Uncertainty and risk are facts of life and part of Maryville College’s mission is preparing students to lead fulfilling lives while they deal with those challenges.
That was the message Dr. Tom Bogart delivered when members of the college faculty, staff, board of directors, students and the community gathered to inaugurated him as Maryville College’s 11th president Saturday morning, April 16, during a ceremony at the Clayton Center for the Arts.
Bogart, an economist by trade, touched on uncertainty and how it affects how people live in the world and how Maryville College’s mission relates to dealing with uncertainty.
“Our statement of purpose claims that we ‘prepare students for a world of uncertainty and accelerating change,’ and I want to take the opportunity today to explore what that means. In particular, it gives me the chance to highlight how our emphasis on developing the whole person, both for growth in academic knowledge and in faith, is vital for preparing people to face the real challenges ahead,” he said.
Bogart said the difference between uncertainty and risk is not strictly academic, as it has implications for how people behave and how they should behave. “Risk can be understood and sometimes reduced,” he said.
Bogart said the insurance industry is based on this idea. “Maryville College, unfortunately has a great deal of experience with insurance, specifically fire insurance. Major fires have destroyed or seriously damaged buildings on campus, including Carnegie Hall, Pearson’s Hall and most recently Fayerweather Hall,” he said. “Because the risks of property damage were understood by the college and because these risk could be quantified by insurance underwriters, we were able to rebuild all of the buildings, and they continue in use today.”
The president said that while risk can be addressed, it is important to realize that people are generally not good at dealing with risk. “The phenomenon of anchoring finds people leaning too heavily on the current situation as a prediction of the future or gauge of what to expect as normal. The phenomenon of framing has people making different decisions depending solely on how a question is posed,” he said. “Most wearisome is people tend to believe that risk is less than its true amount.”
Bogart said uncertainty is different than risk, and he referred to an experiment by Daniel Ellsberg that linked psychology and economics. “In the experiment, people were given a choice of a risky situation and an uncertain situation that had less risk. Systematically people chose the risky situation. His discovery is known as the Ellsberg Paradox, and it shows that people would rather face situations of risk than uncertainty, even at the hazard of magnifying some of the risk,” the president said.
Bogart said that despite uncertainty, it is vital to move forward in faith, as the nature of uncertainty is that it is never completely resolved. “Our mission statement says that ‘Maryville College prepares students,’ and that has been our organizing theme of this week’s celebration of the college. We conclude our mission statement by stating that we are preparing them, ‘To search for truth, grow in wisdom, work for justice and dedicate a life of creativity and service to the peoples of the world.’”
The president said creativity is inextricably linked to faith. “When we create, we are bringing something into the world that was not seen before, something that we and perhaps others had hoped for,” he said. “This creativity is inextricably linked to knowledge.”
Bogart made the connection that in the college’s senior studies, ‘Our students experience, the hard way, the process of discovery and as a result are prepared to succeed in whatever setting they find themselves after they leave,” he said. “Faith and learning are complements, and Maryville College will continue to thrive in its distinctive blending where both aspects of human development are taken seriously.”
The president closed his remarks by explaining why he asked that the song “Ain’t Got No Time to Die” be sung. While Bogart said he and his family enjoyed the version of the song performed by the Maryville College choir, he had another reason. “I don’t know of another song that better describes the spirit of service I have found at Maryville College,” he said. “Our students are not passively absorbing lessons here, nor are they quietly going out into the world. Rather, they are passionately looking for ways to connect their experiences on campus with the world off-campus while here in preparation for going forth to give ‘lives of citizenship and leadership’ that bless the world.”
Bogart said the best preparation for the future is a liberal arts education. “That education must include a core curriculum that extends through all four years of undergraduate study.”
As the inauguration ended, Bogart led a procession of professors out of the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater and past cheering Maryville College students clad in “I love Bogart” T-shirts. In the plaza, he greeted and thanked colleagues and members of the community before everyone enjoyed a lunch on the lawn in front of Pearson’s Hall.
The president’s wife and father shared their thoughts on Bogart’s inauguration. “I’m very proud of him, and we’re so grateful for this,” said Mary Bogart. “It has been a wonderful week.”
Carl Bogart, the president’s father, was happy for his son. “I couldn’t be more proud,” he said. “It’s a win-win for Mary and Tom and for Maryville College. It feels right.”