This morning, our former beloved President William L. Armstrong is being honored during a joint sessions at the Colorado State Capitol. A two term US Senator, Congressman, and business leader for Colorado, William L. Armstrong devoted his life to public service. He finished his career as the President of Colorado Christian University where he said it was the “the most significant, energizing, and rewarding work he had ever undertaken.”
During his ten years of leadership, Colorado Christian University became a nationally recognized university, ranking in the top 2% of all colleges for its core education. We are experiencing our seventh year of record enrollment and new buildings are sprouting up across our campus in Lakewood, the latest being the Anschutz Student Center.
Colorado Christian University and its heritage schools have been providing an educated workforce to Colorado for over one hundred years. It aims to train students with high ethical values and a Christ-motivated desire to build their communities. We are training teachers, nurses, business leaders, scientists, accountants, historians, public policy leaders, ministry leaders, musicians and more to invest their lives serving people and giving back.
As the new President of Colorado Christian University, I often sum up my vision for the school with the old Latin phrase “ad Fontes.” It means, back to the fountains, or back to the sources. It was a motto used during the Renaissance and Reformation. In the Renaissance, it referred to a return to classical sources. When the reformers used it, they were talking about a return to Scripture, the gospel, and to Christ. The expression actually came from Psalm 42.1 in the old Latin translation of the Bible. “In the same way the stag is drawn back to the sources (ad fontes) of water, so my soul is drawn unto You, oh God.” The psalmist expresses this longing to return to God as the source of his life.
It may seem counter intuitive that we should go backwards to go forward. The idea was, these are the springs that gave us our life. The great medieval universities were born out of cathedral schools and monastaries. Likewise, most of the big ten schools in America and many other colleges were birthed out of a Christ-motivated vision for learning.
Many schools have run away from this heritage, despite the fact that they would not have come into existence without it. Many schools want to be POST—post Christian, post virtue, post meaning, post truth. Yet at the same time, a deepening crisis afflicts “higher” learning in the West. We have lost our bearings. Even secularists have written about The Closing of the American Mind (Alan Bloom), or more recently The Closing of the Liberal Mind (Kim Holmes). A new illiberal liberalism is descending on many college campuses and its undermining the liberal arts project. I contend it is undermining the entire university enterprise. How on earth can you even meaningfully educate (not socialize, but educate) if everything is relative and there is no objectivity?
Perhaps that is one reason why many parents are questioning the value proposition of a college education. They wonder, why spend $40,000-$50,000 a year for that?
Colorado Christian University has chosen to go in a different direction. We believe that there are sources that still give life to the whole educational project. By going back to them (ad Fontes) we can go forward with new vitality.
This does not weaken education; it strengthens it. It motivates us to enter the great conversation, to study great minds, and read great books. It motivates us to not simply help people prepare for careers, but for callings. It is an education that aims for both competence and character; it seeks to shape the mind and the heart. And it gives students a reason to live for something more than their own career.
By the way, it also makes us unafraid to allow the free expression of ideas on campus. While we are convictionally Christian, we have welcomed debate. Though we are a conservative school, we recently invited President Obama’s 2012 Director of Faith Outreach to discuss the role of faith communities in elections. We also recently hosted a debate on religious freedom in the public square with Mikey Weinstein, Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s 2011 “Person of the Year.” And when Charles Murray visited our campus in February, students probed his writings and asked intelligent questions. In each case our students treated our guests with the utmost dignity and respect.
We have a strong core curriculum, we promote a Christian worldview, we teach the disciplines rigorously, we expose students to ideas so they learn think critically and creatively. And yes, we want our faculty to not only have an expertise in their field, but also to embody the values we seek to impart—serving Christ and serving others. In short, we want to give our students an extraordinary education.
We don’t do this perfectly. But we love what we do, and William L. Armstrong found joy in it as well. He devoted his life to the service of others, and his last years doing this took place at a very special university.
At Colorado Christian University, we hope to create a generation of community leaders in his mold. We do so by going back to the sources.