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Mission Matters #48 – Learning to See Irby J. Good in the Context of the University’s Mission (1970-2018)

good hall

By Michael G. Cartwright, Vice President for University Mission and Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religion

This year we are exploring different patterns of student experience. This is the last of three articles about the life and work of Irby J. Good, Class of 1908.  Read the first article here and the second article here.

“There he is . . . and you are over there.” . . .The recently completed renovation of Good Hall provides an opportunity to continue to update our image of I. J. Good with respect to the University’s mission. In the first piece of this three-part reflection, I invited faculty and staff to explore the student experience of Irby J. Good (Mission Matters #46). Then I challenged us all to actively reimagine how we regard President Good’s lifework (Mission Matters #47). In this third and last part, I invite readers to learn to see President Good in our campus landscape, as well as in the wider context of higher education at the same time that we learn to see ourselves as part of the legacy that we associate with the familiar visual scene of the Portico of Good Hall.

I. Learning to See President Good in the University’s Historical Landscape  

For almost five decades, the principal way that we have engaged President Good’s legacy has been our daily experience of seeing Good Hall, that iconic building on the south side of Hanna Avenue. Perhaps it is time to review how we got to where we are.

At his inauguration in 1970, President Gene Sease announced that the oldest building on campus would be named after the third president, and the Academic Building would be named after I. Lynd Esch who had served from 1945 to 1970.

“I had the good fortune to know Mrs. Good who lived in the Heights when I came to the university, along with some of his family. The fact that he was really never recognized for his efforts caused me to want to rename the Administration Building. in his honor. He gave 29 years and Dr. Esch gave 25 years. They both deserved building in their honor. Their offices were in those respective buildings.”

Ever attentive to the practical details of building a university, President Sease took this action on the occasion of his inauguration to begin putting the past into perspective, thereby setting the stage for strategic growth and development.

“When I recommended it to the board, I spoke of their distinguished service to the university and closed by saying, ‘Besides which, with only four letters in each name, think of the signage savings over Administration Building and Academic Hall.’ The irony of the names that were on the buildings when I came is that the administrative offices were in Academic Hall—not the Ad Building, as it was called, and no single building on a campus is an Academic Hall—they all are if they have classrooms in them.”
At the time President Sease took this action, it is important to remember, there were still Indiana Central alumni and a few faculty still alive who remembered President Good –even if some memories were clouded by ambivalence (as Fred Hill explains in his piece “Some Good Myths”). In the early 1970s, Good’s earlier vision of “the Greater Indiana Central” campus was coming to fruition under the entrepreneurial leadership of Gene Sease, but that aspiration had been expanded and transformed in several ways.

Specifically, Indiana Central University was no longer limited to President Good’s vision of a college for the training of Christian leaders. At the same time, ICU’s programs included provisions for the education of men and women who had an active interest in serving God in both church and world. Like his predecessor, I. Lynd Esch, President Sease was following a “both/and” trajectory on a wider stage with more ambitious goals for engaging the Indianapolis metropolitan area. Both of these leaders found ways to engage a wider company of community leaders than President I. J. Good thought possible during his own tenure.

Today, there are very few people alive associated with our University who can tell you stories about I. J. Good based on personal knowledge of the man. (Ralph Davis, who was a student from 1938 to 1941, is a relevant exception.) None of the six buildings that were built during Good’s tenure exist today. When Buxton Hall was razed in 2001, the last vestige of Good’s building program disappeared from public view. This is by no means the only gap in our institutional memory. Indeed, this is an ongoing challenge for an institution that has grown from almost 1000 to approximately 6000 students in the past half century. However, our struggle to see Good in the landscape of our campus may be the most telling indicator of disruptions in the memory of our campus heritage.

And one of the ways that we can address this problem is to remind ourselves that President Good’s construal of the founders’ vision was limited, partial, and inevitably clouded by the parade of difficulties he faced year-to-year and from decade to decade. Irby J. Good never had the opportunity to see the fruition of Bishop Kephart’s dream that Indiana Central University would be the largest and most prosperous of the United Brethren colleges and universities. Nor did he ever have the opportunity to attract “outside investors” to join the work of his alma mater once the debts had been paid. Sadly, Irby J. Good also did not live to see the visible fulfillment of President Robert’s dream that some day hundreds and thousands of graduates would stream forth from the campus. The latter aspiration must have been all-too-painful given that Good himself was one of that pair who Roberts identified as the first fruits of a rich harvest.

None of this should be taken to mean that the memory of I. J. Good is wholly absent from our campus in 2018. But if we are to be honest stewards of the University’s mission, we must admit that some of the stories we tell about that era of our history are sometimes oddly out of focus. Stories about those few occasions when Indiana Central’s business manager accepted turnips in lieu of paying tuition bills are often told as if the agent of such bartering was Leo Miller (who served under President Esch) instead of Evan Kek (who served as treasurer under President Good). We don’t always take the time to put such tales in context and as a result fail to register their limited significance as exceptions to the rule, not actual practices.

We also are tempted to consign Good’s three-decades of leadership to a non-progressive past. This second problem results from a different kind of failure of memory, which comes about when we see our proficiency in uncritical ways and our predecessors through a hypercritical lens. For good or ill, the title of Prof. Marvin Henricks’ 1977 book From Parochialism to Community about the first 75 years of history of Indiana Central University suggested a “before and after” framework for how to understand the University at a time when its galloping growth made it all too easy to draw a contrast between a bright future and an impoverished past. Persons who actually have read Henricks’s “socio-historical interpretation” of his alma mater discover a nuanced portrait of an institution that had struggled through much of its history, but thanks to effective leadership had also managed to develop the capacity for change.

Regrettably, few UIndy employees read this remarkable book these days. It is still possible to hear colleagues talk about our past as if our institutional story is binary: We have left our narrow past behind to embrace a cosmopolitan future. I have no doubt that there are instances of institutional small-mindedness associated with the tenure of President Good. However, I suspect that too often our individual and collective failures to see Good’s greatness are the consequence of a lack of magnanimity on our part.

The most obvious proof of this stunted vision of Good’s leadership is that we don’t tell the story of the remarkable achievements that took place during his tenure. During a six-year period (1920-26), Good built four dormitories and a gymnasium. Two years later, Noblitt Observatory was built. (To be sure, this was a modest resource, but it was in fact the first science facility on our campus). Three of these facilities were on land on the north side of Hanna Avenue that had been purchased for campus expansion. Under any other chief executive officer, these would be judged to be remarkable achievements.

President Good built campus programs as well as facilities. During the Great Depression, Good managed to find ways to provide programs in the arts, including making provisions for the drama program and faculty in both instrumental and choral music. Even today, these would be significant achievements. But because they are not readily visible to us, we have to be more intentional about reminding ourselves about the difference these achievements of Good et al. made in their time.

These are critical omissions. They are not necessary, though. Nor are they inevitable.

Recently, we carried out an endeavor that may prove to be helpful in this regard. The Campus Heritage Maps Project, which has been carried out so well by Assistant Professor of Art & Design Randi Frye and her students, makes it possible for us to recognize several of Good’s achievements in ways that have not been easy to discern in recent decades. As we do so, perhaps we can also register the simple fact that it is thanks President Irby J. Good’s foresighted leadership that the Indiana Central campus was able to expand to the north side of Hanna Avenue, our University’s current location.

II. Learning to See President Good’s Life & Work in a Wider Landscape

Another factor that is damaging to our understanding of the mission of the University, I believe, is our failure to see Good’s leadership in the broader landscape of American culture. Good’s life and work were enacted amid the overlapping patterns of immigrant acculturation and the democratization of higher education.

President Good looked like such an ordinary fellow that I suspect it never occurs to many of us to think of him in the context of immigrant acculturation. It is tempting to remember him as if he was a Midwestern WASP figure who as a privileged white male wielded power with a sense of entitlement. That, too, is a misleading picture. Like many other United Brethren from the Midwest, Good’s parentage was German-American immigrants. Irby J. Good was a first generation college student two generations removed from a “Pennsylvania Dutch” background of immigrants who made their way from German-speaking European culture to Indiana by way of Pennsylvania.

Just a few generations before the Goods spelled their name “Guth” and Irby J. Good’s grandparents were Mennonites. In that respect, they shared much the same experience as agrarian Anabaptist immigrant neighbors in the town of Nappanee, Indiana, where Irby was born. Family photos of Irby Good display contrast between the generations. His father, Isaiah Reed Good, wore the customary beard without mustache that Mennonites and Amish men wore in that period in Northeastern Indiana. In time, though, Irby’s father and uncles became industrious businessmen in Marion, Goshen and other smaller cities in the area. Like many of their peers, though, Irby and most of his brothers wore “business suits” like most other Midwestern males.

The long procession of academic leaders who saw colleges and universities as instruments of moral crusade extends back to the founding of Oberlin College in 1837 (one of the earliest colleges to admit women) to be an institution that educated men and women who could go out and make the case against slavery. Higher education was simultaneously a means to the end of the moral transformation and a much-coveted objective for social uplift and personal culture. These great causes were often so intertwined that it was difficult to disentangle them, and at times their advocates struggled with whether it was appropriate or necessary to prioritize such crusades.

Colleges founded in Oberlin’s wake (including United Brethren institutions Otterbein University in 1847 in Ohio and Hartsville College in 1851 in Indiana) extended the list of moral crusades, including the cause of temperance and later the prohibition of alcohol, a cause upheld by the United Brethren Church and advocated by Irby J. Good.

The American procession of social crusades extends forward in time, as well. We forget that in addition to President Esch’s militant opposition to the growth of secularism in American culture, he was one of the foremost leaders in a crusade (yes, the language was used) against federal control of higher education precisely because he wanted to maintain the independence of private higher education.

In sum: There are many ways that we can distinguish the leadership of Esch and Good, but it would be wrong to say that Good was a “crusader” and Esch was not. I suspect that the more we learn to recognize continuities between these two leaders, the more likely it is that we will begin to see aspects of our present in more nuanced ways.

We come closer to a productive answer, I believe, if we ask a different question: What kind of crusades were these figures leading? It is not a coincidence that the principal study of the United Brethren’s denominational efforts in higher education was entitled Crusade for Education: The Development of Educational Ideals in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Written in the mid-1960s by Edwin Hummelbaugh Sponseller and Luther Allan Weigle (1966), this volume does not trace a militant movement so much as the saga of “conservative progressives” like Bishop Ezekiel Boring Kephart and President John T. Roberts, the two men who more than any others that first year expended themselves in the effort to found Indiana Central University. That is to say the “great cause” to which they gave their lives was the quest to found institutions of higher education as a critical means to carrying out the church’s mission. Not surprisingly, then, many of the alumni who graduated during President Good’s tenure became preachers and teachers.

After World War II, American society would change and a new type of social crusade would unfold with dramatic effects in the wider society. Various quests for social justice were launched, including the civil rights movement. And in turn counter-crusades sprang up as yet another chapter in the history of America’s culture wars began to be written. As Marvin Henricks observed, such changes also began to be registered on the campus of Indiana Central University, where homogeneity gave way to heterogeneity and the “crusade for education” of previous generations would begin to be defined by new quests for social justice. Amid such shifts figures like Irby J. Good began to seem more alien than familiar.

III. Learning to See Ourselves Alongside Irby Good on the Portico Steps

There are times when we don’t notice something, and then a detail catches our eye and we begin to see the curve of a line or outline of a shape that had escaped our attention. We peer at the figure. We may even ask one of our co-workers: “What is that? – Do you know? – Can’t you see it?” In my experience, it is surprising how often this takes place, even with persons who know a great deal about the campus.

I recall asking Dr. Fred Hill about the origin of the pair of facing “lamps of knowledge” on the gable above the Portico of Good Hall. Fred looked at me blankly and said that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I thought he was joking. (He wasn’t. He said he had never noticed them.) We walked over the Good Hall and looked up at the gable. Fred chuckled and shook his head. “There it is, but I really had not seen it before.”

Lest it appear that I am making an esteemed predecessor appear to be obtuse, I hasten to add that I don’t think this is an isolated occurrence. I later spoke to another longtime member of the faculty who also did not recognize what I was talking about. I wondered. Maybe it had something to do with the cracks and poor condition of the plaster, etc. The images did not “pop” the way they do now that the building has been renovated. In the future, I anticipate that faculty and students are more likely to notice them more now that the façade of the gable has been restored along with the pillars and steps of the Portico.

Even so, I suspect that we may struggle even more to see ourselves alongside Irby J. Good – the student and the president – on the steps of the Portico of Good Hall. This is doubly ironic, of course. But then there are often ironies associated with the various missional tasks of inquiry in higher education. Some of those ironies we appreciate. Others we do not. The reasons why are sometimes a bit embarrassing. Who wants to be caught not noticing something that is right there in plain view?

As Hugh Heclo has unforgettably observed, many university faculty and administrators are guilty of thinking “about institutions,” but we don’t pay attention to what it means to think through institutions. It is as if we don’t see ourselves in the picture that we are analyzing. There are notable exceptions, but it is often surprising to see how difficult it can be for university citizens to engage in the kind of “institutional thinking” that draws upon evidence-based inquiry to improve the ways we do work from week to week as well as from year to year.

To be sure, some of this kind of stumbling around stems from our failure to see the obvious. We are looking for something out of the ordinary only to discover that it is utterly mundane. As I have explained on other occasions, the social contexts and conceptual background of the “lamp of knowledge” are at once religious and secular. Such images of inquiry call our attention to the need for visual aids. We also need exemplars and we are tempted not to see ourselves as a source for best practices.

Be that as it may, I think some of us probably still find it difficult to see ourselves as occupying the space of the founders of the University. That iconic photograph of the students and faculty who assembled on the steps of Good Hall on Sept. 27, 1905 (see Mission Matters #46) sometimes seems to have had a bewitching effect on us. If so, I suspect that may be because – other than Irby J. Good – we do not really recognize who these predecessors were, what their student experiences were, and how what we do may relate to what it is that they were attempting to do from day to day.

Our challenge is to recognize the University’s mission as a trans-generational legacy that we act upon in the awareness that we like –I. J. Good – will one day pass it on to others who will carry forward the tasks of leadership. This is why I believe it is absolutely critical to the mission of the University that we be able to see ourselves (and others) as mutually involved in carrying out the tasks of the mission of the University.

The recent announcement that beginning in 2019 four of the six pillars of the Portico of Good Hall are to be “named” for exemplars of excellence in inquiry, innovation,leadership and service is instructive. This new set of traditions will provide us with a new set of lenses as we learn to see ourselves – like I. J. Good – as having a place on the steps of the Portico at Good Hall, the building that reminds of what we were founded to be – a university.

Next month’s Mission Matters piece is about Catheryn Kurtz Lausch ’35, who was a student at Indiana Central College during the Great Depression and served as a musician and teacher for almost seven decades before dying in 2009. Hers is a remarkable life, and I am grateful to her son, Eugene Lausch ’60, who has actively collaborated with me to make the life of his mother available for this purpose.  

As always, I invite your feedback at In the meantime, thanks for taking the time to reflect with me.

Remember: UIndy’s mission matters!