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DePauw, they say, is rich with traditions.

You hear it so often from alumni, faculty, administration, trustees, and students, you almost expect Tevye the dairyman to come dancing from behind one of the trees near East College, leading a line of villagers from Anatevka in the singing of the famous opening lyric from "Fiddler on the Roof."

Perhaps all the enthusiasm's justified. Reflecting, you do find a great many traditions that combine to make DePauw a singular and well-loved school. In the pages of this lively history of her first 150 years you'll see the wellsprings of many of those traditions, in an evocative array of photographs and a splendid text prepared for the anniversary celebration by Clifton Phillips, John Baughman and their colleagues.

So by way of introduction, let me avoid any mention whatsoever of all of those traditions except two, which you might not discover through pictures. They happen to be the two I believe are most responsible for DePauw's special and lasting place in the world of American universities, and the hearts of her graduates.

The first tradition is the university's commitment to the liberal arts.

Now "liberal arts" is a term tossed around so freely and so frequently at DePauw, it might be well to pin it down. In the universities of medieval Europe, the liberal arts were seven in number, divided in two groups. The lower, or elementary grouping, was the trivium ("place where three roads meet"). It consisted of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, all of which had to be mastered for a bachelor's degree. The higher grouping was the quadrivium ("four roads"): arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music. These were required for the master's degree.

What is most significant is this. The liberal arts were generalized bodies of knowledge thought to be essential for the living of any good and useful life-and never mind the occupation of the person doing the living. Further, the disciplines required to master the liberal arts-hard work, reasoning, judgment-were considered just as important as any "facts" that were presented. This was education to improve-actually create- the adult human being. It was not career education; not physician training, for example. If that was to be undertaken, it could only come later. The basics were more important.

Centuries passed, and the Indiana Methodists chartered "a seminary of learning ... in the town or vicinity of Greencastle, in Putnam County, and State of Indiana." When they did so, they wisely upheld the tradition of the liberal arts-general, as opposed to technical or vocational, education. Professor Manhart's fine two-volume history of DePauw reports that the first 22 students enrolled in 1839-40 were offered a four-year curriculum of Latin, Greek, Mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry), History, Rhetoric, Science (including astronomy), some sort of government course, and another course dealing with "Moral Science" and "Evidences of Christianity." Not bad for a religious denomination in the early 19th century; of the original seven, only music was sacrificed, probably thought slightly pagan.

You can clearly see that this DePauw tradition kept faith with the sort of education long upheld as the ideal. Education to create the whole person. To this day, the tradition continues.

Of course the statement is not pure truth. There are presently courses very much skewed toward specific, even technical knowledge. The Methodist founders accomplished a lot, but you can't expect them to have predicted TV studios, or what a "manager" might be and do. The stunning changes in modern society dictate a certain flexibility. But the underlying tradition has never caved in. It is the same now as it was in 1837, and it was the same in 1837 as in the Middle Ages.

Still, I doubt DePauw could claim distinction if that tradition was the only basis for the claim. It takes a second tradition, working in tandem with the first, to account for the university's extraordinary success.

To get at this second tradition, let's glance at the people instrumental in founding the school. I find vivid and significant parallels between the lives of some of those early Methodists and the nature of DePauw life today.

The Methodist church, largely the creation of the English revivalist clergyman John Wesley, was a somewhat simpler, warmer, less doctrinaire faith than Wesley's own Church of England. It arose in parallel with British colonialism, and its tenets seemed particularly adaptable to, and appreciated by, those men and women living in isolation on the North American frontier. Methodism said an intimate relationship with God was possible even though the believer was miles and miles from any great cathedral or priestly interpreter.

The men who spread and taught this doctrine were recognized on the 18th and 19th century frontier by what one scholar describes as "the hair, the hat and the horse." The clergyman's hair was usually shoulder length, his hat,a familiar black broad-rim, and his horse very strong. Strong because the preacher was almost always on it-" itinerating" as they called it.

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