A hundred years after a group of visionary Americans signed the Declaration of Independence, a visionary educator founded a school that would become famous – a century later – for declaring its own independence.
America was growing up and into its role as the world’s indispensable nation in 1876 when Isaac C. Ketler started a school in the town then known as Pine Grove. He was very aware of the fact that his country was at an inflection point and that to succeed in a world that was shaking off the old forms of industry and authority, it needed men and women who could take up the responsibilities of citizenship. Education was the key.
“The education that he aimed for America, the education which alone could in his opinion make the America that he loved, was religious; and this he thought to exemplify in his own College,” according to W.M. Ramsay, who chronicled Ketler’s work in 1915.
“He knew that it must be the main business of a university to make American citizens …,” Ramsay wrote. Ketler’s objective was to make people “fit for the American world and likely to leave the American world a little better than they found it.”
Independence was as much a part of the foundation of Ketler’s educational vision as religion. He rebuffed lucrative offers to take his talents elsewhere, where his commitment to true knowledge might be compromised by the authority of others, in favor of building an educational community ‘mid the pines that reflected his faith in God, in education and in America.
His successors in leadership shared Ketler’s fervor and fidelity to maintain the College’s independence. They eschewed reliance on federal funding as the government became more and more involved in higher education in the post-war years. One of Ketler’s successors in the job routinely refused overtures and offers of financial support from bureaucrats looking to spread taxpayer dollars around.
When the College was confronted in the mid-1970s by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Education) and pressed to sign off on a pledge to submit to current or future federal edicts, its leaders refused – on principle.
Then – and now – the College held that as a private educational institution that asks nothing of the government, it has a right to determine its own destiny and not be subject to unwarranted and unnecessary oversight or the political whims of whoever happens to be in charge of the government.
The stand led to a years-long court battle with the government that ended in a Supreme Court case and the College’s decision to opt out of the federal student loan and grant program. It was a costly choice but well worth it to maintain the College’s freedom to deliver a high-quality, Christ-centered education.
At Grove City College, independence isn’t something that’s held up once a year while fireworks are going off in the background. It’s one of the College’s core values and the private Christian liberal arts college understands that its institutional autonomy – a principle it defended all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – is a blessing from God and America’s heritage of freedom.
“The founders of both our country and our College envisioned a civil society where freedom would be sustained through virtuous self-government. That bold vision still inspires our mission to equip students for serving the common good and our determination to remain independent,” Grove City College President Paul J. McNulty said.