First Person

How a prudent heart gained wisdom

Having recently retired as a United Methodist bishop, and now retiring as a trustee of the University for 25 years, I come full circle to the position of bishop-in-residence of the Candler School of Theology. At the seminary's fall convocation for new students in September, faculty were invited to stand and introduce themselves. Shortly before me, Professor Brooks Holifield called his name and affirmed, "I teach history." When my turn came, I called my name and confessed, "I am history." I entered this school as a student 50 years ago this month and the college three years before that.

I have never really left Emory. My life has been inextricably interwoven with it as student, alumnus, trustee and now adjunct professor. There is no way I can measure, let alone convey, what I have received from Emory University. Suffice it to say that from these hallowed marbled halls in Druid Hills I have gotten, and still get, my orientation to life. Here I have established friendships, developed ideas, espoused causes and struggled with issues that have shaped my very being. Through Emory's liberal arts program I was set free without being set adrift. In the untrammeled search for truth, I have come to see life steady and see it whole. Here my vocational calling has been formed and informed. Through Emory's inexhaustible resources, literary and personal, I continue to nourish my mind and slake my thirst for knowledge. Now I have the added joy and satisfaction of helping to educate and equip scores of leaders for the church.

The School of Theology was the first division of the newly established University in September of 1914. It has become the largest, and certainly one of the best, of the 13 seminaries in the denomination. The Methodist Church is the taproot from which this magnificent citadel of learning springs. Emory's charter explicitly states that "The Methodist Episcopal Church South is and shall be always regarded and held to be the founder of the University." Over the decades, the main body of the bylaws has undergone periodic revisions, but the preamble has remained unaltered. It reads:
Emory University was founded by The Methodist Episcopal Church South for the promotion of the broadest intellectual culture in harmony with the democratic institutions of our country and permeated by the principles and influences of the Christian religion. It is designed to be a profoundly religious institution without being narrowly sectarian. It proposes to encourage freedom of thought as liberal as the limitations of truth, while maintaining unwavering devotion to the faith once for all delivered to the saints

Throughout the decades, the University and the church have related to one another in good faith, albeit often symbiotically. The church has never sought to run the University, control its policies, choose its faculty, dictate curricula, or restrain academic freedom. Its influence has been pervasive rather than intrusive. By the same token, the school has honored its religious heritage, espousing those purposes and adhering to those principles inherent in biblical faith. One of the strongest features of Emory today is its sterling interfaith campus ministry.

I can best explain my adulation for Emory in terms of its seal. Our coat of arms was first conceived by Professor H. H. Stone of Emory College in 1890. It is an adaptation of a verse in the 18th chapter of the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. The motto in Latin reads: Cor Prudentis Possidebit Scientiam. That means "the heart of the prudent gains knowledge (wisdom)." The word heart is key in this context.

In Holy Writ and classical literature, the heart is viewed metaphorically as the center of human personality. When we are plumbing the depths of an issue, we speak of our "heart of hearts." It is at this level that we live and experience our true selves. Education at Emory involves both heart and head, developing the whole person, acquiring wisdom as well as knowledge. The crest on the seal consists of a torch and a trumpet. We right-brained folk thrill to these images. They are fraught with great inspirational quality. The torch to enlighten, to guide, to lead. The trumpet to celebrate, to signal, to summon-yes, to herald. How better can we convey Emory's ethos-the élan vital of this generative community of knowledge. Is not our reason for being to resist all that stifles the human spirit and to champion all that enriches and ennobles life?

The late Bart Giamatti was wise, winsome and whimsical. On the very first day of his administration as president of Yale in 1978, he issued the following memo to the members of the university community:
In order to repair what Milton called the ruin of our grandparents, I wish to announce that henceforth, as a matter of university policy, evil is abolished and paradise is restored. I trust all of us will do whatever possible to achieve this policy objective.
Would that it might be so! But even God, having made us free moral agents, cannot by edict effect a new social order. We can, however, move in that direction by making Emory a University of the highest possible quality, intellectual energy and moral character.

We have a marvelous document for setting forth on such a mission. It is the report prepared by Provost Billy Frye summarizing the data derived from a comprehensive self-study involving leaders from the core constituencies of the University reflecting where we have come from, where we are now, and where we need to go. Highlighted in this call to action are the following emphases:

1) Emory's distinct heritage, positioning it for a unique leadership role in higher education with a singular opportunity to define and develop an identity all its own.

2) Building a campus community that is less impersonal, kinder, more responsive and affirming, not just for what we do, but for who we are as individuals.

3) Being guided by our own standards about what is right for Emory rather than what may be going on in other institutions.

4) A renewed sense of moral purpose and public responsibility, stressing more emphatically/explicitly the ethical dimension of everything we do.

5) Keeping our basic commitment to learning/teaching in the service of humanity, and being good neighbors and citizens in the area in which we exist.

6) As we seek to become a world-class University, being intentional about thinking and acting multiculturally and globally.

This article is reprinted from the text
of a speech given by former Emory
Trustee and United Methodist Bishop
Bevel Jones, adjunct professor at the
Candler School, at the annual banquet
of the Board of Trustees and the
Board of Visitors on Nov. 13.