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The Good of This Place

The Good of This Place: Values and Challenges in College Education

Richard H. Brodhead
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Good of This Place
    Book Description:

    This eloquent collection of essays and speeches by Richard H. Brodhead addresses issues of importance to institutes of higher learning and to those who participate in them. As the popular Dean of Yale College from 1993 to 2004, Brodhead was involved in every aspect of undergraduate education-curriculum, faculty appointments, and student life-and occupied a unique position from which to ponder the ways that college can prepare young people to lead fulfilling lives.

    One of Dean Brodhead's responsibilities was to welcome new students to Yale at the annual Freshman Assembly, and this book presents his engaging remarks as he simultaneously reassured and challenged them. The later sections of the book range through various concerns of the contemporary university, from free speech and diversity issues to sexual harassment policy, residential education, the assessment of academic programs, and the complex and competing goals of college admissions.

    At once reflective, witty, and wise, this book speaks to students and educators alike, to all who hope to become-or shape others to become-thoughtful and constructive members of society.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12781-2
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Richard H. Brodhead

      (pp. 3-9)

      Parents, colleagues, and Men and Women of the Freshman Class: It is an enormous pleasure to welcome the Class of 1997 to Yale.

      I look out at you and see a group of people literally in suspense, between settled states. You have recently been at home in one or several kinds of homes (a family, a school, a community), but you have moved away from them in coming here. Soon enough you will have made a new home at Yale, but you are not at home here yet. Such a state invites meditation on what a home is, and what...

      (pp. 10-16)

      Mr. president, colleagues, parents, greetings. Excuse me if I address my remarks to the impressive group before me, the new recruits to Yale College.

      You may think that this is a merely ceremonial occasion, a chance to overawe you with monumental architecture and academic finery. My own guess is that this assembly has a serious function: not just to let you see yourself as a class, but to remedy a slight defect in the Yale admissions process. While at this time last year you looked to colleges merely as anxious hopers, and whereas now you’re not just “in” but so...

      (pp. 17-22)

      Mr. president, colleagues, parents, I extend a warm welcome on this great occasion. But I reserve my most enthusiastic welcome for you, the Men and Women of the Yale College Class of 1999. A line from Shakespeare that sets the high-water mark in the literature of welcomes says just what I feel on your arrival: you are “welcome hither as is the spring to the earth.” All summer we’ve been waiting for your coming. Everything we know about you tells us that you bring a great surge of vitality to our collective world. So welcome: we rejoice that you have...

    • 2000 AND YOU
      (pp. 23-29)

      Mr. president, colleagues, families, and friends, please join me in welcoming the Yale College Class of 2000. Men and Women of the Class of 2000, I rejoice to greet you, and to administer the mystic gestures that admit you to citizenship in Yale College. I’m told that in some places this occasion is used to inspire new recruits with the all-but-incapacitating rigor of the ordeal that lies ahead. “Look to the right; look to the left,” the designated authoritarian is supposed to say; “the program you’re entering is so strenuous that only one of every two of you will make...

      (pp. 30-36)

      What an astonishing coincidence! My friends and I have set out for a stroll, and who should we run into but the Yale College Class of 2001! By yet more amazing chance, we had decided to try out our academic casualwear, and you too have gone in for an elegant formality! What could this massive fashion statement mean? We have put on non-customary outfits to mark an extra-ordinary occasion: the start of a great new life. Think of it. You are released forever from the stressful and absorbing work of getting into college. No more standardized testing for you, no...

      (pp. 37-43)

      Mr. president, colleagues, parents, suspiciously well-dressed men and women sitting here before me: I am concerned because we have detected a defect in your college entrance. Here you are, already very successfully impersonating Yale students, indeed already acting as if you own the place. But I know you know, deep down, that you have failed to have the experience of officially entering Yale. You were admitted here, a fairly official act, but college was then still far ahead of you. All summer you have received our mailings, but as it drew nearer Yale was still at a distance. You have...

      (pp. 44-51)

      Mr. president, colleagues, proud parents, and families, I welcome you to this great ceremony of renewal. Men and Women of the Yale College Class of 2003, I welcome you to your new home. Your arrival is cause for jubilation. Yale is supremely rich in educational resources, but Yale has annual need of people like you to actuate its promise. If we rejoice at the sight of you, it is because your high-spirited creativity and intelligence are the catalysts we need to make the reaction work. If you yourselves should feel some mild joy at this moment, well, who could blame...

      (pp. 52-58)

      Mr. president, colleagues, friends of the shining youth sitting here before me, I welcome you to this great event. Members of the Class of 2004, the 300th class to enter this school, I welcome you to Yale. Judging by the imposing setting and the plumage of the rare birds up on this stage, this is a moment for high pomp and ceremony. I won’t deny its solemnity, but I would have thought the right mood for this occasion was festive, and I could hardly blame you, Yale’s newest recruits, if you were to let out a whoop of joy. As...

      (pp. 59-65)

      I have a special message for each seating zone. To those behind me in the choice seats on stage: Mr. President, colorful colleagues, another year begins. Welcome back to our inspiring work. Turning now to the first balcony and the yet more exalted nosebleed section of this great hall: Parents of our new class, I rejoice with you on this happy day. With your help and support, your young friend has got into one of the great universities in this land. More significant by far, with your loving assistance, this child has grown into the sort of a person who...

      (pp. 66-72)

      Shortly after I began thinking about this occasion, theNew York Timescarried a story about the spacecrafts Voyager 1 and 2. Launched more than 20 years ago, these crafts have taught us most of what we know of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune and, having passed far beyond Pluto, they are poised to make the first human register of the heliopause, the outer edge of the solar system. This story put me in mind of those rocket launches that once made great theater with their rhythm of countdown, then that curious moment when the booster rocket broke as the spacecraft...

      (pp. 73-80)

      In a custom observed since time immemorial, the Freshman Assembly is held on the first full day after students arrive at Yale. With its pomp and solemnity, this event serves at least three important ceremonial functions. First, it thanks parents for raising the prodigies who will now be our students and readies them for the hard work of saying goodbye. Second, it marks the official moment of entry of new students into Yale College, as a symmetrical ceremony four years later will mark their exit. Third and most crucially, this ceremony does the work of orientation, conjuring an inspiring vision...


      (pp. 83-87)

      In early May I was asked if I would write some thoughts for publication inThe New Journal.For several reasons I was pleased to agree. The editor who asked was a former student; I have a long-standing admiration for this journal, which was founded by friends of mine in undergraduate years; and the terms of the request were exceptionally easy—my piece could be on any subject, and I’d have the whole summer to write it.

      The whole summer having flown by, packed with days when I could have written my piece if only it had seemed a little...

      (pp. 88-97)

      There once was a time when literate culture—the things educated people know and believe other people should know — possessed certain well-marked features. The contents of literate culture were internally coherent; they were widely agreed to; and above all they were agreed to be universal in their interest or meaning. What happened in education, according to this understanding, was that we came out of whatever local, parochial origin we happened to have been born in to meet on the ground of the universally significant. In literature, we studied the work not of those who expressed themselves “like us” but of...

      (pp. 98-100)

      I agree as a general thing that administrators should be seen and not heard, but occasionally an issue arises so central to our life together that it seems wrong for the Dean to hold his peace.

      But having summoned my nerve and edged forward to speak, I find that I lack a channel, an organized means of public address. With thanks to the editors, I here avail myself of the opinion-molding powers of the daily press. Heed my words or I may have to resort to heavier weaponry: talk radio?

      The time of year is here for choosing whether to...

      (pp. 101-103)

      I have written the Provost to request a reconsideration of the policy on sexual harassment as outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

      Yale’s policy is unambiguous in stating that “sexual harassment is antithetical to academic values and to a work environment free from the fact or appearance of coercion.” This is as it should be. Sexual harassment represents a serious misapplication of the power a teacher has over a student. It introduces altogether inappropriate dimensions into the pedagogical relationship, skewing the essential activities of evaluation, advising, and so on. For this reason, our commitment as educators must lead us to condemn...

      (pp. 104-126)

      The publication of Eudora Welty’sOne Writer’s Beginningsin 1984 was a surprise in several ways. This book represented, first, a breaking of a fairly prolonged silence. Although Welty had published her selected essays in 1978 and her collected stories in 1980, no wholly new work had appeared sinceThe Optimist’s Daughterin 1972, and Welty had seemed comfortably settled into the final phase of a certain sort of literary life: collecting honors and prizes for lifetime achievement, good-naturedly personifying the distinguished author on public occasions, sometimes reading from her beloved stories but no longer pretending to produce. At the...

      (pp. 127-132)

      I have only ever made one prediction that came true. Having vowed that I would never thereafter speak on the subject, I addressed the history of millennial expectation in my freshman address to the class of 2000. In what some later called my “odometer speech,” I cited the pathetic utterance of one participant in the American millennial excitement of the 1840s when the world didn’t end on the appointed day—“still in the cold world”—and I predicted that our own millennial moment would be something similar: a thumping anticlimax.

      Lo, it came to pass. The magic moment came and...

      (pp. 133-153)

      In our world, the notion that the prospects for democracy rest on the health of the education system has the status of a self-evident truth. A person my age won’t have known a time when the fate of democracy was not felt to be riding on developments in the schools. The year I started fifth grade, I listened every morning to radio news of the struggle to integrate the public schools of Little Rock, Arkansas—news that made the schoolhouse, the unremarkable scene of my own daily life, appear as the site of the war against systematic inequality in America....

      (pp. 154-167)

      I have been asked to address the subject of free speech in the university. I begin with a fact you may not know. Yale was founded 300 years ago, but it was emphatically not founded on the principle of free speech or free inquiry. Yale’s creators founded a second New England college in no small part to cure the freethinking they felt had descended on Harvard. Their intention was to create a place where an undeviating Protestant Congregationalist orthodoxy could be passed intact from teacher to student until the end of time. In Yale’s founding document, the charter of what...

      (pp. 168-182)

      I am a professor of literature, but for the past eight years I have worked in the administration of my university, and this has yielded losses and gains. On the one hand, I have been much less involved in my own projects and the state of play in my discipline. In compensation, my “day” job has given me a clearer sense of the university as a whole and how it has shaped itself in response to a changing world. My colleagues will deliver the intellectual goods you came for, but I hope you will pardon me if I address our...


      (pp. 185-188)

      Three hundred years: this place is getting seriously old! In fact the school that once dipped its stones in acidic baths to give them an air of antiquity begins to be as old as it once wished to seem! How are we to think of this amassing antiquity? One effect of Yale’s tercentennial is to underscore how little time any of us spends thinking about Yale’s history, and by my lights, this is not a failure. Though they also conserve the past, universities exist to supply knowledge for the future world, and their natural look is ahead, not behind. But...

      (pp. 189-204)

      Yale college education has changed dramatically throughout its history, and this report seeks to make further changes. Nevertheless, as the context for these innovations, we begin by affirming the philosophy of education that Yale has long embraced. The notion is familiar but is worth a brief review.

      Liberal arts education aims to train a broadly based, highly disciplined intelligence without specifying in advance what that intelligence will be used for. In many parts of the world, a student’s entry into higher education coincides with the choice of a field or profession, and the function of education is to provide training...


      (pp. 207-210)

      Four years ago, when this place was in no sense yet your home, we gathered in this room to welcome you to your new home. Four years later, when this school truly has become your home, we regather to prepare to evict you. For your graduation present, the English teacher in me revives to offer four short passages of verse, lines that I hope might capture some of the moods of this occasion.

      First I wanted to capture the way your life here could have been so intensely real and yet so transient, as it prepares to vanish behind you....

      (pp. 211-216)

      Our memories are what they are. Each of us has the memories we have, and not others. Through the chances of biography, my first Whiffenpoof memory comes from September or October 1964, the fall of my freshman year, when one of my roommates, Eugene Lyman, brought a recent Whiffenpoofs record back to our Wright Hall suite. He had bought it, I suppose, in a burst of school spirit, or possibly in the thought that it would help us acculturate ourselves to the Yale milieu. But in a room more attuned to the early Beatles and early Dylan, the Whiffenpoofs’ harmonies...

      (pp. 217-222)

      I thank you all for this exceptionally warm welcome. When you know me you won’t often find me at a loss for words, but you’ll pardon me if I’m a little overwhelmed. This is one of the great moments of my life.

      Let me tell you a true story. I had been brought down to Durham, in thick disguise, for a final stealth interview last Friday, and since there was a blizzard going on where I come from, my trip home was complex. I could only fly as far as Washington, and in my circuitous journey from that point forward,...

  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)