A Rich Heritage Through
Our Founding Vision
The holiday season enabled us to reflect on a valued element of Bethany College’s heritage — its ongoing relationship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In addition to being West Virginia’s oldest baccalaureate degree-granting college, Bethany is also the oldest four-year college of our founding denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) This vital relationship continues to shape our mission and vision as we move into a new year.
Since its inception, Bethany has cherished its spiritual affiliation in the vision of Alexander Campbell, a pioneering Scots-Irish immigrant who founded the College within the context of Western religious tradition and the American Enlightenment. He chose a natural setting, free from distraction, that would encourage liberation of thought and reflection on learning. Campbell, who served as Bethany’s first president for more than a quarter-century until his death in 1866, donated the funds and land to create one of only 100 colleges in the nation at that time and the only institution of higher learning in western Virginia — a college that predates the state of West Virginia.
Campbell wore many hats. A nationally known and influential thinker, Bethany’s founder was also a prolific publisher, the first postmaster of Bethany (a title which enabled him to send his voluminous correspondence postage-free) and the father of eight. In establishing Bethany College, he sought to prepare students for lifetimes of intellectual discipline, moral guidance, sound citizenship, service to others, social leadership and lives of significance and purpose. Today, we still believe passionately in the value of a liberal arts education as the best preparation for a life in which, more than ever, learning and change are continuous. Respectful of this heritage, we have commissioned a master plan that incorporates new programs and partnerships in a manner consistent with this philosophy.
President Campbell also took an active hand in designing Old Main, designated a National Historic Landmark, and in recruiting the original six faculty, who taught classical subjects including Hebrew, Greek, astronomy, rhetoric, mathematics, chemistry, ancient and modern languages. His educational and theological principles continue to guide us today.
Reflecting our heritage graphically, the Bethany College shield was designed in 1960, at the request of then President Perry Gresham, by Don Boyd ’44 and Bob Sandercox ’54. It incorporates not only key elements of the history of the College but also its special relationship with the Church. Inspired by the Glasgow University shield, it depicts the mace, symbol of authority, rising from a great fish, symbol of the Church. On the Bethany shield, the mace, carried before the College president at all ceremonial occasions, rises from the open book inscribed with the Latin word “veritas”
(truth). The open book represents the Bible. At one side of the mace, a stylized thistle represents Bethany’s academic heritage in the Scottish Renaissance and our founder’s student days at Glasgow. On the other side is the dogwood, official flower of the Old Dominion which granted Bethany a charter in 1840, providing all the rights and privileges previously granted to the University of Virginia.
Throughout our history, we have benefited from the faith of other early leaders such as alumnus and trustee Oreon E. Scott, for whom the annual lectures — now in their 55th year — are named. The Oreon E. Scott Foundation was established to strengthen the Church, and we are grateful for its continuing support.
In addition, the historic Campbell Mansion and archives remain valuable resources today. Further, as part of its service orientation, Bethany has reaffirmed its commitment to the Church by re-establishing the staff position director of church relations, a post capably filled by Dr. Larry Grimes ’64, a former professor of English with nearly 40 years of service to the College. Last year, at Commencement, we were honored to welcome the Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the national Christian Church.
Other sturdy links to our heritage and mission continue as a thread weaving the past into Bethany’s vibrant present:
- Four Christian Church ministers sit on our Board of Trustees: the Reverends Bill Allen, Janet Long, Fred Harris and Darwin Collins. Our regional minister, Thaddeus Allen, is a Bethany alumnus who is extremely supportive of all we do.
- Last year, we welcomed two visiting Renner Visiting Scholars with ties to the Church — Dr. Peter Morgan, retired president of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, and Dr. Robert Cueni, retired president of Lexington Theological Seminary.
- In addition to Dr. Grimes’ recent appointment, another key hire since my arrival to further this relationship is the naming of the Rev. Scott Thayer to serve in a dual role as College chaplain and minister of Bethany Memorial Church. Further, Dr. James W. Farwell, chair of the Department of Humanities, is the new Thomas W. Phillips Chair of Religious Studies.
- Dr. John Hull, professor of psychology, was recently recognized with the “T.A. Abbot Exemplary Teaching Award” by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) nationally.
Today, 170 years after Alexander Campbell built a campus out of the wilderness, perhaps it is difficult to imagine the obstacles that our founder faced in creating a small college of national distinction in a remote corner of what was then Virginia. Although architectural styles and campus residential life have changed dramatically over the years, the College’s essential character — emphasizing intellectual freedom, diversity, personal growth, leadership and a close academic community — continues to flourish.
Our institutional reaccreditation report last spring noted that Bethany has done the right things to position itself for a successful future, combining traditional strengths with a contemporary approach to new academic and co-curricular opportunities. Bethany’s challenge in 2010, and moving forward, is to integrate the forward-looking faith of our founders while embracing these new opportunities in the 21st century and beyond.
Happy New Year!
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
President of the College
To see Dr. Miller's biography:
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