Message from President Beck A. Taylor
Whitworth has always described itself as a liberal arts intuition. Although the university's array of undergraduate and graduate programs includes an increasingly diverse set of pre-professional and professional programs, those courses of study are built upon a durable foundation of core and general education requirements that provide a common experience for all students. Recently, I've described Whitworth as a comprehensive university built on top of a liberal arts college. And despite a growing public skepticism about the value of liberal arts education, Whitworth's commitment to this broadest form of education remains strong.
St. Augustine's writings remind us that the purpose of a liberating education like the one Whitworth provides is to help us understand that, despite our deepest desires and best intentions, our hearts and minds are often drawn to those things that don't reflect the will and nature of God. Augustine says that our loves (the things we desire most) are disordered, and one purpose of education is to open our souls to those things that align us to God's intended order of things. When our assumptions are challenged, when we examine the lives of others, when we are taught to think critically about the world around us, and when we bring that same critical examination to our own lives and experiences, our disordered loves become more rightly ordered. That is the path of education in the Augustinian sense.
Enter the virtues. How might we express the product of a liberating education, one that accomplishes the ordering task that Augustine describes? For millennia, philosophers and theologians have pointed to the virtues as the human characteristics and behaviors that are discovered and developed through a liberal arts education. Christian and moral virtues like faith, hope, love, justice, wisdom, and integrity – to name just a few – are meant to infuse the hearts and lives (and loves) of those who seek after God's order. Intellectual virtues like humility, curiosity, perseverance and creativity permeate the lives of those who model the best outcomes of a liberating mind-and-heart education. So one way to describe the purpose of a liberal arts education is to say that that it enables students to discover and develop the virtues – and then to apply them to every part of life, professional, civic, and domestic. Liberally educated people are virtuous people.
Which leads us to the pine cone. Huh? Over the past two years I've had the privilege of participating in a unique project. To celebrate Whitworth's 125th anniversary last year, I commissioned a piece of art to be used at all academic convocations and ceremonies. Many colleges and universities have a physical object or icon that is used to embody the history, culture and values of their institutions. The object is brought out on special occasions, and it is often carried to lead the trustees, the president, and the faculty during formal processionals. To my knowledge, Whitworth has never had a ceremonial object like this, so a team of faculty, staff, students and I decided to explore the idea.
After months of collaboration, and in consultation with Whitworth's own Katie Creyts, associate professor of art, the Quasquicentennial Pine Cone was born (see story). In addition to reflecting the iconic symbol of our campus, the cast bronze and glass pine cone resembles a lamp of learning. The bronze top of the cone is inscribed with a quote from the original 1890 Whitworth College catalog: "...guarding well the moral and religious life of the students, ever directing them in the pursuit of that learning and culture of heart and mind that make the finished scholar."
In addition to being an iconic image of Whitworth's beautiful campus, the pine cone also reflects the seeds of learning. Like a nurturing education, the cone's sharp scales hold the hope, promise, and awesome power of something greater. (And, like Whitworth's mind-and-heart education, the cone can be a little prickly, particularly as it is handled and explored.)
Finally, 12 of the cast glass pine cone scales feature the moral and intellectual virtues chosen to represent the institution's highest aspirations for our students – faith, hope, love, wisdom, justice, humility, curiosity, courage, integrity, perseverance, charity and creativity. The text of each virtue was handwritten by a different member of the Whitworth community, signifying that out of many voices and perspectives, we come together, united in our commitment to a liberating education and to the proper ordering it provides to equip all of us to "honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity."
As always, please keep Whitworth in your prayers.