When I walked onto the campus of Magdalen College three years ago to interview with Dr. Harne, I was struck by the beauty of its view: the mountains green in high summer, the sounds, those of the field and forest. In two years as tutor and one as coordinator of Career Pathways, I have come to think that its view of the great books and the art of the western world is even more beautiful.
From Magdalen we see where thinkers as diverse as Plato and St. Anselm fit into the landscape of human thought. Here we listen to what St. Augustine has to say about education and Homer about the epic dimension of human life. We gaze in wonder at Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and sing the great works of the Latin liturgy and the English church. I love this view, these sounds. Maybe most of all, I love to hear students speak their minds in answer to a perennial question. I love to read their dialogues about beauty or destiny, and to listen at the dining table as they argue over poetics or politics.
College students everywhere should be seeing these things. With this view, they should be reading these works and having such conversations about perennially important matters as we have at Magdalen College, but from my 23-year experience teaching at colleges and universities, I know that is not true. Almost everywhere else, college students are looking with eyes of hatred upon Aristotle and Aquinas, upon Descartes and Turgenev, listening with hard hearts to the babblings (as they think) of Machiavelli and Dante.
Here at Magdalen, I am proud to say, we appreciate the heritage of western civilization and of the Church. For 21 years I have sought a place like Magdalen, and I am happy to have been asked to serve her as interim president. I am gratified by President Harne’s and the Trustees’ confidence in me, and grateful to God our Father for preparing me to do this work. I look forward to seeing you all for the fall term, on campus. It promises adventures in learning, conversations of substance, and a community richly carrying on with Magdalen customs. Henceforward I will be serving the community of Magdalen with all my energy. Pray for me, and I will pray for you.
Yours in Christ’s service,
Dr. Eric M. Buck