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.
And to think, the present administration would eliminate men like this to be replaced with lesser minds. What a loss for everyone!
I never wrote that letter in reality to Mr. Hall…but in my heart that letter exists…the one that tells him what a great difference he made in my life in the way I think and the way I write. Thank you Wilson Hall.
When at Shorter, I majored in History and Political Science [which in those days were combined as one major]. My favorite elective courses I took, by far, were in the Religion Department and the English Department. Thank you, Dr. Wilson Hall, for what you and your peers meant and mean to countless thousands!
I never had a class with Dr. Wilson Hall, and I regret that a great deal. I missed a lifetime’s opportunity. However, Dr. Hall and I got to know each other over the years, especially when I returned to Shorter to teach for four years. He teaches even when not in the classroom. I enjoyed getting to know him and all the teachers I work with at Shorter, both as a student and as a teacher. One of the great honors of my life was to return to Shorter and work as a colleague with the great teachers I had as a student.
It breaks my heart to see that Shorter has disintegrated into the institution it has become.
I was in Dr. Hall’s Honors Freshman English Class. I can vividly remember him talking about his weekend fishing trips to write articles for Brown’s Guide Magazine. His description of the “Trot Line Fishing Trip” is classic. He described how the guys would lay out the lines, drink, eat, tell stories, drink alot more, check the lines periodically, not really caring if they caught anything, and coming home with a hangover. Classic.
Winston Churchill, speaking of a politician he did not appreciate, said, “He is a bull who takes his own china shop wherever he goes.” I will say no more about that right now. However, I think those of us who love the Shorter that was can make application to the current situation.