First Principles still inspire McDaniel experience

August 26, 2010

For nearly 30 years, a mission statement of 250 words has guided and inspired the liberal arts education of students on the Hill.

First Principles, written in 1981 by English professors Keith Richwine and Del Palmer, were adopted in May of 1981 – and are displayed in every classroom and every office on campus. Richwine estimated it took one hour per word to compose the First Principles, which have held fast through changes in society, curriculum, technology, generations and even the name of the college.

“Three decades later it is still relevant and meaningful,” says Kathy Mangan, Joan Develin Coley Chair of Creative Expression and the Arts and professor of English, who began her teaching career at the college in 1977. “Each of only five bullets centers on our focus, which is now and always will be our students.”

The rhetorically simple, jargon-free language has helped keep the First Principles fresh, Mangan says.

“The sentences are beautifully distilled,” she says. “What comes to mind is master prose stylist E.B. White’s description of Thoreau’s writing as ‘sentences that resist the destructiveness of time.’”

Reflective of McDaniel’s educational philosophy, the First Principles span the disciplines, pertinent to students learning chemistry or English, Spanish or calculus, economics or sociology.

“The McDaniel First Principles describe the ideal means of educating a scientist to meet the demands of his or her career,” says Rick Smith, a professor of Chemistry at McDaniel since 1971. “(That is) a sound foundation in the discipline, experience in problem solving, critical thinking, and independent learning, an understanding of ethical and moral issues, and a broad background of knowledge to meet the ever changing challenges of the future.

“For those outside science, an understanding of science as an ever-changing dynamic process of coming to understand the world around us is critical to those educated to live in the 21st century.”

Kathy Mangan

Tom Falkner, provost and dean of the faculty, describes these guiding principles as visionary in defining a McDaniel education in terms of outcomes.

"(The college’s First Principles) tell us what liberally educated people know and can do, how they live and behave, and how they understand their responsibilities in a global community,” Falkner says. “Long before 'outcomes assessment' become a buzzword, McDaniel was describing the education it offers by describing the defining characteristics of its graduates."