President′s Message: Affirmation from Afar

By President William E. Troutt


Everyone who loves Rhodes can take great satisfaction from knowing that, thanks to the energy devoted by so many to forging the Rhodes Vision, good things are happening at this college. It is even more gratifying when someone notices from afar and says, “We want to support your efforts.”

That’s exactly what happened recently when the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust awarded Rhodes $4,894,804 to help us provide leadership in developing students’ appreciation of the arts. You may recall that this is the same generous donor who gave the college $6 million in 2002 to underwrite the Rhodes CARES (Center for Academic Research and Education through Service) programs. Needless to say, none of this “just happened.”

In 2001, the Priddy trustees researched 100 colleges and narrowed their list to 19 to be considered for funding. These institutions were invited to submit proposals that requested funding for programs in undergraduate research and service. Rhodes was one of six chosen to receive the support.

In fall 2004, when the Priddy trustees became concerned that “there are not enough people who appreciate the arts,” they returned to the same six colleges and asked us for solutions.

At Rhodes, we proposed to revise our curriculum and programs to ensure that the fine arts are integral to the education of every student. This revision will cut across the entire curriculum—through physics, mathematics, history and so on, with an intensive focus on the first-year humanities courses, The Search for Values in Light of Western History and Life: Then and Now.

The grant will provide a fine arts scholars program with 16 scholarship recipients—four per class—who will not neccesarily be fine arts majors but who will work either through performing a job, a service or a research project in the fine arts. This program will be modeled after Rhodes CARES, which has taught us that a few students, supported by dedicated faculty and staff, can have a pervasive, positive impact on the community.

The funding will also endow a chair for a permanent faculty position in the fine arts and support curriculum and faculty development, student recruitment and mentoring, visiting artists, classroom and technology upgrades and other fine arts program enhancements.

I expect this to have a very positive impact on student learning at Rhodes. Even more important, I believe that increased exposure to the fine arts will enhance the life-changing nature of our students’ liberal arts education. As Professor Cookie Ewing says elsewhere in this issue, “Intense aesthetic experiences get us in touch with our human core and give us compassion for those around us. Without those sensibilities there can be no culture, no humanity, no society, no growth.”

While it is very clear that student learning at Rhodes is affected most profoundly by the quality of our faculty and their interactions with students, there is no question that faculty members can be more effective when they have adequate financial support. We are very grateful to the Priddy trustees—individuals with no ties to Rhodes—for recognizing the life-changing nature of what happens to students here. Their vision is merging with ours and the Priddy Trust is becoming a major force in shaping the future of this college.