Winter 2004 Magazine Archive & SearchMuhlenberg Home


Gladly Lerne and Gladly Teche

Photo of President HelmEarlier this winter, on a cold clear evening as the campus lay mantled in a heavy cloak of snow, I sat in Egner Chapel as a participant in Muhlenberg’s annual Candlelight Carol Service. While anticipating my own role in this beloved ritual (the President traditionally reads the third Lesson – Luke 1:26-31, 46-55, the Annunciation and Magnificat), I found myself riveted by Justin Brehm ’05, who stepped from the ranks of the College Choir to conduct Mozart’s “Gloria in Excelsis.” Justin’s conducting was energetic, passionate and precise, and the choir responded in kind, their combined voices soaring to the Chapel rafters. I could not help but reflect, during this extraordinary performance, on this past ssemester’s wide-ranging conversations about Muhlenberg’s mission, values, and distinctive approach to liberal education.

Particularly significant was our community’s agreement that a Muhlenberg education carries with it the expectation that our graduates should lead lives of leadership and service. This conviction springs from our knowledge that the learning opportunities here represent a rare and precious resource, unavailable to many who might be equally deserving and subsidized for all who are fortunate enough to partake of them. A Muhlenberg education is, essentially, a privilege. And, like all privileges, it is inextricably linked to duty and responsibility. As I watched Justin lead the choir, I thought “I do not know what this gifted young man will ultimately do with his life, but tonight he already exemplifies both leadership and service to this community.”

A second theme that developed during the course of our fall semester conversations about Muhlenberg’s future was our shared vision of the College as a community of teachers and learners, and our belief that all of us - faculty, staff and students – play both roles in the pursuit of our mission. Our faculty are effective teachers precisely because they are themselves still committed to learning, both through their research and through their conversations with students. Our staff play a key role in our mission because they understand that every interaction with students is a teachable moment. And a Muhlenberg education is such a powerful experience for our students because they are expected to share their newfound knowledge with others, to shift repeatedly and with agility from the role of learner to that of teacher and back to learner again. As Carol Shiner Wilson, our dean of academic life, responded to a parental query about the availability of academic support, “your child will certainly have access to a tutor if she needs one, but the likelihood is that, at Muhlenberg, she will also eventually serve as a tutor to others.”

These values and this philosophy were powerfully demonstrated by Justin’s conducting, just as they are day-in and day-out at ’Berg in the work of learning assistants, writing assistants, the interaction of students and faculty in advanced seminars and the work of Muhlenberg students as volunteers in local schools and youth centers. These experiences underscore and dramatize Plutarch’s observation, so aptly quoted by Professor Al Kipa in his remarks at my inauguration and so deeply rooted in our educational philosophy, that students’ minds are fires to be kindled, not vessels to be filled.

This issue of Muhlenberg Magazine focuses, in part, on the College’s strategic planning process. I hope that all members of the Muhlenberg family will not only pay close attention to this process, but will participate in it actively. The process seeks to articulate shared values and beliefs and, ultimately, to reveal a shared vision of the path we wish this community of scholars to pursue together. Our goals should be aspirational and bold. They will require tough choices among competing goods, and wise investments in the most promising new ventures. They should challenge us to be the best we can possibly be. They will require all of us – on the campus and off – to commit ourselves to achieving ambitious and difficult objectives. If we are all willing to work hard, to sacrifice, to think beyond ourselves, we will accomplish great things for this extraordinary institution, for our country, and for our world.

On the Muhlenberg website you will find the first fruits of the planning process: our newly restated mission, our planning principles, our strategic goals. These are the results of many conversations with many groups and individuals, including students, faculty, staff, trustees, parents and alumni. In the months to come, as winter gives way to spring, we will be weighing various strategic initiatives that address our goals. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but the foundation of consensus we have already achieved regarding our mission, values and goals will provide powerful and effective guidance.

As I remarked in the last issue of this magazine, service as a member of the Muhlenberg Family is not a spectator sport. All are invited to comment on our work to date and the work that lies ahead. The commitment of all will be needed to help us achieve our potential. Each of us has something to learn and something to teach. Let us all, like Chaucer’s erudite Clerk, play both roles gladly.


Dr. Peyton R. Helm
Muhlenberg College


1 Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Prologue, 308

The Last Word



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