Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Hidden Gems, VIII: West Coast Region

Our final region in our state-by-state examination of U.S. higher education for “hidden gems” beyond the “usual suspects” which should be given serious consideration in any college search is the West Coast region.  It consists of 5 states:  Alaska, California, Hawai’i, Oregon, & Washington.  California is the most densely-populated state in the nation, while Alaska is one of the most rural and least populous.  The entire region is very diverse racially & ethnically as well as religiously.  AK is mostly conservative in political culture, whereas the other 4 states range from just left of center to very liberal–although each has conservative regions or “pockets.” Until the economic meltdown of ’08, most of the region had very strong economies, though a shrinking middle class and wide gaps between rich and poor characterize all 5 of these states.  All these features influence the number, range, and quality of institutions of higher education in these states.

1. Alaska:  The 49th state of the USA, AK is the largest in land area, stretching a total of 570, 640.95 square miles with only 722,718 persons living in that state–only 1.8 persons per sq. mile! Yet, AK population is growing at roughly double the national avge.  It is comparably wealthy, with a median income of $66K per year vs. the national avge. of $51k per year.  The poverty rate is also lower than the national avge, but the contrast between rural poor and prosperous city dwellers is stark.  High school graduation rate is higher than the national average, but the college education rate is slightly below the national average.  The “usual suspects” in AK higher education include the University of Alaska system with 3 campuses, the flagship campus at Fairbanks, the largest enrollment in Anchorage, and the Southeast branch at the capital of Juneau.  There are also 5 community colleges spread throughout the state.

It seems to me that AK would be greatly served if the state govt. invested in an honors liberal arts college that would attract the many who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class. Why? Because no matter how good the University of Alaska system is, there are many very bright students who thrive better in the atmosphere of a liberal arts college: small campus, significant student-teacher interaction & mentoring, no teaching assistants, small classrooms, significant opportunities for extracurricular participation and/or leadership, etc. If students go outside a state for this kind of education, a significant percentage will not return–and that percentage is larger if the home state is rural. This creates a brain-drain and talent-drain that damages a rural state like AK.  A public liberal arts honors college would be affordable to a greater percentage of those talented high schoolers who might look out of state.  An investment in such an institution has benefitted other states (e.g., Truman State University in Missouri; Keene State College in New Hampshire; Fort Lewis College in Colorado; New College of Florida; University of Science and Arts in Oklahoma) and I think it would for Alaska, too.

Alaska Pacific University (Anchorage).  Because Alaska Pacific University is the only private college or university in AK, it cannot be considered a “hidden gem” in the normal sense of this series–worthy educational institutions eclipsed by the shadows of more famous institutions in the same state.  But I do think that APU is often overlooked both nationwide and in AK generally.  If AK residents consider enrolling in some other institution than the University of Alaska, they tend to look immediately out of state–either in “the lower 48” or in Canada.  APU was founded in 1957 by the United Methodist Church, the youngest of the more than 1200 colleges and universities founded by Methodists in 200 years.  It has exceptionally strong programs in Environmental Studies and related programs.  It also offers high school students an “Early Honors” program of college-level courses during their senior year that can lead them to finishing B.A. or B.S. degrees in 3 years.

2. California:  CA, the most populous state in the USA, one of the wealthiest, and most diverse, has also, historically, been a state that has heavily invested in both public and private institutions of higher education.  The University of California system has 10 campuses, 3 of which rank in the top 15 public institutions of the world (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, & UC-San Diego).  The California State University system is even larger with 23 campuses–educating 60% of the state’s teachers and 40% of the state’s engineers. Others among the California’s many “usual suspects” include The California Institute of Technology , Stanford University, The University of Southern California, The Claremont Colleges, among others.  California is host to a number of nationally-recognized Catholic colleges and universities including: Loyola Marymount University, The University of San Francisco, The University of San Diego, Notre Dame de Namur University, and Santa Clara University among others.  Mainline Protestant and Evangelical Protestant colleges and universities are also plentiful. Amidst all this wealth, these “hidden gems” should not be missed:

California Lutheran University (Thousand Oaks).  CLU or Cal-Lutheran is a Christian university founded in 1959 by immigrant Norwegian Lutherans and still closely related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).  The school also continues to celebrate the Scandinavian heritage of its founders.  With limited masters and doctoral degrees, CLA’s undergraduate programs encourage diverse programs of study, well-rounded student learning outcomes, and a commitment to learning about social, economic, and political justice.  Encourages inquiries of faith and reason.

Mills College (Oakland). The first all-women’s liberal arts college west of the Rocky Mountains, Mills College was founded in 1852 under the leadership of Mary Atkins, a graduate of Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH). In 1865 it was bought and “re-founded” by Susan Tolman Mills (an alumna of Mt. Holyoke College, a prestigious women’s college in MA) and her husband, Cyrus Mills.  The school is still single-sex on the undergraduate level but co-ed in its graduate programs.  Mills is notable for its high academics, but also for its community service and tradition of “social mobility” (i.e., educating students from the poor and working classes) with over 16% of students classified as “resumers,” older students returning to college after an interrupted education. Notable alumnae include:  choreographer Trisha Brown (’58), journalist Elizabeth Crow (’68), U.S. diplomat April Glaspie (’63), U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA, ’73), Dixie Lee Ray, first woman governor of Washington state (’46, ’47).

Mount St. Mary’s College (Los Angeles).  Founded in 1925 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Mount St. Mary’s College is a Catholic women’s college of the liberal arts and sciences, the only one on the West Coast.  It is noted for its service for persons of color, its award-winning nursing program, and for a unique degree in “Film and Social Justice.”

Occidental College  (Los Angeles).  Founded by Presbyterians in 1887, “Oxy” is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast and one of the first to achieve a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.  It’s beautiful campus is a frequent movie location and it was one of the founders of intercollegiate athletics in the West–fielding 21 Olympic athletes since 1904 and having a fierce football rivalry with Pomona College (one of The Claremont Colleges) 30 years before the famed USC-UCLA game.  Oxy’s “Upward Bound” program assists bright & talented low-income and minority students to become ready for college or university work.  31 majors including 6 that are interdisciplinary.  About 75% of Oxy’s students receive some combination of needs-based and merit financial aid helping it to have one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation.  Faculty is equally diverse and so is the multi-cultural “Eagle Rock” neighborhood in which the campus is located.  Oxy gives students the resources of a major metropolitan city with the small campus and close-knit community of a liberal arts college.

Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park).  Founded in 1960 as part of the California State University system, Sonoma State University (SSU) is the public liberal arts university of California.  In addition to its strong standing in the liberal arts, SSU is also known for its programs in nursing, business, and economics.  Located in the heart of the CA wine country (one can earn a B.A. in wine business), SSU is part of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC). It recruits bright and talented students from all backgrounds and offers a mentoring approach to education that fosters ethical exploration, community service, civic engagement, social responsibility, and global awareness.

University  of the Redlands (Redlands) Founded by Baptists in 1907, this private, masters-level university still has a loose connection to the American Baptist Churches, USA.  Redlands has several Centers of Distinction, including the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, the Banta Center for Business, Ethics, and Society, the Truesdail Center for Communicative Disorders, and Center for Educational Justice.  It has strong community service and study abroad programs.  It has an endowed lecture series known as the Cummings Annual Lecture on World Peace.  Redlands is known for collaborative research between students and faculty.  Although student diversity is high, Redlands is a tight-knit community with over 75% of all students, including graduate students, live on campus.  Redlands has a number of innovative degree programs, but business remains the most popular major, followed by psychology.

Westmont College (Santa Barbara)  Founded in 1937 as a Bible Institute by Ruth Kerr, president of Kerr Mason Jars, Westmont College is an ecumenical and evangelical Christian liberal arts college originally located at the intersection of WEST Moreland and VerMONT in Los Angeles.  It is an undergraduate, residential, Christian liberal arts college serving God’s kingdom by cultivating thoughtful scholars, grateful servants, and faithful leaders for global engagement with academy, church, and world.  Of the 9 CA liberal arts colleges listed in the top-tier rankings, Westmont is the only evangelical institution among them.  The avge. entering high school student has an unweighted GPA of 3.7, a median ACT score of 26 and a combined SAT score of 1200 (math and writing). 47% graduated in the top 10% of their class and 72% in the upper 5th.  First year students come from all over the world, but the greatest numbers come from CA, OR, CO, & AZ.  Students not only have study-abroad options, but exchange options with 12 other Christian liberal arts institutions in the Consortium of Christian Colleges.  The college has its own observatory and teaches astronomy to high school students during “science summers.”  The Templeton Foundation honors Westmont as one of the Colleges That Shape Character, especially through community service.  More than 80% of students receive some form financial aid.  Among the new constructions are the Adams Center for the Visual Arts and the Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics.  Westmont tries to be a safe place for GLBT students while still holding to traditional evangelical teaching that accepts heterosexual marriage as the only moral option for sexual expression. Needless to say, it is difficult to walk this tightrope, but Westmont continues to make the effort.

Whittier College (Whittier)–Founded by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1887, and named after the famed Quaker poet and peace activist, John Greenleaf Whittier, Whittier College is today a private, nonsectarian liberal arts college in Southern California located between West Los Angeles and Orange County. It’s athletic teams are called “The Poets” in honor of the school’s namesake.  It has one of the most diverse student bodies of any liberal arts college with 49% of students identifying as either international students or from racial/ethnic minorities. Students also come from very diverse socio-economic backgrounds.  Whittier College is part of the Annapolis Group of colleges refusing to give information or cooperate with the various college/university rankings, especially U.S. News & World Report.  It values its Quaker roots and still bases its educational philosophy on Quaker ideals, and is considered a “Hispanic Serving” educational institution.  Whittier is often unfairly looked at with suspicion by those on the political left because its most famous alumnus is still Richard M. Nixon (’34), 37th President of the U.S. (R), but this is ridiculous. No one writes off Yale or Harvard for producing George W. Bush, yet he graduated from both institutions.  Stanford produced both Herbert Hoover and Condaleeza Rice, yet it was also the alma mater of Chelsea Clinton.  It is only smaller, often church-related, colleges that somehow get blamed for notorious alumni.

3. Hawai’i:  Our 50th state, which is a very large chain of islands,  has a population of 1, 374, 810 over 6, 422. 63 sq. miles, or 211.8 persons per sq. mi.  So, it’s population is not all that large, but it is very dense.  It has had a population increase of 12.3% since the previous census, well above the national avge.  The median income is over $66k per annum which is above the national avge. and a poverty rate of 9.6% which is below the national avge., but the poverty rate among Native Hawai’ians and other Pacific Islanders is far higher.  In addition to several community colleges, Hawai’i has the University of Hawai’i system with 4 campuses, 2 doctoral-level, research universities ( the flagiship UHawai’i at Manoa and U Hawai’i at Hilo) and 2 baccalaureate universities (U Hawai’i-West Oahu & U Hawai’i Maui College). As with Alaska, I think the people of Hawai’i would be well-served by the creation of a public liberal arts college, a top-flight, state-run honors college that would nurture talent among all socio-economic classes and prevent a brain-drain and talent-drain.  I also think the foundation of a women’s (single sex) liberal arts college would pay dividends. For now, those seeking such educational opportunities must go to the mainland.  Hidden gems:

Chaminade University (Honolulu).  Founded in 1955 by members of the Society of Mary (Marianists) and named after the founder of the order, Chaminade University is the only Catholic institution of higher education in Hawai’i.  It is also one of the most diverse campuses in the nation: There is a Marianist brotherhood living on the campus and 40% of students are Catholic.  60% of the student body comes from Hawai’i, 27% from the mainland U.S., 11% from other Pacific Islands, and 2% from other countries.  Chaminade is listed as a Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander serving institution as 67% of students identify as either Asian or Pacific Islander, 17% white (non-Hispanic), 6% Hispanic, 4% African-American, 0.7% Native American or Alaskan Native.

Hawai’i Pacific University (Honolulu).  A non-sectarian, private, college of liberal arts and sciences (with some masters’ level programs), Hawai’i Pacific University (HPU) was founed in 1965.  Bloomberg News identifies HPU as providing a better “return on investment” than any other institution of higher education in Hawai’i.  Tuition is about 50% of the national avge. for private liberal arts colleges. This, coupled with a generous financial aid program, has led to a very diverse student body at HPU.  HPU uses a skills-assessment and learning-outcomes approach to general education requirements.

4. Oregon:  Oregon is a rural state, but more densely populated than several other Western states.  In an area of 95, 988.01 sq. miles, there lives a population of 3, 871, 859 or 39.9 persons per sq. mi.–just about half of the national average.  OR has enjoyed more population growth than the national avge.  The median public income is slightly less than the national avg. and the poverty rate is slightly more., but this is a recent trend. For much of OR’s 20th C. history, it has been wealthier than the national avge. and has wisely invested some of this wealth into higher education.  In addition to 17 community colleges, OR’s public universities are anchored by the 7 members of the Oregon University system.  OR also has numerous private institutions. Among the “usual suspects” is the national, private research university, Pacific University (Forest Grove), Willamette University (Salem). and the famous, elite, liberal arts college, Reed College (Portland).  Hidden gems:

George Fox University (Newburg) Founded by Quakers and still related to the Northwest Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.  GFU hosts an evangelical interdenominational seminary.  Only 5% of the student body is Quaker, today, but GFU houses a strong collection of peace and nonviolence literature and a Center for Peace and Justice.  Faculty are expected to be Christian and sign a doctrinal statement, but students do not, although they do have to conform to behavioral norms.  One notable alumnus is the Quaker biblical scholar and theologian, Daniel L.  Smith-Christopher who teaches Old Testament and directs the Peace & Justice Minor at Loyola Marymount University.  GFU’s students do community service in alternative Fall and Spring Breaks.

Gutenberg College (Eugene).  A new college established in 1994, which grew out of a ministry to students at the University of Oregon,  Gutenberg College is a non-denominational Christian College which uses a curriculum centered on the Great Books of the Western World (as, more famously, does St. John’s College and some others do so to lesser degrees). It offers one degree, the B.A. in Liberal Arts, and all students take the same courses and must complete identical requirements to graduate.  In some courses, students will do close readings or “micro-exegesis” of the texts in question.  All students study 2 years of Classical Greek and modern German.  Students take courses in Western Civilization, Great Conversation, Writing, Art, Microexegesis, Biblical Philosophy, Ancient Mathematics, Modern Mathematics, Science, and Senior thesis.  Unlike St. John’s College which avoids tests and uses narrative evaluations of course work, Gutenberg has comprehensive tests and letter grades.  While I am skeptical of the concept of “biblical philosophy,” I would think this is a hidden gem of education worth exploring.

Lewis & Clark College (Portland).  Originally located in Albany and chartered as the Albany Collegiate Institute in 1867, the school moved to Portland in 1938 and in 1942 changed its name to Lewis & Clark College to honor the Lewis & Clark expedition to the West Coast.  In addition to the College of Arts & Sciences, L & C has a Law School and a Graduate School of Education and Counseling. L & C is a member of the Annapolis Group of colleges that opts out of the college/university rankings and refuses to give information to U. S. World & Report.  Founded by Presbyterians, Lewis & Clark is not formally connected with any church body these days, but still values its Presbyterian heritage.  23% of L & C’s students are persons of color.  72% of students receive financial aid.  53% of entering students come from outside OR and 75% are women.  Sincwe 1997, L & C students have won 45 Fulbright Fellowships, 22 Goldwater Scholarships, 1 Hertz Foundation Fellowship, 1 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship, 2 Madison Fellowships, 1 Mellon Fellowship, 13 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation, 1 NCAA Post-Graduate Fellowship, 1 Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, 2 Rhodes Scholarships, 9 Truman Scholarships, 3 Udall Scholarships, & 2 Wilson Fellowships. It has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society.   As a Division III NCAA school, L & C believes in scholar-athletes–no athletic scholarships and all sports programs are designed to develop the whole human being.  L &C ranks 5th among small colleges in number of students who volunteer for the Peace Corps.

Linfield College (McMinnville). Founded by Baptists in 1848, Linfield College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences in one of the most beautiful parts of Oregon. (Full disclosure: I have been to a conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America held on Linfield’s campus, so I can testify firsthand to the campus’ beauty.  I was not there during the school year, however, so all I know of its academics is secondhand.)  The college retains a loose connection to the American Baptist Churches, USA but neither faculty nor students are bound by any religious requirements.  In 1956, the Linfield Research Institute was established to help in science education and in using endowment money for student research and collaborative research between students and faculty. In 1975, the Division of Continuing Education was established to help working adults and older adults continue their education.  In 1976, Linfield College began a student exchange program with Kanto Gakuin University in Japan. Today, it is one of several study abroad programs offered by the college. By the time they graduate, over 50% of Linfield College students will study overseas or be involved in an overseas internship.  On Linfield’s satellite campus in Portland, students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in cooperation with Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center.  Linfield has produced 22 Fulbright scholars in the past 12 years.  Linfield College is home to the Oregon Nobel Symposium (one of only 5 in the entire world) which brings Nobel laureates to campus for discussions.  Linfield has excellent outreach to Hispanic students, is one of the most eco-friendly campuses in the nation, and does exceptionally well in financial aid support for lower income students.  Linfield’s most notable alumnus is Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968), class of 1904, the great historian of missions and of the Orient who taught World Christianity, Missiology, and Chinese History at Yale University.

5. Washington:  The last state in our survey is the state of Washington.  It has a population just under 7 million, a 14% increase in the last decade (during which the nation as a whole grew only by 6.4 %).  That population is contained in a land mass of 66,455.52 sq. mi. or 101.2 persons per sq. mi. So, although the general perception of Washington is that it is a rural state, the population density is actually slightly higher than the national average.  The median income is slightly higher than the national average and the poverty rate slightly lower, too.  We would expect all this to be reflected in Washington’s offerings in higher education–and we would be right.  In the usual suspects, in addition to a huge number of community colleges, Washington hosts a number of public universities anchored by University of Washington (Seattle), and Washington State University (Pullman).   The usual suspects also include a number of nationally famous private universities, including:  Gonzaga University (Spokane), a top-ranked Jesuit Catholic university; Pacific Lutheran University (Parkland); Seattle University (Seattle); University of Puget Sound (Tacoma).  Hidden gems:

The Evergreen State College (Olympia).  Founded in 1967, Evergreen is a public honors college, founded to be an experimental and nontraditional college. It uses narrative evaluations rather than grades and places great emphasis on interdisciplinary study.  Evergreen offers a B.A. in Liberal Arts, a B.Sc., an M.A. in Teaching, a Master of Environmental Studies, and a Master of Public Administration.  It is noted for its Native American programs, too.  Listed as one of 40 Colleges That Change Lives.  Foundation of current curriculum is based on team teaching and collaborative learning.  All majors and academic pathways are student designed.  18% of students are from underrepresented groups.  50% of full-time faculty are female and 23% are persons of color.  74% of students receive some form of financial aid and tuition is lower than average for either in-state or out-of-state public schools of this caliber.

Saint Martin’s University (Lacey).  Founded by Benedictine monks in 1895, Saint Martin’s University is a private, Catholic, co-ed liberal arts university named after St. Martin of Tours.  (Note: St. Martin is often called the patron saint of soldiers, but he should rather be known as the patron saint of conscientious objectors since his Christian faith led him to refuse to kill even when the Roman commanders threatened his life.) Originally single-sex (male), it became co-ed in 1965.  There is a Benedictine monastery on the grounds and some of the monks are also professors at the university.  It has “sister university” agreements with several Asian institutions, including 4 in South Korea, 5 in Japan, 3 in China, and 1 in Taiwan.  In the Benedictine tradition, Saint Martin’s believes in preparing students for a life of purpose, service, and compassion.  Professors believe that listening is the key to learning and understanding.  50% of the student body is Catholic, 33% are racial or ethnic minorities and 55% are female.  Students come from 18 different countries and all 50 states.

Seattle Pacific University (Seattle). Founded in 1891 by Free Methodist pioneers, SPU is a Christian university of liberal arts and sciences whose focus is for students to engage the cultures of the world with the gospel.  SPU welcomes students from all faiths, but the atmosphere is distinctively Christian: orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan, and ecumenical.  Students are expected to abide by behavioral norms that include refraining from tobacco and alcohol, as well as sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.  SPU’s academics are rigorous and its most popular undergraduate majors are psychology, business administration, nursing, communication, English, integrated studies, political science, physiology, biology, and sociology.  Among its notable graduates are the evangelical New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee, and Eugene H. Peterson, translator/editor of The Message paraphrase of the Bible.  SPU’s Honors Program offers a 4 year alternative to the core curriculum based on the Great Books of the Western World.

Whitman College (Walla Walla).  Founded in 1882, Whitman College is an independent, co-ed, non-sectarian college of liberal arts and sciences.  In 1919, it became the 2nd college in the state to win a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society.  The bywords at Whitman are “balance,” and “community.”  Visiting prospective students are told by resident students not to come if they don’t want to be involved. Whitman’s emphasis is an education in the liberal arts that produces ethical leaders in all fields.  The entire campus reads the same book(s) during the Summer Reading Program and discusses them at the beginning of each year.  Whitman wants to cultivate both the life of the mind and a spirit of adventure.  Their 88% graduation rate per year is one of the highest west of the Mississippi.  Located in the Southeast corner of the state (one of the sunnier parts of Washington) in Walla Walla, voted “friendliest town in America.”  42 majors and 48 minors, but also a number of combined programs, including:  a 3-2 program in engineering (with Caltech, Duke, Columbia, Washinton University in St. Louis, and the University of Washington), a 3-2 program in computer science (with University of Washington), oceanography (U. of Washington), forestry (with Duke), environmental management (with Duke), and education (with University of Puget Sound).  In 2011, 39 “Whitties” won prestigious academic scholarships including 5 Fulbrights, 1 Watson Fellowship, and 5 Princeton-in-Africa-and-Asia Fellowships.  Both needs-based and merit-based financial aid is available and nearly 74% of students receive some form of financial aid.  In addition to standard dorms and Greek (fraternity or sorority) houses, Whitman has “Interest Houses,” i.e., residences focused on a common interest, including Asian Studies, Community Service, Das Deutsche Haus, Environmental Studies, Fine Arts, Global Awareness, La Casa Hispana, La Maison Francaise, Multi-Ethnic Center for Cultural Awareness [MECCA], Tekisuijuku (Japanese House), and Writing.  Although Whitman is a non-sectarian (secular) college, it has an Office of Spiritual Life and there are numerous student-run interest groups centered on faith and spirituality, including Catholics on Campus, Hillel-Shalom, Whitman Christian Fellowship (a chapter of InterVarsity Fellowship), Namaste (A meditation club using disciplines familiar to Eastern spiritual traditions), Muslim Student Association, Unitarian-Universalist Community, and even Whitman College Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (!).  Whitman College is one of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives and it is part of the Annapolis Group of liberal arts colleges that resists the “rankings game,” especially pushed by U.S. News and World Report.

Well, that’s my survey of often-overlooked “hidden gems” of higher education which should be considered by prospective students in addition to the “usual suspects” in respective states or regions.  Readers are encouraged to present their own lists–anywhere in the world.

April 30, 2012 Posted by | colleges/universities, education | 1 Comment

Thoughts on Chuck Colson (16 October 1931-21 April 2012)

Seven days ago, former Nixon aide-turned-Evangelical-pundit Chuck Colson died.  Because my feelings about Colson are mixed, I waited this week before writing anything about him.  Especially through Prison Fellowship, the ministry he founded, Colson did some real good and I hope that influence lives on. But my overall assessment is that, even post-conversion, he was a negative force in both church and society and I hope his passing allows a fresh start.  That’s my thesis, now let me argue for it.

Charles Wendell “Chuck” Colson was born in Boston, MA to an upper-middle class Republican family that hated the New Deal and raised him to oppose almost all progressive social reforms.  He went to an elite private high school (The Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, MA), graduating in 1949.  He then earned a B.A. in political science, cum laude, from Brown University in 1953.  From there, Colson went on to earn his law degree, again with honors, from the law school of George Washington University in 1959.  From 1953 to 1955 Colson served in the U.S. Marine Corps, earning the rank of captain.  He founded his own law firm and worked on Republican political campaigns.    His first marriage (to Nancy Billings) lasted from 1953 to 1964 before ending in divorce. They had 3 children. He then married Patricia Ann Hughes in 1964 and this marriage lasted until Colson’s death.

Colson first came to national attention in 1968 when he joined the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. He was assigned to the “Special Issues Committee” informally known as the “Dirty Tricks Group.” Colson proved to be especially good at dirty tricks. He would hire Young Republican college students to volunteer for various Democratic campaigns and spy for Nixon, sabatouging the campaigns, and planting evidence in other campaigns.  After Nixon was elected, Colson was appointed as Special Counsel to the President–and soon became admired by friends and feared by enemies as Nixon’s “hatchet man.”  Colson himself has written that he was “useful” to the president because he was willing to be ruthless to get things done. (See Colson, Born Again, chap. 5.) He was considered the “evil genius” of an evil administration–the Lee Atwater or Karl Rove of his generation.

As such, Colson was implicated in the Watergate Scandal. Synopsis for a generation too young to remember. In the 1972 presidential campaign, the Committee to Reelect the President [CREEP], which, in an age before ANY campaign finance reform, had whole suitcases of cash to use in various schemes, hired some inept burglars to steal campaign plans and secrets from the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. They were caught and eventually (after the election), the authorization of this burglary was traced to the White House. It is unknown whether or not Nixon or Colson knew of the original burglary, but both were heavily involved in the illegal cover-up.  Colson was also involved in the burglary of the private files of Daniel Ellsberg, the decorated Marine and Pentagon consultant who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (proving that several presidents in both parties lied to the American people repeatedly concerning the Vietnam War). Colson’s plan was to derail criticism of both Watergate and the Vietnam War by getting the news to cover Ellsberg’s psychiatric counseling. (This backfired.  Ellsberg was charged with illegally releasing secret information–even though, unlike the United Kingdom, the U.S. has nothing like an “Official Secrets Act.” The burglary and leak of Ellsberg’s psychiatric files led the judge to throw out the case.) In 1974, Colson was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate coverup, as were dozens of other officials in the Nixon administration.

While Colson was facing arrest, a friend gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and introduced him to a prayer and Bible study group. Colson was converted and became an evangelical Christian. When the press learned of this, most were extremely skeptical, believing that Colson was simply trying for a reduced sentence. (Many of his fellow Watergate convicts thought the same thing.) It may be that Colson or someone close to him did release the conversion story with that in mind, but I think his conversion was genuine.  I have not doubted the sincerity of his faith, but rather the terrible shallowness of his theology. Colson reveals the huge weakness of evangelical Christianity in cultivating genuine discipleship and a Christian identity that is trans-national and with loyalties that resist the Powers and Authorities and stand with the poor and marginalized. Although 19th C. American evangelicalism displayed these characteristics, they have been mostly missing in 20th and 21st C. evangelicalism and Colson exemplifies this weakness. But there is no need to claim that his conversion was faked. It appears genuine.

Colson’s prison sentence opened his eyes to the huge problems of the U.S. “justice” system and especially the prison system.  Upon release from prison, Colson could no longer practice law or vote as a convicted felon. (In 2000, Colson, then a resident of Florida, had his voting rights restored by FL Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush (R).) He published his spiritual memoir, Born Again, which became a bestseller. It fit with the times. After the secular ’60s (including the notorious “Death of God” movement at the end of the decade), there were several national revivals in the 1970s:  It witnessed the birth of Jesus People, USA (an intentional community of ex-hippies); it saw several campus radicals become Christians (many retaining their liberal politics in the birth of the “Evangelical Left” of the 1960s), even the conversion of a few Black Panthers and former gang members. It saw the highly successful “I Found It!” campaign, the birth of “Jesus Rock” (later watered-down and commercialized as “Contemporary Christian Music”), the height of popularity for evangelist Billy Graham, and much more. Even the flourishing of many cults and new religions in the 1970s reflected a nation that was exhausted by political protests and social change movements turning inward to seek spiritual grounding–in both familiar paths to American Christians and in movements and ideas that, however ancient elsewhere in the world, were novel and strange on U.S. soil.  In that context, Colson’s redemption narrative–a form of spiritual memoir at least as old as St. Augustine’s Confessions–was eagerly read by many.

I’m sure that Colson used money from the book sales to pay his many legal bills, but I don’t conclude that his sole motivation was monetary.  I think that, at one level, he was seeking to give testimony, to learn to share his faith evangelistically.  I think the book was popular for at least one other reason:  Many conservative Christians, including the like of Billy Graham, felt horribly betrayed by the Nixon administration. Graham had endorsed Nixon as a person of faith and the conservatives turned to him in reaction to the Chicago riots at the ’68 Democratic National Convention and the secular spirit that (it seemed to many) had dominated the movements for social change of the ’60s. (This despite the numerous clergy, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, who had major leadership positions in both the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.) Watergate had made many feel like they had been duped and that their faith had been made a laughingstock before the world. Colson’s Born Again reassured many of these people that they hadn’t been completely wrong.  They treated him not as a notorious sinner who had been saved but needed intense discipleship before he could be trusted with any form of leadership, but as a prodigal son returning to the fold.  Unlike the ex-hippie radicals in the Sojourners Community or Open Door or Jesus People, USA, etc., Colson’s conversion was to a form of Christianity and church life that looked “safe” and familiar.

But he did do one challenging thing after his release from prison that didn’t fit the comfortable conservative Christian mold:  He created Prison Fellowship.  It was and is an outreach ministry to prisoners.  Now, Christians have been reaching out to the imprisoned since Jesus commanded it in Matt. 25.  In the 19th C. in the USA, evangelical Protestant Christians had literally hundreds of prison ministries. They also led the nation in prison reform efforts, including movements to abolish the death penalty.  But, by the early 20th C., this had mostly disappeared. Most denominations still produced a few ministers who would become prison chaplains, but, with the exception of Catholics and the Black Church, few members of local churches ever visited prisoners or tried to help them find employment after prison, much less did anything toward prison reform.  Colson’s Prison Fellowship soon became the largest para-church prison ministry in the nation and it was very successful in many ways.  In that way, it reconnected American evangelicals to a phase of their more radical history.  But, despite Colson’s own opposition to the death penalty (until the arrest of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing), he and Prison Fellowship did very little to actually reform prison conditions or the penal code. They did evangelistic outreach and some (limited) post-prison support.  But it was a very important ministry that changed the lives of many–and did not easily fit the cynical meme that “Colson just went from conservative politics to conservative religion with no real changes in basic outlook.” At least in this area, he did change.

[Correction from a reader’s comments:  I did not know that Colson was an early supporter of for-profit prisons, an incredibly unjust industry that has exploded in popularity since the 1980s. It’s very un-Christian and Colson’s support undermines one of the few areas of respect I had for him.  It may be the process I describe below that corrupted even Prison Fellowship.]

At this point, American evangelicalism did something that hurt Colson as a Christian:  Instead of insisting he stay out of the headlines for a time (as even the converted Apostle Paul did for 3 years) and learn. including unlearning all his habits as a political operative, they gave him a soapbox. In the late 1970s, Colson was given a regular column in Christianity Today, the most popular Christian magazine in the country, with a HUGE circulation that dwarfs all competitors.  From this post, he became a pundit and a leader–and this did much harm to his own spirituality and to the life of both the church and the nation.  From his position at Christianity Today, Colson helped to launch the movement known as “The Religious Right.” Thus, he went back into the game of politics, conservative politics, where he had been tempted to have no ethics and few scruples. He was soon hob-nobbing with those who still had no scruples: Richard Vigurie, Adolph Coors, Grover Norquist, and many others. And, while some of the leaders of the Religious Right later regretted the way they were co-opted by the Republican Party for its own uses (most notably, Frank Schaeffer, who broke with the movement in the 198os and became an Orthodox Christian, but also others), Colson never expressed any doubts about his use of many of the same tactics that led to his imprisonment to push the Religious Right agenda: outlawing abortion, pushing state-sponsored prayer in public schools, art censorship, anti-science campaigns (first against evolutionary biology and later against human-caused catastrophic climate change), restrictions of civil liberties, eroding the social safety net in ways that please big business and hurt  organized labor, promotion of huge military budgets and an overly militarized foreign policy, and, especially, an all-out crusade against GLBT persons and against women’s equality.  This agenda is hardly Christian and shows an inability to separate loyalty to the church universal from what should be lesser loyalties to particular nations, races, classes, genders, sexual orientations, etc. For Colson, and the Religious Right he helped to create, Christian faith was/is inseparable from the Republican Culture Wars.

For much of his post-Watergate life there was a notable exception to this:  Colson’s opposition to capital punishment. In 1960, polls showed that a majority of Americans wanted to abolish the death penalty.  By the early 1970s, this was no longer the case, which made for an incredible backlash when the Supreme Court temporarily ruled against the death penalty in 1972. (By 1976, they had okayed it, again!) From the mid-1970s until the late 1990s, the popularity of the death penalty grew every year in the USA. Only the advent of DNA testing (about 800 people have now been released from death rows by DNA evidence proving they could not have been guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted) changed that trajectory.  As a longtime death penalty opponent, I can testify to how lonely one could feel in America at that time. But Colson swam against the stream and argued against the death penalty during its rising popularity. Until the Oklahoma City bombing. He returned to a pro-death penalty stance just at a time when many other conservative white, evangelicals, including the likes of Pat Robertson, were questioning their support.  Colson ceased to be a prophetic voice, on the only issue in which he was one, just as that voice was needed most.

Even more than this, however, Colson helped twist U.S. evangelicalism by the promotion of “worldview theory.” Now, the term “worldview” for a coherent philosophy or outlook, is not new.  And Colson did not invent the outlook I’m about to describe: It was proposed first (I think) by the 19th C. Dutch Christian statesman, Abraham Kuyper.  Colson probably got it not from Kuyper, but from Francis Schaeffer, another early leader of the Religious Right.  The idea is that people carry around coherent, airtight, “worldviews” that are more than just doctrines or ethical behaviors, but entire, self-contained perspectives on the world.  And these various worldviews are in mortal combat. One cannot hold “THE” Christian Worldview and dialogue with someone who has an Enlightenment Worldview or a Hindu Worldview, or a Muslim Worldview. One can only defeat the rival worlview through superior logic or conversion or by some form of coercion or force.  Now, this is a problem on many levels:  It fails to understand that worldviews are NOT air-tight and coherent. The search for a pure “biblical worldview” is as elusive as finding someone who is of “pure race.” Go back far enough and we’re all mix-breeds, folks. The Bible itself contains elements from dozens of other cultures–sometimes in conflict and sometimes not.  The Enlightenment has elements in tension with Christianity, but is itself a product of Christianity.  Colson and other “worldview” types look back to the Middle Ages in nostalgia for when Christianity dominated the education of the universities–but this is only part of the story. The Western Medieval university itself was an idea borrowed from Muslims from North Africa–who also brought the concept of zero, calculus, Arabic numerals (which they borrowed from India even earlier), astronomy, and advances in architecture. They also led the Medievals to recover many of the Greek classics, including Aristotle. The thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, which synthesized the theology of St. Augustine with the philosophy of Aristotle, would not have been possible without the work of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd, also known as Averröes.  This is just one example of many as to the way that cultural influences mix and mingle.  The “worldview” idea distorts all that.

Colson’s promotion of “worldview” ideas also makes responsible citizenship in a pluralistic democracy all but impossible. It encourages total defeat of all who disagree as not only “the enemy,” but even as GOD’S enemy.  “Compromise” and “dialogue” are turned into swearwords. No one is able to learn anything from anyone not already viewed as an insider because “worldviews” can only clash, never dialogue, never learn from one another.

More than any particular campaign against gays or feminists, or Muslims, etc., the concept of “worldview” Colson promoted has led to our dysfunctional civic life.

For all these reasons, I believe that the majority of Chuck Colson’s influence has been negative. I mourn the passing of all persons, but I hope Colson’s passing allows for fresh winds to blow in American Christian life.

April 29, 2012 Posted by | biographical entries, biographies, church history, obituaries | 6 Comments

Obama Names 13 for 2012 Medal of Freedom

The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor awarded by the federal government of the United States of America.  Each year the recipients are named by the President of the United States and the medal is awarded personally by the President in a ceremony at the White House.  This year, President Obama has named 13 people to receive the Medal of Freedom. I list them below along with the White House’s official description/citation.  Each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation,” Obama  said. “They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a  better place.  I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”

Madeleine Albright (1937-).  From 1997 to 2001, under President William J. Clinton, Albright served as the 64th United States Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position.  During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance’s campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe.  From 1993 to 1997, she was America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.  Since leaving office, she founded the Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management, returned to teaching at Georgetown University, and authored five books.  Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute and is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. [Her alma mater, Wellesley College, has named the Albright Institute for International Affairs in her honor. MLW-W] Education: B.A., Wellesley College; M.A., Ph.D., Columbia University.  Fluent in English, French, German & Czech with lesser fluency in Polish and Serbo-Croatian.  Currently, Professor of International Relations, Georgetown University (Walsh School of Foreign Service).

John Doar (1921-).  Doar was a legendary public servant and leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s.  He served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.  In that capacity, he was instrumental during many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Mississippi, following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963.  Doar brought notable civil rights cases, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and leading the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  He later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon.  Doar continues to practice law at Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York.  Education:  A.B., Princeton University (’44); Ll.B., Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley (’48).

Bob Dylan (1941-).  Born Robert Allen Zimmerman.  One of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, Dylan released his first album in 1962.  Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades.  He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award.  He was named a Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Art et des Lettres and has received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.  Dylan was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts.  He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists.  He continues recording and touring around the world today.

William Foege (1936-). A physician and epidemiologist, Foege helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s.  He was appointed Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1977 and, with colleagues, founded the Task Force for Child Survival in 1984.  Foege became Executive Director of The Carter Center in 1986 and continues to serve the organization as a Senior Fellow.  He helped shape the global health work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and remains a champion of a wide array of issues, including child survival and development, injury prevention, and preventative medicine.  Foege’s leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy, and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health.  The son of a Lutheran minister, Foege was himself inspired by stories of his uncle, a Lutheran missionary to New Guinea, and by the life and work of Albert Schweitzer.  Education:  B.A., Pacific Lutheran University (’57); M.D., University of Washington School of Medicine (’61); M.P.H., Harvard University School of Public Health (’65).

John Glenn (1921-). Glenn is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator.  In 1962, he was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth.  After retiring from the Marine Corps, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate (D)  in Ohio in 1974. He was an architect and sponsor of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act and served as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs committee from 1987 until 1995.  In 1998, Glenn became the oldest person to visit space at the age of 77. He retired from the Senate in 1999. Glenn is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Education: B. S. in Engineering, Muskingum College. Honorary degrees from 9 different colleges and universities.



Gordon Hirobayashi (1918-2012).  Hirabayashi openly defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he refused the order to report for evacuation to an internment camp, instead turning himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory.  Consequently, he was convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew.  Hirabayashi appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.  Following World War II and his time in prison, Hirabayashi obtained his doctoral degree in sociology and became a professor.  In 1987, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  He eventually emigrated to Canada. Hirabayashi died on January 2, 2012, having been diagnosed with Alzheimers’ Disease 11 years earlier. Born into a Christian family in the Mukyokai Christian Movement, Hirobayashi became a convinced member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  Education: B.A., M.A., Ph.D. (all in sociology), University of Washington.


Dolores Huerta (1930-). Huerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America.  Huerta has served as a community activist and a political organizer, and was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California.  In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing community organizers and national leaders.  In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.  She has received numerous other honors, including honorary degrees from Mills College and Princeton University, and the 2007 Community of Christ International Peace Award. She is an honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America and on the board of Equality Now.  Huerta is fluent in Spanish and English.

Jan Karski (1914-2000).  Born Jan Kozielewski, Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world.  He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation.  Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials.  He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt.  Karski published Story of a Secret State, earned a Ph.D at Georgetown University, and became a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.  Born in 1914, Karski became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.


Juliet Gordon Low (1860-1927).  Born in 1860, Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912.  The organization strives to teach girls self-reliance and resourcefulness.  It also encourages girls to seek fulfillment in the professional world and to become active citizens in their communities.  Since 1912, the Girl Scouts has grown into the largest educational organization for girls and has had over 50 million members.  Low died in 1927.  This year, the Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th Anniversary, calling 2012 “The Year of the Girl.”




Toni Morrison (1931).  Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford.  One of our nation’s most celebrated novelists, Morrison is renowned for works such as Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.  When she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize (for Literature) in 1993, Morrison’s citation captured her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”  She created the Princeton Atelier at Princeton University to convene artists and students.  Morrison continues to write today. Education:  B.A., English, Howard University (’53); M.A., English, Cornell University (’55).



Shimon Peres (1923-). An ardent advocate for Israel’s security and for peace, Shimon Peres was elected the ninth President of Israel in 2007.  First elected to the Knesset in 1959, he has served in a variety of positions throughout the Israeli government, including in twelve Cabinets as Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Transport and Communications.  Peres served as Prime Minister from 1984-1986 and 1995-1996.  Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Foreign Minister during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. Through his life and work, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  Fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, English, and French.


John Paul Stevens (1920). Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, when he retired as the third longest-serving Justice in the Court’s history.  Known for his independent, pragmatic and rigorous approach to judging, Justice Stevens and his work have left a lasting imprint on the law in areas such as civil rights, the First Amendment, the death penalty, administrative law, and the separation of powers.  He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford, and previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  Stevens is a veteran of World War II, in which he served as a naval intelligence officer and was awarded the Bronze Star.  Education:  B.A., English, University of Chicago (’41); J.D., Magna cum laude, Northwestern University School of Law (’47).


Pat Head Summit (1952).  Born Patricia Sue Head in Clarksville, TN. In addition to accomplishing an outstanding career as the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches, Summitt has taken the University of Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball.  She has received numerous awards, including being named Naismith Women’s Collegiate Coach of the Century.  Off the court, she has been a spokesperson against Alzheimer’s.  The Pat Summitt Foundation will make grants to nonprofits to provide education and awareness, support to patients and families, and research to prevent, cure and ultimately eradicate early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.  Married R. B. Summit in 1980. They filed for divorce in 2007. They have one son, Ross Tyler Summit (b. 1990), who played walk on for the University of TN’s men’s basketball team and is set to graduate from UT-Knoxville in May 2012. He has been hired to coach the Marquette University Women’s Basketball team.  Pat Head earned her B.A. at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UT-Martin).  1976, Co-captain of the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team for the 1976 Summer Olympics, winning a silver medal. 1984, Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team for the 1984 U.S. Olympics, winning gold.  August 2011, announced that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  Announced retirement and given the title Head Coach Emeritus on April 18, 2012.  Her coaching career included 1,098 wins in 1,306 Games in Division I. No other Division I coach, male or female, has won more than 927 games.  1990: Inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame; 1999: Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Famee; 2000: Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; 2008: Best Coach/Manager, Espy Award.

This is the amazing group of people who are recipients of this year’s U.S. Medal of Freedom.

April 27, 2012 Posted by | biographies | Leave a comment

Hidden Gems, VII: Non-Coastal Southwest

The five states of the non-coastal Southwest, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, all carved out of territory that was once Northwest Mexico, are mostly rural and sparsely populated, but not as much so as some other regions.  All have seen a huge increase in their Latino/a populations, both through immigration and very high Hispanic birthrates.  Prior to the economic meltdown of ’08, all the states in this region also saw significant population increases from relocations from the Northeast and from California, due to cheaper prices, lower taxes, and what was a booming tech industry. The Great Recession/Lesser Depression slowed, but did not stop, this process.  And most of these states have long invested in both public and private higher education–many from before the days when they were legally states.  So the educational options in this region are considerably broader than in the non-coastal Northwest and even some portions of the South Central Plains region or the poorer, more rural, states of the Southeast.

1. Arizona:  Arizona is a rural state, but one that is growing quickly. It has just under 6.5 million people in over 113K square miles for an avge. of 56.3 persons per square mile–hardly a dense urban environment when compared with NY or CA, but downright crowded compared to most of the non-coastal Northwest states. And AZ’s population is increasingly diverse, with nearly 30% Latino/a and other non-whites comprising an additional 13%. (Because many Latino/a persons also identify as “white,” totals come to more than 100%.) More than 14% speak another language than English at home, over 85% have at least a high school education and nearly 30% have a bachelor’s education or more.  The median income is slightly lower than the national median ($50, 448 per yr. to the national $51, 914 per yr.), but this is well above the median for many other rural states.  So, with all these resources, the relative scarcity of insitutions of higher education in AZ is surprising, to say the least.  To be sure, the state govt. has invested in a very large community college (two-year) system, but it only has 3 public institutions granting baccalaureates and higher degrees. Each of these three public universities (Arizona State University–Tempe; Northern Arizona University–Flagstaff; University of Arizona–Tucson), is a comprehensive, doctoral, research university with excellent national reputations (although these have been harmed somewhat by the recent AZ laws forbidding the teaching of “ethnic studies”). There is no private research university and very few private universities or liberal arts colleges of any kind.  Hidden gem:

Prescott College (Prescott).–In 1966, the Ford Foundation gathered top educators from around the U.S. and challenged them to create a college “for the future” using the best available learning theories to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Prescott College was the result of that gathering. Despite a dedicated faculty, administration, and enthusiastic student body, Prescott College went bankrupt in 1974.  (It’s original campus is now the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.) Prescott students and core faculty refused to let the college fold and after a series of emergency meetings forme the Prescott Center for Alternative Education and holding classes in the basement of a downtown hotel.  This made headlines as “the college that wouldn’t die.” Since that time, PC has again grown developed a new campus (and a satellite campus in Tucson) and has concentrated on combining three emphases: the original Prescott College emphasis on cutting edge teaching and learning theories to educate students to be adaptable for an ever-changing world, strong commitment to a broad liberal arts core, and an ethical concern for the environment in every aspect of college life.  Thus, the Prescott College motto, “For the liberal arts, for the environment, and for the future.”  Prescott College offers an on-campus B.S. in Environmental Studies, 4 limited residency B.A. degrees, a limited residency M.A. in 6 areas and an on-campus M.A. in Social Justice and Human Rights, and a limited residency Ph.D. in Sustainability Education. It also offers teacher education programs.

2. Colorado:  CO is another rapidly growing and changing Southwestern state that is moving from being mostly rural to more evenly split between rural and urban populations.  It has just over 5 million people in 103.6 K square miles for a pop. density of 48.5 persons per square mile, slightly smaller and less-dense than AZ.  The Hispanic or Latino/a population is just over 20% and slightly more than 16% of the population speaking some other language than English at home.  89% of the population has at least a high school education and over 35% have a baccalaureate or higher.  The median household income is a little higher than the national median and the percentage below the poverty level slightly less than the national average.  CO has invested in higher education, both publicly and privately.  The “usual suspects” must include the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, the youngest and most technology-oriented of the nation’s federal military academies.  For a rural state, CO hosts an impressive 14 public colleges and universities, including the Colorado State University system (3 campuses) and the University of Colorado (4 campuses)–and both the CSU flagship campus at Fort Collins and the CU flagship campus at Boulder are comprehensive, national-level, research universities that lead CO’s “usual suspects.” One should also highlight the University of Denver as a private, independent, national, comprehensive, research university.  Hidden gems;

Fort Lewis College (Durango).  Highly selective, public liberal arts college that began as a military fort and then became a boarding school for Native Americans before becoming a liberal arts college in 1911.  Fort Lewis College offers free tuition, room, and board to Native Americans and has done so since 1911.  FLC combines challenging academics with extraordinary personal attention from faculty, freedom of academic exploration, and once-in-a-lifetime experiential learning opportunities. Believing that a well-rounded education includes physical education, FLC takes full advantage of its mountain setting to create a physically active and highly athletic campus.  FLC has just under 4,000 students including students from 47 states, 139 Native American tribes & Native Alaskan villages, and 19 countries.  FLC combines a liberal arts education with professional training and career placement.

Colorado College (Colorado Springs).  Founded in 1874 by Thomas Haskell, it was modelled after Ohio’s Oberlin College: ecumenically Christian, thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts, and socially progressive and reformist.  Like Oberlin, Colorado College has lost its Christian identity, but retained the rest of its 19th C. heritage.  Along with an across-the-curriculum writing emphasis, CC is known for its “block plan.” The school year is divided into 8 mini-semesters called “Blocks,” and in each Block students take only one course at a time. Class sizes are capped at 25 students, or 32 if the class has 2 professors.  It has recently initiated several sweeping environmental sustainability programs.  CC’s First Year Program teaches students how to learn so that they don’t waste 4 years just memorizing facts.  All college requirements include competency in a second language, critical thinking, at least 2 sciences courses and at least one science lab, a physical education requirement, writing, historical knowledge of the Western tradition along with critiques from other diverse cultures.

Naropa University (Boulder). A private liberal arts university founded in 1974 by Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and  Oxford University scholar.  It is a unique university that is  Buddhist-inspired, ecumenical, interfaith, and non-sectarian.  Naropa University promotes “contemplative education,” combining the rigorous liberal arts and sciences education of the Western heritage that began in ancient Greece with the meditative approach to knowledge of the East that came from classical India.  Promoting self and other awareness, compassion, and ethical responsibility, all of Naropa’s studies include both traditional Western academics and practices of sitting meditation and related disciplines–seeking a wholistic approach to knowledge.

3. Nevada:  No hidden gems (only 2nd state like that). Only research universities are University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) and University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV).  No private colleges except branches of universities from other states and no public liberal arts colleges.  27% of state is under 18. 35% population increase between 2000 and 2010. So, it appears that changing demographics will lead soon to a demand for more educational opportunities.

4. New Mexico:  New Mexico is a rural state of just over 2 million people in a geographical area of around 122K square miles, or 17 persons per square mile.  It is not a wealthy state;  the median income is $43, 820 per annum, well below the national median of $51, 940.  18.4% of NM is below the poverty level, which is much higher than the national level of 13.8%.  Again, this translates into a relatively sparse number of institutions of higher education, but New Mexico has invested in more public universities than other states in that same condition. Usual suspects:  New Mexico has 17 state universities led by 2 major public research universities:  University of New Mexico ( 5 campuses, with the flagship campus at Albuquerque).   The New Mexico State University system is the only public, land grant, university classified as “Hispanic Serving” by the U.S. government.  The flagship campus (out of 4) is at Las Cruces.  No private research universities. Hidden gem:

St. John’s College (Santa Fe). This is the Western campus of the St. John’s College in Annapolis,MD.  One of the “Colleges That Change Lives,” St. John’s College is a private, non-sectarian, liberal arts college built around The Great Books of the Modern World.  On the undergraduate level there are no majors and no electives.  All students take the same curriculum: No textbooks, students all read original sources from the Great Books, beginning with the Ancient Greeks and the Bible and moving chronologically to the modern era. With no tests (except vocabularly quizzes for the 2 languages), students write papers for seminars and tutorials. No letter or number grades, student transcripts contain narrative evaluations that prospective employers find much more informative.  4 years of mathematics (geometry, astronomy, calculus, relativity);  2 years of ancient Greek; 2 years of modern French; 4 years of English composition, poetry, and fiction; 3 years of science (biology, chemistry, atomic theory, physics); 2 years of music (choral singing, composition, & music theory); 4 years of seminars (philosophy, history, theology, political science, literature, economics, and psychology)–all using original sources of the Great Books.  The Santa Fe campus also has 2 graduate degrees: The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (MALA) that focuses on the Western “canon” of Great Books and the Master of Arts in Eastern Classics.

5.  Texas:  Texas has a huge number of both public and private universities, many of them dating from before statehood.  There are 6 major public university systems in TX, anchored by the University of Texas system (13 campuses with flagship at Austin), and including Texas A & M University (12 campuses with the flagship at College Station, and the University of Houston.  Texas is also hom to several private, national, comprehensive research universities among the “usual suspects,” including Baylor University (Waco); Rice University (Houston); Southern Methodist University (Dallas); Texas Christian University (Dallas); and Texas Wesleyan University (Fort Worth) among others.  Hidden Gems:

Austin College (Sherman). Located just north of present-day Austin and founded in 1848, Austin College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas still operating under its original name and charter.  It is an independent, co-ed, college of the liberal arts and sciences related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church, USA.  One of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives,” Austin College is particularly strong in study-abroad programs. In the last decade, 70% of all students have participated in at least one international experience, studying in 99 countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe.  3 times in the last 5 years, Austin College has been ranked #1 in the U.S. for international study by the Institute for International Education.  Austin College is one of the top institutions in TX for producing Fulbright Fellows and 6 students won Fulbrights in 2011.  Austin College students have also won Mellon, Truman, Rotary Ambassador, and Madison awards. Austin College is also well-known for community service by both students and faculty.

University of Dallas (Irving) Founded in 1956 (with a pre-history dating to 1910), the University of Dallas is a private, co-ed, Catholic university related to the Diocese of Dallas.  The only Catholic institution in Texas to have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter (and one of only 16 Catholic colleges/universities with Phi Beta Kappa chapters nationwide), UD also has an enormous amount of National Merit scholars.  It’s Pre-law and Pre-Med students are accepted into law schools and medical schools at much higher rates than the national average.  UD’s Core Curriculum is based around the Great Books of the Western World with a special emphasis on the Catholic intellectual tradition.  This is supplemented by strong requirements in the natural sciences, complete with laboratory research, requireed of all majors.  An Office of Academic Success enables each student to strive for excellence and leads to most students graduating within 4 years.  UD is home to several centers and projects, including, The Center for Christianity and the Common Good; The Center for Thomas More Studies; Center for Cybersecurity Education; Center for Professional Development; Dallas Area Network for Teaching & Education (DANTE) Project; Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations.  Although open to faculty and students of all faiths, and promoting a continual dialogue between faith and reason, UD also serves the Catholic Church. Among UD’s alumni are 6 Catholic bishops, 225 priests, 70 brothers and sisters, and even more alumni employed as chaplains, youth ministers, and other faith-based professions.

McMurray University (Abilene) Founded by Methodists in 1923 and still closely related to the United Methodist Church.  Although welcoming students of all faiths, and though only 27% of students are Methodists, McMurray values its Christian identity and Methodist tradition. It’s core values include: Christian faith as the foundation for life, personal relationships as the catalyst for life, learning as the journey of life, excellence as the goal of life, and service as the measure of life.  The Washington Monthly has honored McMurray as one of the nation’s top universities that serve the common good through: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (faculty & student research & producing future science Ph.D.s), and Community Service.

Southwestern University (Georgetown) Founded by Methodists in 1840, Southwestern University is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas.  It remains closely connected to the United Methodist Church, but is open and welcoming to students of all faiths and no particular faith.  Located in Georgetown, just north of Austin, the state capital, and within 3 hours drive of 3 of the 10 largest cities in the U.S.  Southwestern is a university because it houses both the Brown College of Arts and Sciences and the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, but the core curriculum, known as the Paidea Program, is required in both and there are no graduate programs.  Southwestern’s core purpose is to foster a liberal arts community whose values and actions contribute to the wellbeing of humanity.  It is one of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives.” The core Paidea Program fosters civic engagement, diversity and intercultural experiences, collaborative or guided research and creative works.

Trinity University (San Antonio) Founded by Cumberland Presbyterians in 1869, and today related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church, USA, Trinity University adds limited graduate programs to a undergraduate program in the liberal arts and sciences.  The core curriculum includes First Year seminars, writing workshops, proficiency in at least one foreign language, computer literacy, mathematical skills, fitness education, and a senior capstone experience.  The university is student-driven, faculty-inspired, and community-connected.

April 21, 2012 Posted by | colleges/universities, education | 1 Comment

Hidden Gems VI: Non-Coastal Northwest

The Non-coastal West covers a very large, sparsely-populated, territory and the non-coastal Northwest is more sparsely populated than the non-coastal Southwest.  It was difficult to divide these two sections. I eventually decided to include Utah in the Northwest, which is arguably part of the Southwest, because Texas dominates the Southwest and these posts are already too large.  The sparse population and lower average incomes of the Northwest leads to fewer colleges and universities–and, thus, correspondently fewer “hidden gems.” In this post, I cover the states of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.

1. Idaho:  Idaho is an extremely rural state and low-population state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it had just over 1.5 million people in 2010–or less than the Borough of Manhattan in NYC. It has over 89 million square miles of real estate, but only 19 persons per square mile! It is also one of the poorer states, though richer than some others because of the early history of mining. Still the median income for a family of 4 is only $43.5k per annum.  These demographics explain the sparsity of Idaho’s institutions of higher education.  The “usual suspects” include three (3) public research universities: The University of Idaho (Moscow), Idaho State University (Pocatello), which is attempting to open the first medical school in the state, and Boise State University (Boise), which is becoming well known in technology-related fields.  There is no private research university, but among the usual suspects one must count Brigham Young University-Idaho, which is its own institution and not a branch of Utah’s more famous BYU. Idaho has the nation’s 2nd largest Mormon/LDS population and BYU-Idaho is well-regarded academically even outside Latter-Day Saints’ circles.  Hidden gems:

College of Idaho (Caldwell):  Founded by Presbyterians in 1884, the College of Idaho opened it’s doors in 1891, and by either date it is the oldest private institution of higher education in the state.  With a small enrollment of just over 1,000 students, nearly 10% are international students and 11% are persons of color–which in an extremely “white” state like Idaho translates into more diversity than most of the student body has ever seen before arriving on campus.  C of I is known for its “Peak” curriculum in which students map out individual plans of study that allow for each student to graduate with a major and 3 minors in 4 years.  C of I’s alumni include 6 Rhodes Scholars, 3 Marshall scholars, 10 Truman and Goldwater scholars, 4 governors, a Pulitzer-prize winning historian, and an Academy Award-winning composer.  C of I leads all Idaho institutions of higher education in freshmen retention, graduation rates, and alumni giving.

Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa):  Organized as a Bible college in 1913, it became a liberal arts college in 1917 and by 1927 was the first accredited liberal arts college of the Church of the Nazarene.  Select masters’ degrees were added in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the 1999 name change from Northwest Nazarene College to Northwest Nazarene University.  Regularly ranked as one of the best colleges or universities in the Northwest, NNU’s campus atmosphere is distinctively evangelical Christian and its approach to education is thoroughly rooted in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition of the Church of the Nazarene, although only about 45% of students claim “Nazarene” as their faith.  The campus is not interfaith welcoming and has strict moral codes for faculty and students.  But its graduates include one astronaut, the current administrator of U.S.AID’s Bureau of Global Health and several Nazarene theologians.

2. Montana:  Montana is an even larger rural state, with an even smaller population.  As of 2011, less than 1 million people live in MT. It has 145 million square miles of land and only 6.8 people per square mile! The median income is nearly identical with Idaho’s.  But the people of Montana have invested more in public higher education.  The University of Montana system has 4 campuses with a flagship research campus at Missoula and The Montana State University system also has 4 campuses with a flagship campus at Bozeman.  There are no private, comprehensive research universities. Hidden Gems:

Carroll College (Helena). Founded in 1909 by John Patrick Caroll, the 2nd Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Helena, MT. Originally named St. Charles College in honor of St. Charles Boromeo, it was renamed to honor its founder in 1932.  Founded as a single-sex men’s college for the purpose of training men for the priesthood and for lives of service in law, medicine, teaching, and engineering, it is now co-ed. The college observatory is the oldest astronomical observatory in the state of MT.  60% of students are Catholic and 2/3 come from the state of MT.  It is ranked well academically.  Known for its Environmental Studies major and for a civil engineering degree with an environmental focus, Caroll is also strong in philosophy, public policy, and the biological sciences.  The Honors Scholars Program is centered on the Great Books of the Western World, but also includes a senior thesis, a community service component, and a cultural component.

Rocky Mountain College (Billings).   RMC traces its history to 1878, but its contemporary form came from the 1947 merger of two smaller liberal arts colleges.  RMC is related to several mainline Protestant denominations including the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and the United Church of Christ.  In 2011, RMC’s total enrollment was just over 1,000 students, including part-time commuters. RMC promotes the core values of academic excellence rooted in the liberal arts, transformational learning based in experiential learning and service learning programs, shared responsibility, and stewardship.  It houses an Institute of Peace Studies which gives an annual Jeanette Rankin Peace Award. (Jeanette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress in the U.S., elected from MT before women even had the right to vote nationwide.  She voted against U.S. entry into WWI, along with a large minority. She was later the ONLY member of Congress to vote against entry into World War II saying, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. She was from that now-extinct species, “liberal Republican.”)  But RMC also has an Army ROTC program which shows an institutionally divided mind.  In addition to traditional majors, RMC also offers Equestrian Studies, Aeronautical Sciences, and Aviation Management.

3. North Dakota:  Another large, rural state with very few people–less than 700,000 total. The other demographics are very similar to what we’ve seen in this entire region.  North Dakota’s public universities and colleges are all organized together as the North Dakota State University system which includes 6 universities 1 4-yr. public liberal arts college, and 4 2-yr. community colleges. The public universities include 2 doctoral-granting, research universities: the flagship University of North Dakota, famed for its aerospace programs and which hosts the only medical school and the only law school in the state; and the North Dakota State University of Agricultural and Applied Sciences (more commonly known as North Dakota State University or NDSU). Hidden gem:

Jamestown College (Jamestown).  Founded by Presbyterians in 1883, six years before North Dakota statehood, and still related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  It is a private, co-ed, comprehensive college of liberal arts and sciences with just over 1,000 students from 31 states and 13 countries. Student-teacher ratio is 13:1.  Listed by the Templeton Foundation as a “Character-Building” college.  Because of its “Journey to Success” program, Jamestown has a graduation rate of 99.5%, a job placement rate of 99% and a graduate school placement rate of 96%.  All activities, in and out of the classroom, are built around the “Journey to Success,” including self-assessment, personalized advising, mentoring, career counseling, a 4-year graduation guarantee, and a guaranteed internship.  Nearly 100% of students receive some form of financial aid, and usually this covers more than half of tuition, room & board costs.

4. South Dakota:  South Dakota has nearly identical square miles as North Dakota and is just as rural, but has a slightly larger population of less than 900,000 people. The median income is nearly identical as well. Despite this, SD has only 6 state universities and 3 tribal colleges. It has no private, doctoral-granting, research university.  Of the public universities, 2 are research universities, The University of South Dakota (Vermillion), which houses the state’s only accredited business, medical, and law schools, and South Dakota State University (Brookings). Hidden Gems:

Augustana College (Sioux Falls).  There are two liberal arts colleges by this name in the U.S., one in the Chicagoland area of IL and this one in Sioux Falls, SD. Both are co-ed, liberal arts colleges related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  This Augustana College, nicknamed “Augie,” was founded in 1860. It is a top-ranked liberal arts college featured in Harvard Schmarvard and the Templeton Honor Roll of character-building colleges.  It’s 5 core values are: Christian identity, liberal arts, excellence, community, and service.  About 46% of students are Lutheran and another 20% are Catholic, with various other Christian denominations filling out the rest of student population. Few students on campus identify as “secular,” “agnostic,” “atheist,” or “other religious,” despite the college’s insistence that “all faith groups are welcome here.”  The honors program, Civitas, is focused around responsible citizenship based on the life and thought of the German Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It has an excellent study abroad program with numerous options–including numerous financing options.  There is no Greek Life to divide students into cliques, but numerous campus organizations and service opportunities are available.

Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell).  Founded by Methodists in 1883, driven to build “a college of stone while living in houses of sod,” DWU is, despite a name dating from 1909, a 4 year liberal arts college rather than a university as defined in the 20th C.  It averages about 800 students and is well known for its programs in Native American culture and history.  DWU’s most famous alumnus is former U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD) who was the 1972 presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.  DWU’s library is named for George and Eleanor McGovern as is its 2006-founded McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service.  Divided into 4 colleges: College of Arts and Humanities, Donna Starr Christen College of Health Sciences, Fitness, and Science, College of Public Service and Leadership.  Every student organization and athletic sport must adopt at least one service project.

5. Wyoming:  Wyoming has the reputation of being the most politically conservative state in the union–more conservative than Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, or even Utah! I don’t know if that reputation is deserved (past a certain point, is it possible to determing the most politically conservative or liberal states?), but, if so, it could explain the lack of investment in higher education.  The state is as rural and as sparsely populated as its neighbors, having barely half a million residents, but it has a slightly higher median household income ($53,802) than its four neighbors listed above.  Wyoming’s entire public higher education system consists of the University of Wyoming and 7 community colleges(!). There is no private, research university.  It’s only private college was not founded until 2007 and is a Catholic liberal arts college that has not yet won accreditation.  This is the only state in the union (so far) in which I have not found any educational “hidden gem,” public or private, although Wyoming Catholic College may grow into one.

6. Utah:  Utah  has the largest population of the very sparsely populated states of the non-coastal Northwest, with just under 3 million people. With a land area of slightly over 82 million square miles, Utah has 33.4 people per square male–which is positively dense compared with its neighbors.  It is also more prosperous with a median income for a family of 4 of $56, 330 per annum.  The citizens of Utah have invested some of that money into higher education. There are 9 public, state-supported universities, of which 2 are public research universities: The University of Utah (Salt Lake City)(which includes not only the most respected law school in the state, but the state’s only medical school), and the flagship campus (Logan) of the Utah State University system. Also included in the “usual suspects” in Utah higher education is Brigham Young University, the only private, research university in Utah–founded, owned, and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). BYU is the largest religious university in the country and the 3rd largest private, research university of any type.  Hidden Gem:

Westminster College (Salt Lake City).  Located in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Westminster College was founded in 1875 as Protestants flocked to Utah to convert Mormons. Today, the anti-Mormon atmosphere is gone, but not the Protestant identity.  The only private comprehensive liberal arts college in Utah.  It has a limited number of masters’ degrees, mostly business-related, but over 34 undergraduate majors leading to the B.A. or B.S. degree.

The low population of this region limits the number and variety of higher educational opportunities, as does the smaller incomes of both citizens and state governments.  A conservative social and political outlook may, and, in the case of Wyoming, probably has, limited those opportunities further.  But in most of the states of this region there is still at least one “hidden gem,” an alternative to the warehouse education of most state university systems and most private research universities.  If some hardy souls want to plant some other alternative gems in this region, I think they might flourish.

April 14, 2012 Posted by | colleges/universities, education | 3 Comments

Geography of the Death Penalty in the United States


Alaska 1957–Abolished the death penalty in process of becoming a state.  Only 12 people executed during AK’s time as a territory.

Connecticut 2012 Voted to abolish in 2009, but vetoed by governor.

Hawai’i 1957–Abolished the death penalty in process of becoming a state.

Illinois 2011–De facto moratorium since mid-1990s.

Iowa 1965

Maine 1887

Massachusetts 1984

Michigan 1846–Michigan never had the death penalty, but formally outlawed it in the process of becoming a state.

Minnesota 1911

New Jersey 2007 –New Jersey Supreme Court struck down its death penalty statute as violating the state constitution. Legislators debated rewriting the statute, but, instead, formally abolished the death penalty and commuted the death row inmates to life without parole sentences.

New Mexico 2009–In 2009 the NM legislature voted to abolish the death penalty for all future crimes, but left unchanged the status of the two inmates on death row. Theoretically, they could still be executed.  Attempts to reinstate the death penalty have gone nowhere.

New York 2007–In 2004, the NY Court of Appeals ruled that part of NY’s death penalty was a violation of the state constitution. In 2007, they ruled that this applied to all remaining inmates on NY’s death row.  New York formally abolished the death penalty that year.

North Dakota 1973

Rhode Island 1984

Vermont 1964

West Virginia 1965

Wisconsin 1853

Also–District of Columbia 1981





California  Repeal by ballot measure likely in November 2012.

Colorado Legislature came 2 votes short of repeal in 2010. Continued efforts at repeal would probably succeed in CO in near future.









Maryland  Repeal efforts have led to stricter standards and momentum is building for repeal.




Nebraska  Repeal efforts have frequently come close–twice passing the legislature to be vetoed by different governors and several times falling only a few votes short in the legislature.


New Hampshire  Last remaining state with death penalty in New England, NH is ripe for a major repeal effort by abolitionists.

North Carolina  Repeal efforts are growing and very organized. I predict that NC will be the first state of the former Confederacy to abolish the death penalty.



Oregon  Moratorium on executions in place. OR is a prime state for abolitionists to target for repeal.


South Carolina

South Dakota


Texas  Leader in executions–and in death sentences overturned by federal courts.


Virginia  Has passed TX in numbers of death sentences per year and trying to catch up in number of executions!

Washington  Like OR, Washington should be a prime target of abolitionists in the state-by-state repeal process.



U.S. Federal Govt. has the death penalty for several crimes, though it hasn’t executed anyone in decades.

U.S. Military has the death penalty, though it hasn’t used it since the end of the Vietnam War.

Prediction–The pace of abolition will pick up state-by-state as more DNA exonerations make headlines.  IF the U.S. Supreme Court is shifted by Democratic appointments even by 1-2 justices, then when the number of states without the death penalty reaches 25, the Supreme Court will probably strike down the death penalty nationwide. If not, by the time 30 states have abolished the death penalty, we will have a good chance of passing abolition by means of a Constitutional amendment.  My guess is that, in a worst case scenario, the death penalty is abolished in the United States by 2050.

I am assuming that the Catholic Church will continue its campaign against capital punishment, joined by the Historic Peace Churches, mainline Protestants, and an increasing number of younger evangelicals.  Jewish voices, long opponents of the death penalty, will get louder. The racial inequalities of the death penalty will become more and more apparent–as will the economic ones.  The error prone nature of the death penalty will become more and more obvious with DNA releases more common. International pressure will continue to isolate the country and treat the U.S. and its death penalty as a moral pariah.  These factors could speed up that 2050 date–but wars or violent crime waves could slow it.  But the end of this moral outrage against which I have fought since I was 16 is coming.  The high tide of pro-death penalty feeling in the U.S. was in the 1990s and that tide is fast receding.


April 13, 2012 Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics | Leave a comment

Connecticut Votes (Again!) to Repeal the Death Penalty!

Last night, Wednesday 11 April 2012, the lower chamber of the Connecticut legislature followed its senate in voting to repeal that state’s death penalty.  Again. CT voted to repeal the death penalty in 2009, but then-Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT) vetoed the legislation.  This time Gov. Daniel Malloy (D) has vowed to sign the bill. This makes CT the 17th state in the U.S. to either abolish the death penalty or to forbid it from the time of statehood onward. It is also the 5th state in the last 5 years to abolish the death penalty.  We may get two abolitions this year since CA, with the nation’s largest death row, is attempting to repeal its death penalty by ballot measure this November.

Meanwhile, congratulations to CT!

April 12, 2012 Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics, human rights, Just Peacemaking, political philosophy | Leave a comment

Hidden Gems, V: South Central Plains

The South Central Plains region is, if anything, even more rural than the North Central Plains/Upper Mid-West region.  Yet the educational investments and opportunities vary widely, and this is as much due to political culture as it is to population.  There are exceptions, but, generally, there are less educational opportunities in this region than in any section of the U.S. we’ve yet covered.  The states I’m including in this section are Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

1. Arkansas:  Arkansas regularly competes with Mississippi over who has the least educated populace in the nation, including the most illiteracy, the most high school drop-outs, and the lowest percentage of the population going beyond high school to college or university.  Some of this improved during the Bill Clinton’s years as governor of AR (1979-1981; 1983-1993), but since that time, things have regressed. (This also happened in my adopted state of KY. We made great improvements in the ’90s under Gov. Paul Patton, even became a nationwide model for public school reform, but have regressed since that time.) The “usual suspects” in Arkansas higher education are pretty bland, too. There is no national-level, comprehensive, private research university.  The public institutions including the University of Arkansas system (6 campuses, flagship at Fayetteville) and the Arkansas State University system (5 campuses, flagship at Jonesboro) are fairly pedestrian in quality.  The same could be said for the other four (4) state-supported universities.  The one real bright spot, and it is a genuine bright spot, is the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service, a graduate school in Little Rock training leaders in public and civic life.  All of the private colleges and universities are church-related and most of those are just as mediocre in quality.  Hidden gems:

Hendrix College (Conway). Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a private, 4-year, college of liberal arts & sciences, closely affiliated with the United Methodist Church.  It combines a rigorous academic community with an open, warm, atmosphere and strong attention paid to students as individuals. It’s strong commitment to the liberal arts is evidenced by its chapter of the national honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.  One of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives, Hendrix is known for its outstanding and innovative curriculum known as “Odyssey,” which combines serious faculty-student collaboration with independent research and hands on-experiential learning. Funding is made available for student experiments and student publication in outstanding journals. Hendrix is part of Project Pericles which stresses community and civic leadership from students.  100% of students receive some form of financial aid.  Hendrix is 28th in the nation for alumni going on to earn PhDs within 6 years of graduation.  Acceptance into law school is at 90% (national avg. is 55%) and medical school acceptance is twice the national avge.  No sororities or fraternities to divide the campus into cliques.

University of the Ozarks (Clarksville). Not to be confused with the similarly named College of the Ozarks in Missouri, the University of the Ozarks is a private, 4-year undergraduate institution founded in 1834 by Cumberland Presbyterians, but today affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is the oldest institution of higher education in AR and one of the oldest West of the Mississippi River. In 1875, “Ozarks,” as the school is known, became the first institution of higher education in Arkansas to admit women. In 1959, Ozarks became the first historically white college in Arkansas to admit African Americans.  Ozarks is consistently ranked highly among college in the region.  It also has one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in this region or for church-related colleges.

2. Kansas: Kansas is in a similar, but slightly better, condition as Arkansas.  Probably because of the heavy military presence in the state, which has increasingly meant higher technology, the KS public schools have been much better–but this was before the anti-evolution crusade of Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS).  Like Arkansas, Kansas has no national-level comprehensive private research university. It actually has fewer public universities, but most are a cut above the ones in AR.  The “usual suspects” in Kansas higher education:  Kansas has 6 state-supported public universities led by the University of Kansas, a space grant university, and Kansas State University, a land grant university founded during the Civil War. There is also a municipal public university, Washburn University (Topeka) which is ranked high academically for this region.  Hidden Gems:

Baker University (Baldwin City).  Founded in 1858, the oldest university in Kansas,  Baker University is named for Osmond Cleander Baker, a bishop and biblical scholar with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Today, it is closely related to the United Methodist Church. It is regularly ranked among the top universities in the Midwest.  Alumni include a Pulitzer Prize winner and 4 Rhodes Scholars.  With a total enrollment of about 4,000 members, Baker’s several schools concentrate on undergraduate teaching, but offer a number of masters’ degrees as well.

Bethel College (North Newton). Founded by Mennonites from the Russian immigration wave of the 19th C. in 1887, Bethel College is the oldest institution of higher education in North America associated with Mennonites, founded at a time when many Mennonite groups were still suspicious of higher education.  It is a private, Christian, liberal arts and sciences college in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition and closely associated with the Mennonite Church, USA. Bethel’s first president, Cornelius H. Wedel, was one of the earliest theologians or scholars among North American Mennonites.  The college’s student body is mostly Mennonite, but is open to students of all faiths. It’s campus culture is rooted in the Christocentric Mennonite culture of service, simple living, peacemaking and reconciliation, and nonviolent struggle for justice.  All students must engage in some off campus cross-cultural experience, mostly outside the U.S., but with some offerings in the U.S. in very different cultural settings.  The core curriculum, called Common Ground, is rooted deeply in the liberal arts and in shared experiences which not only enhances the academic value of Bethel’s education, but also aids in student retention.  Bethel is home to the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) and offers a minor in Peace, Justice, and Conflict studies to be added to any major.  A Templeton Character Building College, Bethel is one of only 8 schools to be listed in Mother Jones as combining “good values with good value.”

Ottowa University (Ottowa). A private, co-ed, 4-year liberal arts college founded in 1865 by Baptists and still closely connected to the American Baptist Churches, USA.  Ottowa’s beginnings stemmed from a desire to provide education to Native Americans and this idealism has always characterized the campus. (As of 2008, the university still provides free tuition, room, and board to any enrolled member of the Ottowa Nation, but, as acknowledged on the university website, not all of the actions of the early university leaders were noble. In the 1880s, some members of the board of trustees swindled the Ottowas of land and ran the school for white people, violating a treaty signed by Pres. Lincoln himself. There have been efforts to correct this over the years.) The university mostly concentrates on undergraduate teaching, but has some masters degrees and expects to expand these in the near future.

3. Missouri:  Missouri may be the home of the last U.S. president to not have a college/university education (Harry S. Truman), but it has built a very credible system of higher education, especially for a rural state. The “Show Me” state has 2 national-level private research universities: The non-sectarian Washington University in St. Louis and St. Louis University, which is a Catholic, Jesuit institution. There are 13 state-supported universities, including The University of Missouri system (4 campuses with the flagship at Columbia) and several regional state universities.  Hidden gems include:

Truman State University (Kirkwood):  Founded in 1867 as a private college for training teachers, it became state-supported by 1870 and renamed Northeast Missouri Teachers’ College in 1919.  The school continued to grow and achieved university status in 1970. In 1985, the legislature again expanded the school’s mission so that it became the state’s only public, state-wide, liberal arts and sciences university. In 1995, the name was changed to honor Harry S. Truman, the only U.S. President from Missouri. Since Truman himself was too poor ever to attend college, part of TSU’s mission is to make academic excellence affordable to all.  TSU is regularly ranked at or near the top of Midwestern public universities in terms of academic rigor, but it is also noted for its affordable cost (even for out of state students) and extremely generous financial aid, combining merit and need based aid for nearly 100% of students.  It is also ranked high for “service to the wider community,” and for “social mobility” among students.  Admissions is highly selective based on high school transcript, class standing, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and a mandatory application essay. A core program in Liberal Studies grounds all majors and minors as TSU works to become the nation’s premier public liberal arts and sciences university. TSU’s “McNair Program” actively works to increase the number of Ph.D.s among minorities and underrepresented groups. Has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa as well as several other national honor societies in specific fields of study.  I predict that if TSU stays on its path, it will not long remain “hidden,” but will rank as one of the “public ivies,” i.e., places where one can get an Ivy League caliber education for a public university pricetag.

Culver-Stocton College (Canton) Founded in 1853 by ministers in the Stone-Campbell movement and today related to the more liberal branch of that movement, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The mission of Culver-Stockton College is to provide students of promise a superb education within an active learning community founded upon integrity and the best values of faith and the human spirit.   The typical 15 week semester is divided into 12 week and 3 terms, in the latter of which students generall take only one intense course or they can use this pattern for internships, clinical training, or courses that involve travel domestically or abroad.  The college is known for interdisciplinary majors and for self-designed majors. It also has a Guided Pursuit for Success (GPS) program to help undecided majors decide their paths of study.  Has a well-regarded Honors Program, too.

Drury University (Springfield). Founded by Congregationalists in 1873 on a model of Northern liberal arts colleges, Drury officially became a university in 2000, though it continues to focus most of its efforts on the education of undergraduates in the liberal arts and sciences.  It is officially related to both the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but the campus ministry is multi-faith and the atmosphere and curriculum non-sectarian.  Drury’s core curriculum, called Global Perspectives 21, combines professional training with broad grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, engaging diverse cultures, communication skills, critical analysis and reasoning.  More than 94% of Drury students receive some form of financial aid and Drury brags that its students incur less debt than do most students at MO’s public universities, including Truman State U.

William Jewell College  (Liberty): Founded by Baptists in 1848 and named after William Jewell, M.D. (a Baptist layperson and philanthropist), who donated the initial funding and led efforts to get the institution started, William Jewell College is a church-related liberal arts and sciences college with rigorous academics. It is deliberately Christian in identity, but open to persons of all faiths or no particular faith–and there is a support network for interfaith dialogue on campus.  It has a an Oxbridge Honors program centered around the Great Books of the Western World, with tutorials and seminars modeled after those at Oxford and Cambridge and which includes a semester in Britain, as well as a rigorous Senior Capstone course.  Jewell is also strong in study abroad and internship programs generally.  Jewell’s Harriman-Jewell program brings world class performing arts to campus which are open to the general public.  Jewell’s Core curriculum +3 program allows many students to double major. The campus’ Center for Justice and Sustainability works to transform both the college and the world to social justice and environmental sustainability.

4. Nebraska: The very rural state of Nebraska has a fairly good public school system, but it’s population is simply too small to  host very many colleges and universities.  The University of Nebraska system has 5 campuses anchored by the flagship campus at Lincoln.  There are 3 other state supported baccalaureate colleges.  While there is no national-level comprehensive private research university, Nebraskans are well-served by Creighton University (Omaha), a Catholic and Jesuit university with an excellent law school and medical school, excellent masters’ level programs, and a few doctoral degrees.  Hidden Gems:

Doane College (Crete).  Founded by Congregationalists in 1872, Doane was the first liberal arts and science college in Nebraska and is today related to the United Church of Christ.  It is a private, independent, co-educational college nationally recognized for innovative programs and a results-centered approach to marriage.  It focuses on forming ethical leaders and its four-year graduation guarantee makes it a good buy.  For 4 years, Doane has made the President’s Honor Roll for colleges and universities which give back to their communities in volunteer service.  Doane pioneered the idea of integrating internships into 4 -year liberal arts education curricula.  It has produced more than 600 All-American student athletes over the years and more Fulbright winners than any other college in Nebraska.  Doane provides a $1000 travel scholarship for study-abroad opportunities in junior and senior years.

Hastings College (Hastings).  Founded in 1882, Hastings is a Presbyterian-related, private, co-ed, residential college of liberal arts and sciences.  Hastings students have two curricular options:  The standard, rigorous core in the Liberal Arts, or an equally-rigorous, individualized and interdisciplinary curriculum.  The campus is coterminous with an award-winning arboretum.  Hastings offers 3 degrees: the B.A., the B. Mus., and the Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.). For the B.A., Hastings offers 64 majors in over 30 areas of study w2ith 12 pre-professional programs.

College of St. Mary (Omaha).  Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1923, the College of St. Mary is a Catholic liberal arts college for women, the only all-women’s college in the South Central Plains region.  Many studies over the years confirm that women who attend all-female colleges:  Achieve higher career levels and earn higher salaries; Develop measurably larger amounts of self-esteem; Are more likely to choose and succeed in male dominated fields such as law, medicine, and engineering; Have more opportunities in leadership positions; Participate more in classroom discussions; Are 6 times more likely to be on the boards of Fortune 1000 companies; Are more likely to receive doctoral degrees; Tend to more involved in philanthropy after college.  CSM is a small school of about 1000 students.  Among CSM’s notable programs include award winning nursing programs at both the Associate’s and Bachelor’s levels, including a program to train bi-lingual nurses to serve the growing Hispanic-Latino population; A 2+3 engineering program in conjunction with the University of Nebraska in which students earn two degrees–a B.A. in science or math from CSM and a University of Nebraska engineering degree in civil engineering, electronics engineering, architectural engineering, or computer design; the region’s only approved 4-year Paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association; A Master in Leadership program dedicated to exploring and strengthening the unique leadership qualities of women.

Nebraska Wesleyan University (Lincoln):  Founded by Methodists in 1887 and closely connected today to the United Methodist Church, Nebraska Wesleyan is a Christian university of liberal arts and sciences which has a select few masters programs to add to its concentration on undergraduate teaching.  Experiential learning and service learning are at the heart of Nebraska Wesleyan’s personalized educational focus.  Offers an “Honors Academy” for bright and highly motivated high school students.

5. Oklahoma:  The “usual suspects” in Oklahoma include a medium-sized state university and state college system anchored by the flagship University of Oklahoma (Norman).  Although there are no national-level comprehensive private research universities, Oklahomans are well served by the Presbyterian-affiliated University of Tulsa a masters-level regional university with an excellent academic reputation.  Hidden Gems:

University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (Chickisaw).  Founded in 1908 by order of the Oklahoma legislature at the leading of then-Gov. George Haskell (D), the first Gov. OK after it became a state. Initially a technical institute for women, by the 1930s, USOAO had evolved into the state’s only public institution devoted entirely to an undergraduate liberal arts education.  It functions as the public honors college of Oklahoma.  It has won awards for its interdisciplinary core and for giving bright and creative students an excellent and unique education at a great price.  If I lived in Oklahoma, this is the school to which I’d advise my daughters to apply.

Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee).  Founded by Baptists in 1910, and still owned by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Baptist University is a private, co-ed, Christian colleges of liberal arts and sciences.  Although it’s conservative cultural atmosphere would not be for everyone, OBU has an excellent academic reputation has many notable alumni:  William R. Pogle (’51), Col. USAF (Ret.), NASA astronaut and pilot of 4th and last Skylab mission; Dr. Sunday O. Fadulu (’64), Professor of Microbiology and Chair of Biology @ Texas Southern University; Patent holder of a drug that treats sickle-cell anemia; David E. Garland (’70), New Testament scholar; Dean, Truett Theological Seminary; Interim President, Baylor University; Molly T. Marshall (’72), theologian; President, Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Offers 10 Bachelor’s degrees with 84 majors.  2 Masters degrees: a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Nursing.  More than 95% of all students receive some form of financial aid.

Saint Gregory’s University (Shawnee). Founded in 1910 (with a prehistory as the Sacred Heart Mission School to Native Americans that dates to 1875) by Catholic missionaries, Saint Gregory’s University is a Catholic university in the Benedictine tradition. Originally a junior college, it’s name was changed in 1997 when it became authorized to award Bachelors’ degrees.  SGU has a College of Arts and Sciences and a College of Working Adults.  About 50% of SGU’s students are Catholic, but the university welcomes persons of all faiths. There is a Benedictine Monastery adjacent to the university and it’s Abbey and Chapel are also integral to the university.  “St. Gregory’s University promotes the education of the whole person in the context of a Christian community in which students are encouraged to develop a love of learning and to live lives of balance, generosity and integrity.” SGU’s Common Core Curriculum focuses on Four Ways of Knowing:  Faith and Reason; Creative Expression; Social Knowledge; Behavioral Science, Mathematics, & Natural Science.  This Core Curriculum is built around the Great Books of the Western World in a series of seminars known as “Tradition and Conversation.”  Small learning communities meet each week to debate and discuss the likes of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  The 25 majors in five (5) academic departments build on this Common Core Curriculum.

April 7, 2012 Posted by | colleges/universities, education | 1 Comment