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Peaks, Pluralism, and Prosperity   the snow-covered granite peaks of theHeritageRangeof theEllsworth Mountains in Antarctica have peered out over the continental ice for hundreds of millions of years. One of those peaks, Mount Macalester, juts an impressive 7,972 feet into the frigid sky. Just how a mountain in the Antarctic came to be named after a small liberal arts college in Minnesota is one of the too rarely told stories of this period. Scientific exploration of the Antarctic was given a boost in the 1960s with the worldwide expansion of science. In the United States, the National Science Foundation(NSF)andtheU.S.Navysupportedseveralexpeditionstothefrozen southerncontinent,andin1979MacalesterprofessorGeraldWebersof thegeologydepartmentsnaredamajorNSF grantforanexpedition,anunusualcoupfor such a small institution. With the help of the navy, Webers and four Macalester studentstraveledinNovembertoAntarctica,wheretheywerejoinedbyforty-two other geologists and support people from all over the world, including Japan, the USSR, and New Zealand. The expedition was well equipped, with twelve snowmobiles, three twin-jet helicopters (no more than two in the air at a time), andacamp—fondlynamedCampMacalester—consistingof fiveQuonsethuts, complete with kitchen, mess hall, shower, and two flush toilets. The purpose of the expedition was to study the geological sediments of the continent—three hundred million years of Antarctic history compressed in layer upon layer of bedrock, granite, and sediment. Webers, the students, and theothergeologistsspenteachdayatdifferentsitesintheEllsworthMountains takinggroundsamples.Coldweather,itturnedout,wasnotmuchof aproblem, for during the period, the Antarctic summer temperatures ranged between five  | nature & revelation degrees below zero Fahrenheit to thirty degrees above. The twenty-four hours of sunlight each day, though, took some getting used to, according to Webers. The group’s research resulted in a stratographic column, or vertical map of the layersof sediment,thatremainsdefinitivetothisday.Andperhapsof evenmore long-lasting significance, Webers, as head of the expedition, had the honor of namingsomeof theprominentformations;hedubbedwhatwasthenconsidered the highest peak in the Heritage Range “Mount Macalester.”1 Mount Macalester stands like a beacon for the college’s recovery. No one knew this better than Webers, who four years earlier had served on the search committeeforanewcollegepresident.Atthattime,thecollegewasataparticularlylowpoint ,havingbeenbatteredbyfiscalcutbacksthatrequiredlettinggoof significantnumbersof employeesand the loss of many others who found more attractive employment elsewhere. Departmental budgets had been cut to the bone.Long-distancephonecallswerepermittedonlyonacase-by-caseapproval basis. Teaching materials were scarce and teaching techniques that required expenditures were out of the question. This was not a situation conducive to attracting talented leadership, as the search committee quickly learned. But the committeewasfortunateandforesightful;theirdecisionwouldsendthecollege in a new direction—not, certainly, to the top of Mount Macalester but clearly well up from despair. Back from the Brink “Macalester is on the edge of the last opportunity for survival,” claimed John B. Davis as he was inaugurated into the office of the president in November 1975. The college, which had celebrated its one hundredth anniversary a year earlier, had come full circle, back to the reality of contingency that had characterized its first half-century. The college, Davis warned, may well not survive “without ‘redefining its reason for being.’”2 Over the next two decades, Macalester would in fact negotiate just such a redefinition, moving in a direction that would continue to take the college far from its original roots. John Davis’s warning, coming in November, was a touch anticlimactic, at leastfinanciallyspeaking.TheprecedingRobinsonadministrationhadhadlittle successinstabilizingthecollege’sfinancialsituation.Indeed,byNovember1974, the college had reached the end of its credit, carrying a two million dollar loan, and did not have sufficient cash and income to meet the payroll. Trustee John Driscoll personally guaranteed a loan to meet payroll that month. The next Peaks, Pluralism, and Prosperity |  month, across-the-board salary decreases were again instituted.3 That winter, institution leaders knew their last hope layin finding an effective president who could mend the fences with their estranged donor. As they courted John Davis that spring, he delayed his decision until he had spoken with DeWitt Wallace, which he did on two occasions that summer. Out of those conversations, Wallaceagreedtoreleasesevenmilliondollarsinrestrictedendowmentfunds (held in the Wallace Reserves), to be applied to the college’s growing debt. By the end of August, Macalester had repaid the bank the two million dollar note that had come due and had repaid its own endowment about five million dollars in loans borrowed against it. Out of debt, the college that Davis agreed to lead was presented to him with something of a clean financial slate. Davis was an unexpected and not uncontroversial choice for president, for his background was in secondary, not higher, education. As superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools, Davis had earned a reputation as an effective and progressive...


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