'Founded by Friends'

From Cornell University, which was always nonsectarian, to California’s Azusa Pacific University, which began as a Bible college, institutions with Quaker roots have grown in any number of directions.

August 17, 2007

From Cornell University, which was always nonsectarian, to California’s Azusa Pacific University, which began as a Bible college, institutions with Quaker roots have grown in any number of directions. A new book by Scarecrow Press, Founded by Friends: The Quaker Heritage of Fifteen American Colleges and Universities, tells the tales of a diverse array of colleges founded by Quakers -- Barclay, Bryn Mawr, Earlham, Guilford, Haverford, Malone, Swarthmore, Whittier and Wilmington Colleges, and Azusa Pacific, Cornell, Friends, George Fox, Johns Hopkins and William Penn Universities. The book's editors, John W. Oliver Jr., a professor emeritus of history at Malone College; Charles L. Cherry, a professor of English at Villanova University; and Caroline L. Cherry, a professor of English at Eastern University, recently answered questions about the impact of Quakerism on these colleges, and the impact of these colleges on higher education.

Q: Thomas D. Hamm's introductory chapter to the book suggests that "there is no consensus" as to what makes a Quaker college distinctively Quaker. What are a few examples of different ways in which colleges "founded by Friends" have manifested their Quaker roots? Are there any similarities that always apply?

A: Clusters of schools give attention to pieces of the tradition. The peace testimony has been accepted and rejected at liberal and conservative schools. At theologically conservative schools sexual purity has received considerable attention. At progressive ones liberation has been used to offer a moral underpinning for movements that give little heed to Christian orthodoxy. At non-sectarian schools founded by Friends, Elaine Engst credits Cornell's early interest in technological and scientific innovation to the heritage of the founder while Jim Stimpert tells us that even though most trustees at Johns Hopkins were at one time Quakers the founder "never presumed to dictate the form his university should take." At Hopkins the intent to exclude sectarian religion came to be seen as a virtue, perhaps opening a door to influences from German universities focusing on "scientific history." With notable exceptions these schools share a history of racial equality, gender equality, with greater attention to befriend enemies than to kill them, even though some trained military units during World War II. If evangelical schools commonly have little interest in peace studies, George Fox is an exception.

Q: Quaker colleges are often associated with an embrace of certain principles -- including pacifism and racial and gender equality. But while Quaker colleges often brag about their egalitarian and anti-war roots, it seems from the book as though they haven't always lived up to these principles. How have some Quaker colleges detoured from these core Quaker principles -- and have they found their way back?

A: Schools are influenced by culture. For instance, Hopkins and Guilford have been influenced by Southern culture. Guilford did not admit its first black until 1962, but today it has a Racial Initiative Program to bring it more in line with its Quaker tradition. Undergraduate education at Hopkins was not coeducational until 1970 but it officially admitted women to graduate studies in 1907. Elite schools in all sections discriminated against women for culture attributed different roles to the genders. Hopkins admitted its first African-American in 1887, but no more blacks were admitted to the university until the 1940s. Others found common cause with evangelicalism. Earlham admitted a black student in 1880. Malone and Azusa Pacific admitted blacks from their first days. Malone, Azusa Pacific, and Barclay had women presidents in the twentieth century: Azusa Pacific had four. Only Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Hopkins were not originally coeducational. The decision of Azusa Pacific, Bryn Mawr, Cornell, Earlham, George Fox, Guilford, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, and Swarthmore to fund this book is a witness to a shared belief in the importance of Quaker principles for higher education in a world where dangers from technologies of mass destruction continue to advance.

Q: What kind of role do you see Quakerism playing at most of the colleges featured in Founded by Friends in the future? Does Quakerism continue to thrive as an active force in shaping these colleges' missions and daily routines, or is its influence waning?

A: Schools where professional training has little to do with religion or ethics or ones influenced by competing traditions, religious or secular, may be expected to have less interest in exploring Quaker ways to see. Evangelical colleges troubled by the pro-war character of evangelicalism and nationalist agendas led by Euro-Americans like Lou Dobbs to punish "illegal aliens" of Native American descent are giving new attention to the ethics of their founders. Bryn Mawr is also giving new attention to its Quaker heritage. Schools where students are seen as "people with that of God in them” are suited for service learning. Numbers of Quaker schools are national leaders in this area.

Q: What have been some of the greatest contributions of Quaker higher education to informing higher education at large?

A: The greatest contributions have to do with leadership in refusing to discriminate on the basis of race or gender in higher education, reverencing life, promoting peace studies, and actively engaging in religious and social services to the poor. The details of this story are to be found in the pages of this book.


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