Harvard Lecturer and Ethicist Jeffrey Seglin Addresses Bethany College Community at Founder’s Day

BETHANY, W.Va. – The importance of curiosity and kindness was a recurring theme in Jeffrey Seglin’s speech during Bethany College’s Founder’s Day Celebration March 6.

The program, which was held in Commencement Hall and honored the College’s 174 years as a small college of national distinction, included special music from the Bethany College Choir and recognition of those students “distinguished in scholarship” for the fall semester of the 2013-14 academic year. Bethany President Scott D. Miller presided over the Convocation and presented remarks.seglin.jpg

To put into perspective just how long Bethany has been an institution of higher education, Miller contrasted the differences between life in 1840 and now, from technology to infrastructure. “Despite the absence of these modern features,” Miller said, “small liberal arts colleges like Bethany revolutionized early 19th century American society and culture. Against the odds, our founder pursued a vision of personal achievement by students which led to a ‘small college of national distinction.’

“That Bethany College has not only endured, but thrived, into the early 21st century, is a testament, not only to Alexander Campbell’s vision and courage, but also to that of the thousands of men and women who have followed as Bethanians and embodied his educational values.”

Miller introduced Jeffrey L. Seglin –  a Harvard lecturer, ethicist and 1978 graduate of Bethany College –  who discussed what he learned as a student at Bethany, two things he advises his students of today: “Be curious, and be kind.”

In explaining how this advice was cultivated at Bethany, Seglin used each of the seven rules for writing and editing that Alexander Campbell, the founder of Bethany College, had written. Those rules were written in 1836, four years before the College’s founding, and include such suggestions as “Remember, many readers have minds. Therefore, give a reasonable variety.”

That variety, Seglin explained, was provided to him through subjects he was immersed in as a student, many that motivated his curiosity.

“That curiosity was nurtured in a late night astronomy class with Professor Stanley Becker, and it was nurtured by a course on modifying my own behavior with John Hull, and by a crash course in French from Pauline Nelson – taken so I could tutor a Haitian student – and by a lesson from Hal O’Leary in how to keep speeches short,  since audiences tend to get restless, and by a seminar on Nathaniel Hawthorne in Larry Grimes’ living room that led to a published book of essays – written by the class.”

His other piece of advice, to practice kindness, was also one he learned firsthand at Bethany.

“There were emergency study groups formed to support classmates who had had a rotten first day of comps and needed what they should have learned in 4 years, crammed into one all-night session,” he said.

“There was the president of the college sitting down during lunch to check in with you when he heard that a loved one was ill.

“And there was the professor who loaned me $20 so I would have enough gas to drive home for Christmas break,” he said while reaching into his pocket. He then paused and walked off the stage to Larry Grimes, Professor of English Emeritus and Director of Church Relations, and handed him a $20 bill.

Seglin is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Director of the Communications Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  He writes the popular “The Right Thing,” a syndicated weekly column on general ethics distributed by Tribune Media. He is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books on business and writing. “The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business” was named one of the "Best Business Books of 2003" by the Library Journal.

“It is an honor to have a renowned scholar back on campus as we celebrate Bethany College’s founding and our 174th anniversary as the oldest college in the state.  Jeff’s success as an ethicist is a remarkable example of what it means to be a Bethanian,” said College President Scott D. Miller.

Seglin has written for publications such as the New York Times, Fortune, Real Simple, FSB, Salon.com, Time.com, Sojourners, MIT's Sloan Management Review, Harvard Management Update, Business 2.0, ForbesASAP, CIO, CFO and MBA Jungle. He has contributed commentaries to Public Radio's “Marketplace” and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, CNBC, Fox 25, WGBH's Greater Boston and more.

Seglin is an ethics fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. From 1999 until 2011, Seglin was a tenured associate professor at Emerson College in Boston where he was also the director of the graduate program in publishing and writing.

He has lectured on business ethics at numerous institutions, and he hosted an hour-long live television show, “Doing Well by Doing Good,” which aired on PBS’s Richmond, Va., affiliate.

Seglin earned a master’s degree in theological studies from The Divinity School at Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Bethany.

Following the event, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at Bethany House in remembrance of Campbell (1788-1866), the College’s founder and first president.

Founder’s Day at Bethany College is observed on the first Thursday of March. The College received its official charter from the Legislature of Virginia March 2, 1840. The charter was affirmed June 20, 1863, by the Legislature of the newly formed state of West Virginia.

Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.