Editor’s Note: The following essay was written by Dr. Wilson Hall in 1988. During his four decades of dedicated, invaluable service to Shorter College as Professor of Humanities, Dr. Hall was loved and respected by students and faculty alike. Dr. Hall states that he is convinced that the essay contains the purest definition and description of the goals of an institution of higher education.
Dr. Hall has given us permission to release his essay.
There are two Shorters. There is the physical campus which is 150 acres of land, buildings, parking lots, woodlands and grass, open places. It is a peaceful place where students and faculty come and go in a seemingly pacified atmosphere. This is the Shorter which the visitor sees. The other Shorter is a subtle place, dimensionless and invisible, and often fraught with conflict and struggle, where whole worlds can be twisted apart and put together again with expanded depth and possibility. This Shorter exists only in the minds of students and faculty. It is a domain filled with disturbing ideas, intellectual adventure, and invisible experiences, a domain where only they can go.
To the occasional visitor who comes onto the Hill, passes through our halls, and looks into our classrooms to see students dressed in unacademic jeans and ragged sweat shirts, listening to a teacher who paces and leans and writes occasionally on a dusty chalkboard, what he sees is all that exists there. But within that room, within the invisible Shorter, Hecuba grieves on the defeated coast of Troy for the loss of her family and happiness, or young Isaac McCaslin walks into the confusion of a Mississippi wilderness in order to learn the truth by which he will live his life. Within the invisible Shorter, where the visitor cannot see, numbers take a shape and meaning, and a mathematical manipulation reveals a mystery and a truth. Within the invisible Shorter, music divides itself, reveals its parts, touches the mind and emotions and reunites in a sum larger than its parts. Here, in the amazement of students’ eyes, as they come to understand something heretofore incomprehensible, the mind of the professor and the student unite for a moment and an indefinable energy, intangible and immeasurable, flows between them.
In this world of the mind, dimension dissolves along with time, and Plato, Turner and Emerson exist together with Bach, Shakespeare and Einstein. In this world, thoughts of God, the nature of the Psyche or the origins of consciousness, can lead a student and teacher away to a place where there is no time, where Alpha and Omega stand as one and where there are no beginnings and endings. Looking into the classroom from the hall, a visitor would never suspect that inside that bare room and before a dusty chalkboard such things were going on.
The significance of the invisible Shorter cannot be quantified, cannot be defined precisely but my collection of letters and notes from over the last two and a half decades attests to the fact that it does have impact on the lives of those who enter it, and that those magic moments in which the mind of the professor and the student unite are indeed significant moments, that afterward the students never again see the world as it was before they came to Shorter. They know that surface is not what it seems and that behind physical fact lies a universe unknown to the physical eye. When these letters come, I know that I have chosen the right path for my life.