, field work makes sense only when it is coupled with an obligation to abstract from the data defensible generalizations.
  7. The Hampshire governance arrangements will not be egalitarian; they will be hierarchical. To be involved, informed, and participating will be the responsibility and right of every member of the community; but experience, past performance, and a definition of role will determine the decision-making arrangements. (p.52)

The First Commencement Address

by Franklin Patterson. May 22, 1971. Click here to download a pdf of the full address.

I am now ending my fifth year as Hampshire's first President, and I may be forgiven if I speak to what I think the College is not and should not be, what it is and what it should be at this moment in time, when our first phase is coming to an end. For the sake of brevity, let me put these things into two simple statements.

To begin with constraints, there certainly are some things I think Hampshire is not and should not be. Without expecting a tidal wave of consensual enthusiasm about these views, I think you should know them, and I want the record at the end of my fifth year to show them, for whatever the future may find them worth. Time today does not permit me to explicate these matters, but only to mention them. I will trust to your generosity of mind and spirit to supply the rationale that might be behind each of these, even if you don't find yourself in agreement with them.

  1. For one thing, Hampshire is not, and I think it should not pretend to be, divorced from the long, and at best great, tradition of disciplined free inquiry and expression, struggled for and built by people and institutions before our time. It is highly unlikely that Hampshire will either survive or, what is more important, have a really useful role in students' lives or the society, if it assumes with unconsciously arrogant naivete that it can exist meaningfully outside the great tradition of disciplined free inquiry and expression. Our task as an experimenting college is not to turn our backs on this tradition, but to enlarge it and help give it new life.
  2. In line with this, Hampshire is not and should not pretend to be an apocalyptic or utopian New Jerusalem in which none of the hard-won standards of mind and art need apply, on the assumption that all that matters anymore is a subjectivism in which reality is whatever one says it is. Hampshire is not, and cannot as an institution of learning, be dedicated to turning the egocentric predicament into an educational philosophy.
  3. Intellectually and artistically, learning at Hampshire cannot be excused from the tests of validity and quality that disciplined free inquiry and expression must face everywhere if they are to mean anything. Being an experimenting College does not mean being without an essential structure that reflects the responsibility of scholars and artists, nor does it mean being without standards.
  4. Further, in keeping with the tradition of free inquiry and free expression that Hampshire continues, this College is not and should never be an instrument of politics to be used by anyone--Right or Left or Center--who thinks he has a monopoly on truth and who claims a right to bend the institution and its people to his special dogma or unique, revealed wisdom.

At the heart of the matter these are some of the things that I see Hampshire must not be. One other thing, beyond but integral to the central search for truth and beauty in the house of intellect and art, is that Hampshire does not--and should not--and cannot--exist in a value vacuum.

To say that the College must not be anyone's instrument of political power is not to say that the College and its people should be or are uncommitted to moral values. It is a special and dangerous nonsense to argue that an institution of higher education must be like a political party, expressing and seeking to enforce conformity to moral values by political means. I find that those who argue so are usually armed by an abysmally ignorant self-righteousness and quite prepared to argue for the death of the college and university as free market places of ideas and values. When they speak, one hears again the voices of those who killed academic freedom in Germany under Hitler, in Italy under Mussolini, in Spain under Franco, and in all the Communist countries--always claiming that academic freedom was a threat. As indeed academic freedom always is a real danger to any tyranny of the Right or Left.

Hampshire, in deed as well as words, is not uncommitted to the valuing of life, of the quality of human relations, of the sentient self, of human justice, of the hard search for community, and other things. Our College does not stand in a value vacuum or without commitments to man. But the College must not be seduced or bullied into acting as though such commitments require the institution to move towards political conformity, or towards the effort to use political power, or the warping of free inquiry and free expression to fit anyone's party line. Precisely the opposite must be true. Hampshire faces a far more complex double challenge: first, to protect the integrity of free learning from those who arrogate to themselves the deadly presumptuousness of true believers, ready to stifle disagreement because They alone know the truth; and second, to make the College's undergirding moral commitments visible in our lives and effective in society without turning to a power politics which would corrupt or destroy our central educational mission. (p.2-4)


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