On April 7, University of the Cumberlands hosted its fourth annual leadership program, sponsored by the Forcht Group of Kentucky Center for Excellence in Leadership. The goal of the Forcht Group of Kentucky Center for Excellence in Leadership is promote the University’s mission of leadership, service and growth. The Center’s programs seek to nurture honesty, respect for and service to others, good citizenship, generosity, honor, courage, sound use of time and talents and a good solid work ethic.
The event’s title was “21st Century Leadership and the keynote speaker was Ben Stein, Emmy-award-winning actor, writer, professor, conservative political and economic commentator and attorney, who spoke to an audience that included students, faculty, staff, alumni and hundreds of community members. The program also featured music by Dual Devotion, a gospel quartet comprised of UC alumni; the Knoxville Pipes and Drums; Cheri Reed, senior music education major; the University’s Combined Choir; and the Concert Band.
Two of Cumberlands’ favorite professors were honored for their long service to the University and for instilling attributes of leadership in their students. Dr. Eric Wake, professor and chair of the History Department, has taught at Cumberlands for 41 years. Harold Hubbard, professor of business administration in the Hutton School of Business has been employed with Cumberlands since 1960.
Four individuals received 21st Century Leadership Awards for their achievements in the field of education. Elaine Farris, M.Ed., of Shelbyville, interim commissioner of education of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), has nearly 30 years of educational experience, including service as an instructor, director and principal. Named a Distinguished educator, she was chosen for the first class of interns to participate in KDE’s Minority Internship Program and later became Kentucky’s first African-American school superintendent. Hilma Prather, M.Ed., of Somerset, chair of the Kentucky Authority for Education Television and vice chair of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, has served the educational community in many capacities. In 1972, she began her career as a sixth-grade teacher and retired as a principal in the Somerset Independent School System, where she was the Kentucky Health Educator of the Year in 1991, and has been named “Principal with Principles.” Phillip S. Rogers, Ed.D, Scottsville, executive director of the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB), has also served as the board’s director of the Division of Professional Learning and Assessment. He is the founding director of Allen County Schools’ Family Resource Center. Michael Seelig, J.D., M.S.W., interim vice president for academic affairs at the Council on Postsecondary Education, has served Morehead State University in many capacities, including: assistant professor, director of the social work program, executive assistant to the president, University general counsel, interim executive director and chief development officer and interim dean of the College of education and Behavior Sciences.
Following the award presentations, Stein, well-known for his keen insights into American social, political and economic issues, took the podium and began his address by praising the University of the Cumberlands, saying, “This—right here—is the real America, the USA we pledge allegiance to.” The crowd responded with thunderous applause, as it did several times during Stein’s speech.
He then told of his involvement with the movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which addresses most higher-education institutions’ reactions to the theory of intelligent design. He said that, after being asked to do the project, he attempted to learn what some foremost Darwinian and Atheist experts had to say about how they thought life had begun if there was no “Intelligent Designer.” However, after interviewing a number of renowned scientists, including Great Britain’s Richard Dawkins, Stein found the answers to his questions “unimpressive.” He said he received responses like, “Perhaps lightning struck a mud puddle, and that is how life began.” He stated that if he had received real answers, he might not have completed the movie project.
Stein said that following the movie, some members of the scientific community expressed “uncontrolled anger.” He stated, “People in power in the academic world do not like to be questioned; people in power in the journalistic world do not like to be questioned.” Stein continued, “But, if they are in power because of a failed theoretical framework, they are really, really sensitive when you come near their vulnerable spots.”
In his inimical tone, he went on to say, “If we are all merely pieces of mud, what do we owe another piece of mud? Nothing. But if we believe that we were created by an ‘Intelligent Designer,’ and we call that designer God, and we are made in God’s image, then we all have a bit of the divine, and we owe allegiance not only to God but also to each other—because we all have that spark of the divine.” He spoke of how such movements as Nazism and other genocidal groups, and even the “thieves” who caused today’s economical crisis have adhered to the basic tenet of Darwinism—“the survival of the fittest” Stein believes that the denial of the divine, which he says is implied in Darwinian theory, is the source of moral corruption.
Stein went on to talk about how places like University of the Cumberlands are helping to create the kinds of 21st century leaders, who will stand against the kind of Darwinian theory that causes some humans to treat other humans with such disregard. He praised the University’s ROTC program, and cited the leadership it promotes.
He also spoke of his respect for his late father-in-law, Colonel Dale Denman, who served during WWII and the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts. He said that as a young “hippie,” he asked Denman why he was willing to go to war? “Do you like war?” he asked. Stein said that the decorated veteran gave him the best answer he had ever received to that question, “ I go so that you and my daughter won’t have to.”
Stein also recognized Major Daphany Pruitt, decorated soldier, a 1989 alumna of Cumberland College and one of Stein’s personal friends, who had driven eight hours to attend this special event.
Stein stated that America’s 21st century leaders are those who are willing to lay down their lives, talents or fortunes for their fellow humans and who recognize that they are indeed part of the divine.
He closed with the words from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which have haunted Stein since, as a young man, he traveled to Washington to witness the event. “We all ask God to bless this great country; we all ask God to work for this country; we ask God to go and work for the people and principles we love, and here on earth, God’s work is our work.”