When they said unto me, “Mark Sargent is coming,” I said unto myself, Nice.
Then they said unto me, “The entire Bible department is at a conference: you have to introduce him.”
But don’t we want one of them at this moment?
-Like Mark Cannister: “Humanities aaaaaaand Mark Sargent, reunited and it feels so good, aha ha ha ha ha…”
-or Sharon Ketcham: “Pastoral care IS imagination, right? So is relationship??? Right?”
-or Marv: ♫ “Hiney matov. Our Father Abraham traveled from Ur. Our speaker Mark Sargent traveled from… wherever…” (Canister: Aha ha ha ha ha…)
-or Ted Hildebrandt: “OK, ok, you guys!—you and Mark Sargent are so, really Imaginative—ok—I just know Jerusalem, ok?” (Canister: Ah! Aha ha ha ha ha…)
Well, they’re not here.
For 16 years as provost at Gordon, Mark—hang on, when I was a student here I had no idea what a provost was: let me tell you it’s the chief academic officer, the person responsible for stuff that isn’t fundraising, student life or budget—so, stuff like curriculum, extra curricular programs, faculty, accreditation—OK?
—And Mark Sarg—hang on, when I was a student I had no clue what accreditation was: it’s the establishment of an insti-blah-blah just kidding.
So: Mark Sargent was our academic leader from The Year You Were Born to The Year You Got Your License. (And in The Year You Were Two, he hired me, which was good for me, but maybe not… so good… for you…)
I wouldn’t think it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a provost: all those constituencies to please, intellectuals so passionate about their bailiwicks, lots of moving parts—plenty of surface for friction.
But Mark was good at negotiating all that.
—Probably because he was a literary guy. He himself had come into the academy in the humanities, as a literature prof, and like all lit profs he’d learned to value multiple perspectives, and to evaluate contending claims—and how to employ words “to their best advantage.”
And this served Gordon well: though always, at heart, a book lover, Mark here championed
-the sciences, backing green chemistry before it became the usual thing,
-and the social sciences, broadening the scope of The Center for Faith and Inquiry and JAF,
-and education, bolstering our graduate Education programs,
-and the fine arts, endorsing life drawing and medieval mystery plays and difficult films.
By all of which I mean: he was championing the Liberal Arts.
Speaking of film, early on, Mark launched the Provost’s Film Series here, and during his tenure he caused-to-be-shown more than 120 films, by my count, each preceded by some provocative prose of his (maybe provocative is the wrong word)—and then followed by some thought-provoking discussion. (For CL&W credit.)
When he left to be Westmont’s Provost in his home state, I realized that he’d also done a ton of writing here—not just scholarly articles, but personalized pieces, to introduce new faculty, or roast departing ones, to offer congratulations on new babies or birthdays or anniversaries or attained degrees, to celebrate excellent teaching, and to memorialize the passing of dear colleagues.
Often, a friend of mine was heard to say, “Mark Sargent always writes things we wish we could have written.” Too true. Come to think of it, I wish he had written this introduction.
And now I’m nearly done with mine, except to add this: that I came to rely on the integrity with which he did his job—and to admire his “seemingly effortless artfulness, and playfulness,” to quote another colleague.
Earlier, I was hyperbolizing about great literature being one secret to his success. Hey now: great literature (and film) does train the imagination, strengthen the moral imagination, and thereby help us work out, with God’s guidance, a life that is worth leading.
Today I can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear speak to us on “Lives of Imagination” than Dr. Mark Sargent. Please join me in welcoming him back to Gordon.
One thought on “Introducing Mark Sargent (and a pitch for the Liberal Arts)”
I’m old enough to have learned the phrase epideictic rhetoric. I use it correctly here: Mark Stevick is a master of epideictic rhetoric. He has recovered an ancient, largely forgotten tradition — we live in an age when criticism of others is the currency, not praise of worthy women and men — in modern idiom, in ways that make one weep (or ones like me) in gratitude, and in hope that we might see communities who can name virtues without shame or embarrassment, and honor ones who exhibit them.