ANNAPOLIS—St. John’s College inaugurated new president John Spangler Kieffer on October 25, 1947. Kieffer succeeded Stringfellow Barr, who along with Scott Buchanan implemented the New Program at St. John’s.
“The inauguration was a milestone in the history of the New Program,” the 1948 Rat-Tat yearbook reported. “It marked the formal accession of the first successors of the founding fathers.”
The solemn occasion was an opportunity to reflect on the college’s goals and purposes.
“The spirit and tradition of the Liberal Arts, as we know it, is a very powerful, but very elusive being. It cannot be constituted in bricks and mortar, but it must be possessed by a firm mind, as the birds of Theatetus [sic] must be possessed by a firm hand,” the yearbook said.
To the delight of the yearbook editors, Kieffer’s address reaffirmed the statement of the Program. “The seminar is the heart of our teaching,” Kieffer said, and the “seminar reading list is strengthened and indeed made possible by scientific and artistic practice with language, mathematics, and the laboratory.”
The yearbook vignette also chronicles the students’ place in the ceremony, from the morning announcement that only a bagged lunch would be served to students, to the half-hearted student procession in which many students refused to participate.
They also came across the program for the event, which “listed all of the delegates from schools and learned societies who accepted invitations.”
“We amused ourselves by counting and deciphering the degrees and appelations [sic] of our visitors,” the yearbook wryly commented. “It seemed that everyone was representing something, and we wondered whether we should departmentalize our faculty for the sake of consistency.”
Kieffer, who had joined the faculty as instructor in classical languages in 1929, would serve as the college’s president for two years, before being succeeded by Richard Weigle.
Information for this article is from the 1948 Rat-Tat yearbook and J. Winfree Smith’s A Search for The Liberal College (Annapolis: St. John’s College Press, 1983).
—Brady Lee (AGI14)