Dr. Andrew Groft
In 1994, I skeptically attended an evening class taught by Cleon Skousen and Oliver DeMille. I was doubtful because I wondered whether a school with no football team or large buildings could really offer a quality educational experience. Still, I was intrigued by a friend’s report that:
…in this school freedom matters, original sources and classics are read and discussed, and professors (we call them mentors) really want the students to discuss, debate and learn not just what will be on the test, but how to think, communicate, persuade and really understand.
So there I was on day one, in this new, odd environment, listening to these two “mentors” engage us. Twenty minutes into the presentation, sitting in the back of the room with my face hidden from view by my hand and a downward glance, I found myself fighting back tears.
The reaction was not characteristic of me. One might say that I was just tired or emotionally primed that day, but I believe that it was much more. What was being taught and the manner in which they were teaching it rang true to me and struck me with a force I hadn’t anticipated. There are some serious problems in the world, they said, and serious flaws in the way educational and political institutions seek to address them. We are taught, for example, that the most important thing in life is to get a job and then work toward retirement, but what about getting an education in the great conversation of the ages, becoming a better human being, and finding and fulfilling your life’s mission? The world needs statesmen, they said. It needs men and women who possess characteristics of public and private virtue, wisdom, diplomacy, courage, and an understanding of humanity through history, government, literature, philosophy, science and religion. It needs men and women who will inspire each other to greatness, and move the precious cause of human freedom as part of their life’s mission. Ample jobs and business opportunities would naturally come to those dedicated to this pursuit. The training that dominates nearly every school in America may lead to wealth, but who is spending time truly educating mankind to engage in the great conversation? Who is educating for freedom? And without freedom, will the wealth and comfort experienced over the last 150 years last?
The tears and emotion came because I felt I was being taught to seek for truth, not just for good grades. I believed what these two men said: that I was meant to live a life of purpose and mission in serving a cause greater than myself. To do this, I was convinced that I must pay the heavy price of intense and focused study in the classics; and I must do it in an environment of learning where others were immersed in the same quest. This school was very small. No large buildings or football team. So I was surprised as I sat there and realized that this was the school for me.
Roughly 15 years have passed since that evening with Cleon and Oliver. I believed them then about the need for statesmen, but never have I felt the urgency so acutely as I feel it right now in 2009. So much good and so many good people exist in the world, yet nearly everyone I speak with shares similar concerns that things are unraveling. America was built on principles of freedom, responsibility, hard work, ingenuity, industry, invention, strong local governments, limited national government, active citizenship and public service. Yet many of these principles and virtues are disappearing. They are being replaced by dependence, finger-pointing, laziness, apathy, bureaucracy, the aristocratic tendencies in a few licensed and credentialed elite, and the plebeian tendencies in a mass of highly trained but poorly educated employees. Although I believe America's best years are still ahead, we currently find ourselves in a rut of ever-centralizing, ever-expanding federal government that promises to take care of us in ways reminiscent of the France of Louis XV, or the Rome of Diocletian. And remember, these were places and times where citizens weren’t necessarily tyrannized by their government, but where leaders convinced people through policies and promises to remain dependent children, and to trade their liberties for an illusive security.
The last several months have been difficult for most businesses and families. But with challenges come blessings and opportunities. Innovations have taken place at GWU that might never have happened if it weren’t for these economic challenges. First I want to share an update on the institution, and then some ways that you can help GWU and this most worthy of all causes, that of liberty.
1. In my last message at the beginning of the summer I provided an update on our accreditation efforts. Since then we have also initiated discussions with two accredited universities who are interested in creating articulation agreements—explicit agreements for the transfer of credit between two schools. Dr. Schulthies is currently working with these schools to start what we hope will be several collaborative efforts of this kind.
2. In the past, our efforts to provide quality customer service outside the classroom were hampered by unconnected software programs. One system managed finances, another handled academic records, another customer relationship, yet another assignments for off-campus students–and none of these systems were able to talk to each other.
We are now in the process of implementing an integrated information systems solution that centralizes these processes. Already, students can apply online, submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Shortly, students will be able to register online, view their transcript and financial account information, monitor their progress toward graduation and much more. All of this will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the comfort of home.
These are only a few of the tools provided by this new system which will increase speed, accuracy and transparency. The new changes also reduce the manpower required to manage this information and are part of the reason we have been able to lower tuition. You can visit our Online Services website (OLS) and create your own account at http://ols.gw.edu.
3. We began teaching online courses on May 18th and they have gone even better than expected. We carefully selected the most advanced online classroom platform in an effort to create an environment most similar to an actual on-campus class. Our classes are not just places for interesting lectures that convey information, they are environments of learning, discussing, presenting, and analyzing. For this reason we could not use an interface that simply allowed people to observe a lecture and chat. Happily, we found that once a short learning curve is traversed, students are able to easily engage in lectures with discussion, colloquia, breakout groups, presentations, application sharing, PowerPoint, video conferencing, whiteboard activities, and more. Demand was so high for our first online course that we had to train five mentors for our first launch during the summer semester, and every one of them has expressed to me their surprise at how powerful these tools are. Dr. Schulthies, an early skeptic of online classes, told me that he has been amazed at how easy it is to create an interactive classroom experience similar to those on campus. Nels Jensen, a popular mentor at GW, said that although he was doubtful at first, he feels that there are some advantages and valuable tools available in our online classes that, as he put it, “simply cannot be duplicated in the classroom.” Clearly, this program will grow faster than we expected. You can learn more about these online programs at http://www.gw.edu/online.
4. We have tightened our curriculum in ways that may not have happened without the prodding of economic challenges and helpful accreditors. Courses remain as relevant and challenging as ever, but now they are also more consistent between on- and off-campus programs, are offered in smaller, more manageable chunks, and are easier to track through the degree process. Almost all courses alternate between two- and three-credit offerings. Assignments all share a common and straightforward theme of reading, writing and discussing the classics, yet flexibility is maintained as mentors still create custom assignments for classes and individuals based on need, interest and insights.
If you haven’t done so, I invite you to check out these improvements at http://www.gw.edu/academics. Peruse the curriculum, the titles of books and the objectives of the courses and, if you’re like me, you’ll want to stop much of what you are doing to dig into these great works with a renewed enthusiasm toward leadership and statesmanship.
5. Our courses and degree programs are now more accessible and affordable than ever before. As always, students can attend on-campus and be a part of the energy of learning and discovery that buzzes here in Cedar City or in our extension classes. Likewise, the online classroom is fascinating and offers an incredible environment for Statesmanship Education. People who are particularly busy can study on a class-by-class basis as their schedule allows. Seminars and trainings are also available and are being planned. Extension courses are filling up and we invite students in any area where sufficient interest exists to help us set up more. Indeed, the day has finally come when physical boundaries are much less a hindrance.
These are only a few of the positive changes being made at GWU. Many more are on their way.
On a personal note, I want to say thank you and best wishes to my predecessor in this position, Dr. Shanon Brooks. Shanon recently resigned from the George Wythe Foundation Board of Trustees after nearly two decades of tireless work and unbelievable personal sacrifice by him, his wife Julia and his family. GWU matured significantly under his leadership and a complete list of his accomplishments would take too long to catalog. Shanon will now be able to devote his attention to growing another institution that has promoted leadership education for so many years. Face to Face with Greatness, which Shanon founded while at GWU, has presented literally hundreds of seminars throughout North America, spreading the message of education and liberty to thousands (www.facetofacewithgreatness.com). The faculty, staff and board of GWU look forward to many more years of association with Shanon in statesmanship education and in moving the cause of liberty.
Finally, I urge you to take a close look at the state of the nation and of the world. Consider how rapidly things are changing. Then consider how important it is that each of us goes through the process of laying a foundation and finding and fulfilling our life’s mission with that little time allotted us. Nietzsche and Marx were convinced that man was without actual purpose and nothing more than an advanced animal. But it is the nobility and vast potential of our minds, spirits and hearts that separate us from the animal kingdom and give us purpose. In order to be truly human and make the most of our humanity, we must continually study and improve those attributes. As we seek greater understanding of human nature, relationships, family and state governance, history and future trends, we will become better human beings, better friends and spouses, better citizens and co-workers, and more able statesmen who are equipped to inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.
Not long after that first evening class, Dr. DeMille said something interesting to me. He said, “It seems like we have a window of opportunity where any effort to build statesmen will pay off. But history suggests that that window will not remain open for long.” Fifteen years later I am confident that the window is still open. There is still time.
Please help George Wythe University to fulfill its mission by donating and enrolling. Become a contributor and student of George Wythe today. We simply cannot wait until life gets less hectic. It won’t. Start doing the things you know you need to do now. Each of us must stop putting off our preparation to further the noble cause of liberty. We cannot "become" the American Founders, but we can learn what they knew; we can understand like they understood; we can become men and women who deserve a free republic. Now is the time.
Dr. Andrew Groft was named president of George Wythe University at a meeting of the George Wythe Foundation board of trustees in early 2009. At the time of his appointment he was serving as President of the Cedar City campus of George Wythe University. In the past he has also served as Provost and mentor at GWU. A popular speaker with youth and adults, he has taught, consulted and presented for businesses, schools and academic and governmental forums throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.