It is with a great deal of sadness that we note the passing of Jack Miller Center Board Member, John Strassburger, who lost his battle to cancer early morning Wednesday, Sept 22, 2010. John was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters of the Jack Miller Center when we made our home in Philadelphia, and his encouragement and participation in JMC programs and events will always be remembered with fondness and gratitude.
All of us at the Jack Miller Center will miss his advice and counsel, but the greatest loss will be felt on the campus, and in the intellectual life of Ursinus College, where he served as President. John’s 15 year tenure at Ursinus will be remembered for a long time to come as one of the most remarkable periods of growth for Liberal Arts education in any educational institution in the country. After the first ten years John began to lead Ursinus, enrollment rose by 40%, the average SAT scores increased dramatically, and this was inexplicably accomplished during a rapid increase in student tuition. During this time, the campus itself underwent massive expansion with improved science facilities, a performing arts center, complete renovations of historic campus buildings, and new athletic facilities. Campus life was also enhanced by a renewed commitment to liberal studies that reached beyond the classroom. John, and his wife Trudy, invited every member of each Ursinus Senior class into their homes for dinner and conversation that would last well into the evening.
Just as important as John’s accomplishments, however, were the things he did not do. In 1995 when small liberal arts institutions were feeling pressure to become more marketable by being more practical, the new president and an eager faculty decided to do the opposite. Rather than focus attention on programs like nursing, accounting, and certified athletics-training, for example, Ursinus ended these programs. Instead of stream lining the pre-medicine track in the attempt to increase test scores and medical school admission, the science faculty moved away from rote memorization towards enhanced student-research and pure scientific inquiry. Instead of decreasing required courses outside of a student’s major to expedite their education, John and the Ursinus faculty added a full year sequence dedicated to introducing every student on campus to “big ideas.” This program called, The Common Intellectual Experience, has since become the center of intellectual life on campus. So central, every professor, regardless of their academic discipline or specialty, is expected to take part. In short, Ursinus College under John’s leadership, chose a different path than similar institutions intent on increasing applications and recognition, and in doing so, Ursinus has become nationally recognized for quality education.
The Ursinus “Education Philosophy”:
The Ursinus educational philosophy encourages students to think for themselves, so that they may become mature, responsible independent adults in an interdependent world.
Ursinus students do not just learn science–they do science. They do not merely write–they also publish. They learn foreign languages, then travel to other nations to use those languages in the context of the cultures from which they sprang.
The Ursinus educational philosophy is based on the belief that professor and student are equal and active partners in student achievement. Each contributes, each takes, and each grows and is fulfilled in the experience.
Such statements about educational philosophy are not uncommon in American higher education today, but the example of John Strassburger sets this one apart. Liberal education is not about ideology, partisanship, or activism, it is about introducing students to questions that inevitably arise to every thinking human being and citizen. For demonstrating in words and deeds the power of such an education and the type of human being it produces, John will be missed dearly by us all.
JMC Interview, Video
For the Liberal Arts, Rhetoric Is Not Enough, Chronicle of Higher Education
Restore High Ideals To Learning, Philadelphia Inquirer
Obituary, Philadelphia Daily News