Thriving in the heart of Oregon’s third-largest city and nestled (some would say crammed) between the Capitol mall and the Salem Hospital complex, Willamette is certainly an urban university. But our park-like campus can be downright bucolic, with periodic appearances of raccoon, deer, pheasant and peregrine falcon, annual spring parades of mallard ducklings in and around the Mill Race and even the occasional sightings of nutria and beaver. It might seem an urban university shouldn’t have quite this much wildlife.
But things are not always as they seem.
As the saying goes, “It is not the towering sail, but the unseen wind that moves the ship.” A closer scrutiny of Willamette’s day-to-day campus hubbub reveals a rich subculture that fills our sails with breezes from a variety of directions — from the Institute for Continued Learning, a program that brings 100-plus retirees to campus regularly for educational activities, to a chemistry professor who performs traditional Irish music, a faculty member who founded a community radio station, or one who collects early 20th-century sporting firearms.
It is the nature of liberal arts education to appeal to the scholar-athlete-artists, individuals whose diverse interests and sensibilities are invigorated by the interconnectivity of forces, issues and ideas. Hence the scientist-musician-community activist or the math major fascinated with iambic pentameter, or the biology major studying Victorian botanical drawings at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art.
Another good example is Willamette’s “4E” conception of sustainability, which adds education, equity and economics to environment, the more conventional interpretation of the term.
To take my analogy on a different tack, liberal arts education is Willamette’s ‘towering sail.’ It is what attracts our talented and committed faculty and students to this university. It is the complexity and distinctive character of our campus community — the myriad of opportunities to explore and learn — that challenges them, propelling our students towards self-knowledge and greater understanding, and preparing our graduates to succeed in a complex and ever-changing world.
This issue of The Scene pries into various nooks and crannies, literally and figuratively, to reveal people, places and activities on our campus that may be less visible but nonetheless contribute to making Willamette the diverse, complex and slightly quirky place that it is. Enjoy The Scene’s “unseen.”
And mind the ducklings.
Stephen E. Thorsett
“Willamette is certainly an urban university. But our park-like campus can be downright bucolic...”