On Friday, Sept. 12, Albion College inaugurated its 16th president, Mauri Ditzler. Ditzler, who officially assumed the duties of college president July 1, came to Albion after serving as president of Monmouth College in Illinois.
The inaugural ceremonies centered around the theme of collaboration between the community of Albion and Albion College. The mood of the event felt hopeful, and attendees received commemorative coins displaying symbols of Albion College and the steelworker’s monument in downtown Albion. The symbols of the college and town on the coin represented the ceremony’s theme of a college-community partnership.
Richard Longworth, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and John Churchill, secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, presented a talk titled “Building Communities” as part of the inaugural ceremony.
Longworth spoke on the Midwest’s role in the national and global economies, and lauded DItzler’s commitment to understanding the Midwest as an academic subject. During his term at Monmouth College, Ditzler helped create the Midwest Studies Initiative in order to study the Midwest’s economic and cultural impact. It was the first academic program in higher education to do so.
Longworth argued that cities like Albion should work together with other Midwestern communities to strengthen the regional economy and to define the Midwestern identity.
Ditzler’s presidency comes at a time of great uncertainty for the city of Albion. Twelve years have passed since two of the city’s biggest employers, the Hayes-Albion plant and the Trillium Hospital, closed their doors. Last year’s closure of Albion High School has forced Albion to work with its neighboring communities to educate the city’s youth.
DItzler spoke at length on Albion College’s role in assisting the community as it works to revitalize itself. He said that colleges like Albion have a responsibility to help educate their host communities, and through the liberal arts, produce citizens who are able to help cities out of hard times.
While Ditzler’s message was hopeful, he did not shy away from the harsher aspects of Albion’s condition and the task ahead. He opened his speech by reminding the audience of the damage left by last fall’s microburst storm and the brutally cold winter that followed it.
Ditzler brought up these hardships in order to praise the collaborative efforts involved in restoring Albion to what he called “the beauty which is appropriate for an institution that does such important work as do we.”
Ditzler’s inaugural address revolved around passages from great American writers, the Bible, and a British chemist. Seven students joined him on stage throughout the address to read the passages. Ditzler spoke about how each passage affirmed core tenets of the liberal arts education, from critical thinking to a desire to change the world.
Ditzler’s commitment to Albion’s vision of the liberal arts was on display throughout the address. He described the educational philosophy of old Midwestern liberal arts schools like Albion as the “frontier” version of liberal arts.
“The frontier version of the liberal arts differed from the earlier forms in its intended audience,” Ditzler said. “Rather than be an education for those who had already been liberated, it was designed to liberate.”
Ditzler’s address ended on a playfully grim note. His concluding passages included a reflection on the increasing entropy of the universe from a renown chemist and a bittersweet image of a cold Midwestern wind from Great Depression-era American journalist Ernie Pyle. Both passages suggest that humans are powerless in the face of the great forces that they contend with.
Ditzler, however, saw the silver linings in each passage.
“In every small town where Pyle stopped to write, there were interesting, easily overlooked people who provide cause for optimism,” Ditzler said.“I have discovered the same thing in Albion. Albion, the college and the town, is filled with people who give us reason to hope.”
The inaugural ceremony concluded with a surprise from Albion College Board of Trustees chair Donald Sheets and his wife Angela, ‘82 alumni, who announced the donation of $1 million to Albion College in the form of a scholarship endowment. The donation was made in honor of both interim president Mike Frandsen’s service to Albion College and as a symbol of their hope that Ditzler will serve the college well during his tenure.
“We feel that we’re not just giving to Albion, we’re giving through Albion,” Angela Sheets said.
The inaugural weekend included several events celebrating the connection between the town and the college. For more coverage, please check out the Pleiad’s photo coverage of the inauguration and community park dedication.