“The Idea of idea of a University” Still Rings True–An Unexpected Eulogy for Dr. Grady Joe Walker: Everything Old is New Again, Part II

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Dr. Grady Walker, Phd

I’ve been planning to write a blog concerning the great educational treatise “The Idea of a University” by John Henry Cardinal Newman since early December, but with the rush of finishing the semester, traveling and merry-making during the holiday, I haven’t gotten around to it until now. Planning to write, I did a little research, as I am wont to do, and came across the obituary of Dr. Grady Joe Walker, the professor at Oral Roberts University who introduced me to the work of Newman and ignited my great love for 19th Century British literature in the Victorian Era course he taught.

But Dr. Walker was not only a teacher, he was also a great mentor to his students. He engaged them on many levels, especially as faculty advisor for the literary magazine and the English Club. He even opened up his beautiful homes to us. Dr. Walker liked to buy fine old homes in disrepair, fix them up, replant their gardens, fill them with antiques and then sell them. During this process he would invite students over for club meetings and Christmas parties. Those meetings were such fun! After a tour of the house, where he would show us all the different rooms furnished with incredible antiques he purchased on trips to Europe, Dr. Walker would serve all this great food and we would eat and laugh as well as talk about literature and writing. Sometimes Dr. Walker invited a writer to come and read his or her work to us. Sometimes we read our own work or read from a favorite work of ours. He made us all feel important–that our ideas mattered.

I remember Dr. Walker’s Victorian literature course to be one of the most challenging that I had as an undergraduate. The class was small, the reading load demanding, but by that time I had learned that if I didn’t read, I was going to be greatly embarrassed in Dr. Walker’s class and for me during that time avoiding embarrassment was one of my primary motivations. (Oh, how times have changed.) So even though the reading was difficult for me, I read the excerpts from Newman’s seminal work on education closely, and that work quite literally changed my life. After I read it, I knew I wanted to be the kind of teacher Newman was, one who didn’t just teach a subject, but taught her students how to think and strove to instill in them a love of learning for its own sake.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Newman’s work that still resonate with me to this day, especially now as the country seems to be moving away from valuing the study of the liberal arts:

  • I have said already, that to give undue prominence to one [discipline] is to be unjust to another; to neglect or supersede these is to divert those from their proper object. It is to unsettle the boundary lines between science and science, to disturb their action, to destroy the harmony which binds them together. Such a proceeding will have a corresponding effect when introduced into a place of education. There is no science but tells a different tale, when viewed as a portion of a whole, from what it is likely to suggest when taken by itself, without the safeguard, as I may call it, of others (Discourse 5.1).
  • Hence it is that his education is called “Liberal.” A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom (Discourse 5.1).
  • Cautious and practical thinkers, I say, will ask of me, what, after all, is the gain of this Philosophy, of which I make such account, and from which I promise so much….I am asked what is the end of University Education, and of the Liberal or Philosophical Knowledge which I conceive it to impart: I answer, that what I have already {103} said has been sufficient to show that it has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end, though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward….I would maintain, and mean to show, that it is an object, in its own nature so really and undeniably good, as to be the compensation of a great deal of thought in the compassing, and a great deal of trouble in the attaining (Discourse 5.2).
  • But education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character; it is something individual and permanent, and is commonly spoken of in connexion with religion and virtue. When, then, we speak of the communication of Knowledge as being Education, we thereby really imply that that Knowledge is a state or condition of mind; and since cultivation of mind is surely worth seeking for its own sake, we are thus brought once more to the conclusion, which the word “Liberal” and the word “Philosophy” have already suggested, that there is a Knowledge, which is desirable, though nothing come of it, as being of itself a treasure, and a sufficient remuneration of years of labour (Discourse 5.6)
  • The artist puts before him beauty of feature and form; the poet, beauty of mind; the preacher, the beauty of grace: then intellect too, I repeat, has its beauty, and it has those who aim at it. To open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, eloquent expression, is an object as intelligible…as the cultivation of virtue, while, at the same time, it is absolutely distinct from it (Discourse 5.9).

And my favorite passage of all:

  • I say, let us take “useful” to mean, not what is simply {164} good, but what tends to good, or is the instrument of good; and in this sense also…I will show you how a liberal education is truly and fully a useful, though it be not a professional, education. “Good” indeed means one thing, and “useful” means another; but I lay it down as a principle, which will save us a great deal of anxiety, that, though the useful is not always good, the good is always useful. Good is not only good, but reproductive of good; this is one of its attributes; nothing is excellent, beautiful, perfect, desirable for its own sake, but it overflows, and spreads the likeness of itself all around it. Good is prolific; it is not only good to the eye, but to the taste; it not only attracts us, but it communicates itself; it excites first our admiration and love, then our desire and our gratitude, and that, in proportion to its intenseness and fulness in particular instances. A great good will impart great good. If then the intellect is so excellent a portion of us, and its cultivation so excellent, it is not only beautiful, perfect, admirable, and noble in itself, but in a true and high sense it must be useful to the possessor and to all around him; not useful in any low, mechanical, mercantile sense, but as diffusing good, or as a blessing, or a gift, or power, or a treasure, first to the owner, then through him to the world. I say then, if a liberal education be good, it must necessarily be useful too (Discourse 7.5).

Don’t let anyone dissuade a student from studying what he or she wants to study. Don’t ask of your daughter or son, what kind of job will you get with that degree? Ask instead, are you interested enough in this subject to study in college to learn how to think and get a good liberal arts education? If the answer is “yes,” then that education will be well worth it and that student’s life will be made richer–better.

Thanks to Dr. Grady Walker and other professors like him, my life has been made better by my education–more than simply a path to a job.

Here’s a link to the whole work if you would like to read it. I hope you will.  http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/

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