I served as the Interim President of the Anglo-American College (now a university) in Prague, Czech Republic, from November, 1999 to February 2001. AAU is a private, secular university founded in 1991, after the fall of communism. I was a missionary with Global Scholars in Prague from 1995 to 2003. In 2018, I visited the university and delivered these remarks entitled “My Vision for AAU.” Below is an excerpt. This site is dedicated to thinking Christianly, so perhaps these comments to a secular, intellectual audience are interesting and relevant.
Perhaps it is difficult for you to imagine what a pleasure it is for me to be here in Prague again. So many important developments occurred in my life and for my family here.
I taught first in September, 1995 – 1997. I served as President from 1999 – 2001. At this time I became a Founder of the Anglo-American College and the Anglo-American Institute For Liberal Studies. I continue serving on the Founders Board of AAU.
It is a great honor for me to address you today, to share company with people whom I respect, and to share the history of AAU. I hope that I might present a few ideas that could be useful as you develop the long-term trajectory of this school. I will talk briefly about memory and identity.
I believe, also, that institutions can forget their past and in this way lose their identity. I have several observations about institutional memory and identity that might be useful as you envision the future. In my thinking my three ideas are interrelated.
The first is the now, old fashioned term, liberal arts or even humanities. There is something intrinsically valuable about learning the past and the ideas of great thinkers. Wisdom from our forbears hinders our pretensions in the present.
I remember joking with my business and humanities students. I told the business students that they had a brain but no heart. I told the humanities students that they were all heart but no brain. Liberal arts, carefully conceived, promote humility and healthy skepticism, a big heart and broad mind.
I have remarked that it would be a shame if AAU produced only soulless technocrats or lifeless bureaucrats or greedy businessmen and women. I am quite serious about this. If AAU produces mostly profit-motivated entrepreneurs, they might advance globalization and their own fortunes, but they might not model integrity or benefit society.
This is why I have urged that programs about social entrepreneurism be established at AAU. I have proposed an annual ethics symposium and required ethics courses in each field. It would be a pity if AAU graduates gain the whole world, but lose their souls.
The second is cultural history, worldview, and religion. When I taught here, I offered courses like comparative religions, comparative worldviews, the Bible as literature, history of Christianity, intellectual history, and business ethics. At that time students were interested in the big questions in life. They were sometimes stunned to learn what the Bible said or what Islam or Hinduism taught, for example. They were amazed to learn about the positive influence of religion in the public square.
At the beginning of a course they would sometimes ask: “Professor, what do you think about this or that”? But, I often said: “What is more important is what you think.” They did not know how to think, but at least they were curious.
Specifically, I think that AAU should encourage Czech and Slovak students to reconnect with their famous Christian forebears, Jan Hus and Jan Amos Komenský. AAU should also urge its European students to re-examine the religious influence upon European culture.
I think, also, that AAU should teach students to think about basic worldview questions, like: Where did I come from? Why I am here? Where I am going? An unexamined life really is not very worthwhile.
The third is dissidence. When I began here, many of my students and their parents had participated in the Velvet Revolution. They were hungry for change and rightfully skeptical of the former controlling narratives. But, is that the same today? Or, are most people no longer thinking at all, except about the next party or short-term pleasure? Are they simply following the story lines laid out for them and playing their part in globalization and consumerism? Is this why AAU exists: to develop this kind of person?
I want AAU to encourage healthy dissidence. I want foreign students to discover Václav Havel, in particular “The Power of the Powerless” and “Letters To Olga.” I want all students to question and push back against the controlling narratives today.
I hope that AAU students resist the trivialization of popular culture promoted so eagerly by consumerism. They should resist the manipulating messages of the consumer matrix: “I shop, therefore I am.” They should resist the distortions produced by social media. They should resist the transforming power of “McWorld,” the unholy alliance of McDonalds and Disneyworld.
I urge AAU to push back against secularization in modern Europe. There is so much to learn from the spiritual and religious legacy of Europe. It is wise to ponder the impact of Christianity and Judaism upon law, human rights, political philosophy, health, the arts, etc.
Back in 1998 I wrote an article about my students for the “New Presence” magazine entitled “My Atheist Students — So-Called.” I found that many atheists and agnostics here embrace a variety of implicit religions. I doubt that this is much different today.
When we lived here, my wife bought me a picture that she felt represents the struggle of religion in this country. I urge AAU to foster intellectual hospitality that permits students to question the reigning paradigms of naturalism and secularism that squeeze spirituality out of life and the public square.
I do not believe that AAU can or should clone the state educational system’s values, method or message. But, neither should it sell its soul to the highest, foreign bidder. AAU is a distinct, independent entity — almost a verb. We should not forget.
I hope AAU will foster creative dissidence. Promote integrity and social entrepreneurism. Value the liberal arts and encourage students to think about the meaning of life. I suspect, would be education with a difference. This would be AAU.