Bethany Celebrates 169 Years of National Distinction
As many of you know, Bethany turns 169 years old this
month. It’s been more than a century and a half since Alexander
Campbell established this beautiful campus, the oldest institution
of higher education in West Virginia. Mr. Campbell proved to be a
visionary leader at a time when there were just a handful of colleges
in the entire nation, providing both the land and the funding and
going on to serve for 26 years as Bethany’s first president.
President Campbell also took an active hand in the design of Old Main,
and in the recruiting of the original six faculty—all male,
by the way.
Today, perhaps it is difficult to imagine the obstacles
that our founder faced in creating a small college of national distinction
in a relatively isolated area. Students who can now take distance
courses through a new online consortium may find it challenging to
imagine the impact of distance and natural barriers like mountains
and rivers in a pre-internet age.
But leaders have always faced daunting challenges, and
nowhere is this more evident than in the new Administration of our
44th president today. In both cases, vision and a belief in transcendent
renewal have resulted in extraordinary and historic outcomes. And,
in the national spirit of renewal, I echo President Obama in saying
that I believe there is nothing as a College community that we cannot
do if we put our collective mind to it.
Later this month, we will welcome the North Central
Association of Colleges and Schools team in its reaffirmation of accreditation
This occasion, the culmination of a three-year process
of self-study, presents the College with a rare and unparalleled opportunity
to showcase the quality of Bethany today: our historic and scenic
campus, our rigorous academic programs and outstanding alumni outcomes
and most important of all, the quality and commitment of our people.
Kudos again to the Re-Accreditation Steering Committee—headed
by long-time Professor of History Dr. Gary H. Kappel—that has
worked for nearly three years in leading the campus through this experience.
The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that as a
campus we have a shared vision for what we are trying to do, have
programs in place--and resources allocated to them—to accomplish
In the decade since Bethany College last underwent the
re-accreditation process, both the Higher Learning Commission’s
criteria for accreditation and the institution have undergone considerable
change. Members of the visiting team will see a Bethany College markedly
changed from that of the 1999 version, with new academic initiatives,
student-friendly facilities and amenities, a successful capital campaign
and enrollment initiatives and synergistic partnerships in place,
yet the College’s essential character—emphasizing intellectual
freedom, diversity, personal growth, leadership and a close academic
community—has continued to flourish.
Despite the many challenges that confront us, our campus
remains, a vibrant and stimulating educational community.
The course of our American Revolution has been described
as resembling that of a roller coaster. And so it has often been at
Bethany College. When President Obama, in his Inaugural address, portrayed
the “icy currents” and storms of President Washington’s
famous Delaware River crossing, he could have just as aptly been describing
the College’s earlier years.
Describing several precipitous eras of struggle and
subsequent renewal, one biographer writes that the College at times
has survived on “soul and grit.” In fact, in retrospect,
it seems miraculous that the young College—just two decades
old at the outbreak of the Civil War—survived at all at a time
when dozens of young institutions were forced to close their doors.
Fortunately, the 18 Bethany presidents who preceded
me were willing to “think big,” to incur formidable risks
to make their dream a reality. This audacity must serve as a model
for us today.
Against the odds, our founder pursued a vision that
has led to a “small college of national distinction.”
More than 22,000 alumni have gone forth to become national and international
leaders. One such alumnus, Bob Orr ‘75, award-winning CBS homeland
security correspondent, will speak at the 25th annual Kalon Scholars
Luncheon this month.
Our founder envisioned a liberal arts college that would
prepare young scholars for positions of leadership and influence.
And so we Bethanians do today. I believe our founders would be proud
of many recent honors bestowed on us by outside experts including
the National Survey of Student Engagement, Barron’s and Fortune
magazines, among others.
So, on this, our 169th birthday, let us renew the vision
while continuing the leaps of faith taken by President Campbell and
other founders who recognized that the bigger the challenges, the
bolder the risks we must take to surmount them—because we have
no other choice than to go forward.
Here’s to Bethany College, to new and expanding
vistas and to many more celebrations to come!
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
President of the College
To see Dr. Miller's biography:
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