When I first came to the United States as an undergraduate in the fall of 1990, I discovered that course grades, given as letters from A through D (with F for failure) had numerical equivalents.* That is, an A was worth 4, a B worth 3, a C worth 2, and a D worth 1 (with an F, of course, counting for nothing). Over the course of your undergraduate career, you built up something called a “Grade Point Average” – your performance in each class was averaged over the total number of classes you had taken, producing a number out of 4. Very rarely did anyone graduate with a GPA of 4.0, although our valedictorian managed to. I myself finished with a 3.75, which was enough for the Latin honors “magna cum laude” (top 15% of the class) and membership in Phi Beta Kappa (roughly top 10%). Yay me! Although I missed out on “summa cum laude” (top 5% of the class) and would probably not have been admitted to Yale Law School should I have applied there.

But I should qualify this. At Dartmouth, plusses and minuses came into the equation. That is, grades were fine tuned – you could get an A, but if your performance wasn’t quite as stellar as the professor was hoping, your A was lowered to an A-. Similarly, if your work was in the B range, but still quite good compared to other grades in the B range, you got a B+ (if it was pretty bad compared with other grades in the B range, you got a B-, and if it was just average, then you got a straight B, with no plus or minus). And so on down the line. There was no grade of A+, and as far as I can remember no grade of D- either. This fine tuning was reflected in the numerical values accorded to each grade: an A- was worth 3.67 (one third down from an A), while a B+ was worth 3.33 (one third up from a B), and so on.

When I started my Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, grades were given as straight A, B, C, D, and F. By the time I finished they had adopted the fine-tuning of grades with plusses and minuses, with the same numerical values that I had remembered from Dartmouth. Not that I paid much attention to grades by this point; I was just looking to get my dissertation done and get out.

So I thought that this is simply how it was – you could give straight, undifferentiated grades, with values equating to integers between 1 and 4, or allow fine tuning with plusses and minuses, with values subdivided by thirds.

But lately I have discovered (on page 82) that LaGrange College of LaGrange, Georgia doesn’t quite measure things this way. That is, in their system, a B is still worth 3, but a B+ is worth 3.25, and a B- is worth 2.75. So you’re not as rewarded for a plus, or as punished for a minus, as you would have been had you gotten such grades at Dartmouth or the University of Minnesota. Note, however, that even in this system, you can go up as well as down, and by the same amount.

So I must say that I was shocked and dismayed to discover that Mercer University of Macon, Georgia does things rather… eccentrically. That is, they allow plusses, but have simply eliminated the possibility of getting a minus! Here is the whole sordid mess from their catalogue:

Quality Points
Per Credit Hour

You’ll note that in addition to eliminating minuses, they reward a plus with a full half-point, greater than a plus would be worth at a real university.

This is awful. Who came up with this, and how did it get approved? Why hasn’t SACS said anything? This is truly an example of the Lake Wobegon idea that “everyone is above average” (or worse, every snowflake deserves a participation trophy). You can’t have plusses without minuses! The possibility of getting your grade raised has to be offset by the possibility of getting it lowered. Otherwise, it is just an example of officially sanctioned grade inflation, presumably for the sake of maintaining students’ athletic eligibility or for protecting their precious self-esteem.

I swear that if such a system is ever adopted at Reinhardt, I will never award a plus grade. For the sake of academic honesty and integrity, I will simply operate under the assumption that our current system, a straight A, B, C, and D system, still prevails.

* In Canada, in high school at least, you got a grade out of 100, which was converted into a letter if need be, which was slightly different from the American system: in the US, an A is in the 90s, a B in the 80s, a C in the 70s, and a D in the 60s, while in Canada, an A was any grade between 80 and 100, a B in the 70s, a C in the 60s, and D in the 50s. My freshman-year roommate laughed at this, suggesting that Canada was soft, but it just seemed to me that teachers in Canada could grade more honestly. (Not that anyone paid much attention to the letter grades; it was the number out of 100 that counted.)

Alumni News

History major Owen Bagley ’13 has returned to campus as an admissions officer. He and his wife Lauren Bagley ’13 are expecting their first child in July.

Proposed Seals

My proposal for a heraldic coat of arms (and thus seal) for Reinhardt was not taken up, and I’m actually glad about it. The biggest problem, in retrospect, is having three lines of text on the book in the chief. That is simply too much! Also, the eagle looks too Germanic, and although the bird has a distinguished heraldic pedigree, at Reinhardt it’s the sports mascot, and a university is always more than its athletic program.

But I’m also glad that they did not select this other proposal:

This is a mess – it’s like you’ve stumbled across a jumble bin at a flea market. The open book is fine, but then why have a scroll over it? Why not just put the writing on the book itself? Then there is a lit torch, acting as a bookmark [!], and a cross, tucked in at a rakish angle and further impeding one’s ability to read the book. The Latin is a nice touch, but on the whole this composition looks like the earnest efforts of some Bible academy, where the love of Jesus trumps any consideration of good design.

So allow me to propose a third option:

The lamp of learning is retained from Reinhardt’s current seal. I have since found plenty of instances of universities employing this device (e.g. Ryerson University, the University of Michigan, or Birkbeck College); it’s not necessarily the mark of a high school (and in any event serves as a memento of the time when Reinhardt was a high school). The lamp is not setting the book on fire; it is being used to illuminate the book so that we may read it, and the writing is placed on the pages, where it ought to be (viz. the arms of Oxford, Harvard, or Yale). Thus the lamp and the book, both symbols of learning, are in scale with each other and relate to each other in a coherent manner, and overall it’s a clean, simple design. In all other respects the seal is identical with Reinhardt’s current seal. There is nothing on here that symbolizes Reinhardt’s location (whether Waleska, Cherokee County, Georgia, the South, or the USA), but at least our town and state are written out along the exterior, and frankly I would rather have nothing at all than an arrowhead – I repeat my observation that Reinhardt was not founded by or for the Cherokee, who were removed long before 1883. In an age when Americans have become sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation, it might be time to quietly drop this symbol. This proposal does not feature any explicit statement of Christianity, but the motto – “do all the good you can” – is certainly a Christian sentiment and derives from a statement attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

My thanks to Huitt Rabel for his design skills.

Another RU Blog

My colleague across the hall, Aquiles Martinez, has publicly unveiled Encounters with the Sacred, a blog for Reinhardt’s religion program (he has been authoring it since last August). A sample post:

Any formal study of religion or religions must begin with a clear understanding of the subject matter, namely, what religion is.  And and yet this task is not as easy as it seems because in any society the meaning of words is not absolute or fixed; it is as fluid as its interpretations and applications.

Although the majority of the population of the world continues to identify themselves with a religion, on the basis of some implicit and unmeasured understandings of religion, especially when it comes to answering polls, over the years religious scholars have struggled with the meaning of the term religion, or even with the essential, common traits that would lead them to classify individuals or groups under that label.

Adopting different points of view and using methodologies of analysis that embody different human experiences, many scholars have concluded that a single, definitive definition of religion is neither possible nor advisable.  Since it is a social construct that reflects diversity of perceptions and thoughts, it is up to any person to decide what it means and for others to try to understand these definitions in their corresponding contexts.  And yet a work-in-progress definition of religion is possible, necessary, and desirable, at least to name the subject matter and start a conversation that would elicit a wide range of qualifications, exceptions to the rule, and even critiques.

Recognizing that there is no such a thing as value-free, final definition and that, at the same time, religion is something that average people primarily experience or live and hardly ever stop to formally define it, much less to take into account the ideas of others to see where they all coincide, how could we, then, define religion?

Read on at the link.

Dr. Jerome Dobson

Reinhardt’s VPAA Mark Roberts informs us that the university has a new trustee: Reinhardt graduate Jerome Dobson, Professor Emeritus at University of Kansas and former President of the American Geographical Society. Roberts draws our attention to a speech of Dobson’s entitled “Geography: Use it or Lose it,” which he gave in DC in 2010:

Geography is to space what history is to time, and I think very few people think of it that way. Geography is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, a set of information technologies, old and new, contrary to a lot of ‑‑ a lot of people think it’s just a new thing we have GIS, but geography has always led in technology, from Eratosthenes measuring the earth on forward. People think of it as place-name geography, but if you look at the deeper parts of the iceberg, spatial thinking, place-based research, scientific integration, GIS and so on, not just place-name geography.

Geography is about understanding people and places and how real world places function in a viscerally organic sense. It’s about understanding spatial distributions and interpreting what they mean. If we look at the specialties of American geographers, a lot of people outside geography think of it as a physical discipline, but as you see here only 10 percent of geographers claim a physical specialty. Far more, about well over half, claim some sort of human geography as a specialty. And, one-fifth, more than one-fifth, claim geographic information science as a specialty.

Interesting stuff. Reinhardt does not have a geography program but we in history are proud to sponsor HIS 210: World Geography. Perhaps the new trustee will inspire us to deepen our course offerings in this area.

The Burgess Building

Reinhardt’s most characteristic building has been designated the Burgess Building ever since president J.R. Burgess retired in 1974. This fact was generally unknown, however: the entire time I’ve been at Reinhardt people have simply called it the Administration Building. Here is what it looked like back in 2006:


The plaque to the right of the main doors was the only public acknowledgement of its true name:


This afternoon Reinhardt, in the presence of Burgess’s daughter Martha Burgess Blanton, rededicated the building to President Burgess, and unveiled a new inscription on the entablature:


Portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Burgess were rehung in the main foyer:


If Dr. Burgess is known for anything it is for the planting of many varieties of tree on the Reinhardt campus. The main strand is known as the Burgess Arboretum and is one of the things that makes Reinhardt’s campus so attractive. From the 1960s, here is Burgess’s master plan of all the trees he wanted planted on campus:


The audience heard from Reinhardt’s President Kina Mallard, VP of Advancement Tim Norton, President Emeritus Floyd Falany, Board Chairman Billy Hasty, and History Program member Professor Ken Wheeler, whose remarks are reprinted below, by kind permission of the author.

img_3545 Brief Remarks on the Importance of James Rowland Burgess, Jr., and Martha Stallings Burgess in the History of Reinhardt University

This place, Reinhardt and Waleska, appears different from how it looked in 1944, when Rowland Burgess came here to visit Reinhardt and consider becoming its president. Oh, the road to Waleska from Canton was made of beautiful concrete, but once a person entered Waleska the car started to slip and slide in the mud and loose dirt of the town—which had no paved streets. And as Rowland Burgess toured the campus, it was not inspiring. Dobbs Hall was closed in need of repair. It had 55 broken window panes, and Burgess said the wooden steps leading into the building were so rickety as to be actually dangerous. Reinhardt housed the elementary school, had a high school, the Reinhardt Academy, with 40 or 50 students, and as for the college, Reinhardt had 16 collegiate students. But Burgess took the job, and he and his wife Martha and their children moved into the president’s home, which is today our Admissions House. Livestock grazed across the street, and the Burgesses walked across the campus, which was covered in old stumps, privet, and invasive honeysuckle. The place needed a lot of work.

The Burgesses knew education. Martha had had two years at a teacher training college in Athens, Georgia, before she married Rowland. And Rowland knew Methodist higher education. He started his undergraduate years at Young Harris College, overseen by two Reinhardt graduates, Joe and Ella Sharp, and Burgess finished his undergraduate years at Emory. Rowland had Christian conviction—a sermon in his youth emphasized that “the harvest is truly great but the laborers are few,” which convinced him that he wished to “labor for the master.” Rather than go into parish ministry, he went into education and became a school superintendent for several years before coming to Reinhardt in his late 30s.

The work was not glamorous. Rowland Burgess ordered blocks of ice for the cafeteria, which had no refrigerator. He personally opened sewer lines that clogged. And while presidents today read The Chronicle of Higher Education, Burgess subscribed to the Guernsey Breeders Journal in an effort to improve the quality of the herd of cattle on the college farm. That farm included crops of cotton, corn, sorghum, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, various vegetables, and of course hay. They had hogs in addition to the cattle. A farm manager kept up with all of it, assisted by students whose job it was to plant, hoe, harvest, milk, bale, and so on. Everything that could be eaten in the cafeteria was eaten there, which kept costs low. But Burgess always had to drive to Atlanta at the end of each year and visit Mr. Dobbs to ask for a check to cover the annual deficit, a check that was usually grudgingly written. Reinhardt College had no endowment; it ran on a shoestring.

Over time, though, the college did well. The end of World War II brought veterans who had the G.I. Bill. One was my old next-door neighbor in Canton, R. J. Chastain. He was a Ball Ground boy who volunteered and wound up as an infantryman in Europe. After the war, Chastain rented an apartment in Canton with some other vets, and they would carpool up to Reinhardt. He had not yet graduated from high school, so he finished his high school diploma here, and then stayed for a couple of quarters of collegiate coursework. He represented a trend, and enrollments grew.

While Rowland presided over Reinhardt, Martha kept taking college courses. She finished her bachelor’s degree, obtained a master’s degree, and by the time the Burgesses retired from Reinhardt in 1973, Martha had taught here for 25 years, retiring as a professor of the behavioral sciences.

These were eventful years. Rowland Burgess had a certain genius for publicity. In 1949, Burgess got a federal grant to hold a “Conservation Field Day” at Reinhardt. The college bought some additional acreage, and in one amazing day tens of thousands of people came to the campus, cleared and improved the new acreage, and enjoyed the highlight, a visit from Harry S. Truman’s vice president, Alben W. Barkley. There are still some old-timers in this area who recall coming to Reinhardt as young people to participate in the biggest “work day” in the school’s history.

These were the years, too, when the Waleskans built an elementary school off the campus, and in the middle 1950s the Academy closed, so that Reinhardt became, for the first time in its existence, a purely collegiate institution. The Burgesses did not miss the high school. Some students had been local, but others boarded here, and many times they came to Reinhardt because they had been kicked out of some school system elsewhere. Rowland Burgess wrote in his memoir that “Years later . . . a lady called to ask if we still took ‘juvenile delinquents.’ I was happy to tell her that we didn’t. She said, ‘Well, I’m glad. You took my niece once and she’s still no good.’”

The Burgesses were shaped by the times. In 1954, the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. the Board of Education decision shook a segregated South. At Reinhardt, one trustee insisted this was why they had to keep Reinhardt open—the public schools would be forced to integrate. When powerful trustees over the next several years said that Reinhardt would never integrate racially, Rowland Burgess would not agree or argue, but just say “We’ll see.” When, in 1966, the federal government wrote to Reinhardt and said federally subsidized student loans could go only to integrated schools, President Burgess created an integrated Reinhardt. He went to Canton and talked with Mr. Bell, the principal of the black school there, and asked about who would be a good student to come to Reinhardt. Bell said Burgess wanted a young man named James T. “Jay” Jordan. Burgess and Bell talked with Jordan and his parents about Jay coming, and he entered Reinhardt in the fall of 1966, Reinhardt’s first African-American student. President Burgess took a strong interest in Jordan’s acceptance by students and everyone else on campus, and in fact things worked out very well. Jordan was a friendly person, a good athlete, a capable student, and he wound up having a good two years at Reinhardt. Other African-American students followed in succeeding years, and so the Burgesses, in their understated way, led Reinhardt into a positive future for the school and its students.

The world changes, and Reinhardt has changed. Our president no longer subscribes to the Guernsey Breeders Journal. The streets of Waleska are paved. Reinhardt has not only survived but thrived and done well. And in all of that, the Burgess influence is still here. One can see it in this very building, which serves our campus. One can see it in the library, which Burgess built. And, of course, one sees it outdoors on a beautiful campus, a good portion of which was planted by Rowland Burgess. The privet and the stumps are gone, replaced by trees and shrubs and flowers that create an inspiring environment in which to read, and study, and learn. Time and again, when people visit me from other schools they remark how uplifting this campus is.

The Burgesses wrote poetry, and published some of their poems. In one poem, reflecting on her teaching, Martha Burgess wrote, “How can she know where her influence begins/ Much less tell where it has its end.” I would argue that that influence has not ended. It goes on in the students of Reinhardt from that time, who are still living out their lives, and the spirit of the Burgesses is still here on this campus—it is a spirit of unselfish service, of long devotion and faithfulness, of Christian generosity, of personal warmth toward people and good humor about life. It is a valuable inheritance, and we can all be grateful for that gift.


Burgess, James Rowland, Jr., “Three Times Ten: My Thirty Years at Reinhardt College (unpublished ms., Box 2, Burgess Papers, Reinhardt University)

Flashing Eyes, Trilliums, and Trees: Personal Poems and Verses of James Rowland Burgess and Martha Stallings Burgess (Reinhardt College, 1982)

Hinson, Tyler B., “Laboring for the Master: James Rowland Burgess, Jr. and the Birth of Modern Reinhardt” (unpublished paper, 2010)

New Student Induction Ceremony

Last evening the New Student Induction Ceremony took place in the Falany Performing Arts Center here at Reinhardt. I always like this one: it is a serious occasion, but a good vibe tends to prevail. Students take the Reinhardt Honor Pledge, and sign a large poster of it, which gets hung in the Lawson-Tarpley atrium. For the record, here it is:


I believe in this, and not just because I was on the committee that devised it some twelve years ago now. I cannot claim that I have never indulged in cynicism or irony, but there are times for moral exhortation and aspiration, and I am glad that we sponsor this one.

We also sang the University Anthem, which was unveiled at Dr. Mallard’s inauguration last year. The original music is by Ken Berg, and the lyrics by Michael Berg and Reinhardt’s VPAA Mark Roberts:

Reinhardt, Reinhardt, O place of honor!
Beacon of learning may you shine
Through all the days of your sons and daughters
Guiding in wisdom throughout our lives.

Reinhardt, Reinhardt,
May you be strong and bold,
Reinhardt, Reinhardt
We sing to the blue and gold.

By your lead and faith enabled
To take flight as one whole heart.
Finding within our learning passion
Purer science, deeper art.


This I also like – it certainly compares very favorably to Reinhardt’s Alma Mater.

After the ceremony, all students got on the stage for a group photograph, taken by Jeff Reed ’16, who has been hired as the University Photographer this year.