Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20)
By Fleming Smith and Julianna Morgan
On October 6, 275 students were inducted into the Order of the Gown at the annual Convocation ceremony to celebrate Founders’ Day in All Saints’ Chapel. This year marks the first time that inductees enter the organization after its recent name change from the Order of the Gownsmen. Dr. Ivan Oranksy, journalist and co-founder of Retraction Watch, gave the Convocation address and encouraged students to challenge “BS” as they continued college and entered the next stage of their lives.
After the procession, the choir sang two selections and the chaplain led the congregation in prayer. Provost Nancy Berner then read the list of awards and honors given this semester to distinguished students in the college. The list can be found on Sewanee’s website.
The University awarded several honorary degrees. A Doctor of Divinity was given to Thomas R. Ward, Jr. (C’67) who served as the University Chaplain from 1994-2005. Ward was a Rhodes Scholar who also taught English at Sewanee from 1970-1972 before becoming ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1975 and renewing Christ Church in Nashville through centering prayer in the catechumenate.
“For a life and ministry that reflects the finest qualities of the Sewanee tradition, for his distinguished service as University Chaplain, and for his continuing ministry of inspiring us to pray more faithfully and think more deeply, the University of the South is pleased to confer upon Thomas Reed Ward Jr. the degree of Doctor of Divinity,” said School of Theology Dean Neil Alexander.
Jan Davidson, the former director of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, received an honorary doctor of the fine arts. The John C. Campbell Folk School teaches Appalachian traditions such as song, storytelling, and cooking to adults, and during Davidson’s tenure, the school’s enrollment grew to 6,000 students. Davidson also created wildlife sanctuaries to protect the 300 acres surrounding the school’s campus.
“In recognition of his commitment to education, his love for our shared area of Southern Appalachia, his accomplishments as folklorist and folk musician, and his exemplary leadership of the John C. Campbell Folk School, the University of the South is proud to confer upon Jan Allen Davidson Jr. the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts,” said Dean of College Terry Papillon at the ceremony.
The University also awarded an honorary doctor of civil law to Judith Ward Lineback (C’73), a member of the first class of women admitted to Sewanee who practiced law for 30 years. She served as Trustee at Sewanee and as a member of the Board of Regents, becoming the first alumna chair. She also helped raise funds to construct several buildings on campus, including the Fowler Center and McClurg Dining Hall.
“In recognition of a student crusader, a successful alumna and governing board leader, a mother and wife, and above all a personification of the University’s motto Ecce Quam Bonum, the University of the South is honored to confer upon Judith Ward Lineback the honorary doctor of civil law,” said Papillon.
In his Founders’ Day Address, Oransky congratulated students on their successes but encouraged them to not rest on their laurels. “You have a lot of work to do here. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is one particularly well-suited to higher education: it is calling out BS.”
Oransky’s organization Retraction Watch publishes the details of scientific papers that have been retracted due to faulty or fraudulent data or a lack of peer review. He explained that scientists now feel a higher pressure to be published than to actually produce quality research. He connected this phenomenon to the impact of “fake news” on the 2016 election. “Fake news, it turns out, is everywhere, not just in science,” said Oransky.
“The problem now is that BS might be a much worse problem than we think it is,” he explained. In the biomedical field, evidence now suggests that more than half of studies do not hold up to scrutiny. Oransky warned of the dangers of accepting any kind of news without questioning its sources and biases.
“We wonder how we ended up living in a fake news world,” Oransky said, but ended his speech on a hopeful note by saying, “Thank you, and good luck in your herculean task of fighting BS.”
President of the Order of the Gown Hadley Montgomery (C’18) then read the names of every new member. To be gowned at the first opportunity, sophomore year, students must have an academic average of 3.40. Juniors can be gowned with an average of 3.20 for the previous two semesters, and this requirement lowers to 3.00 for seniors. Once the new Gown members were called, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell confers the gowns and the ceremony concludes.
The Order of the Gown represents the University’s hardworking and dedicated students, illustrating that the community remains true to its values and traditions. The Student Governance document says that the Order of the Gown is “uniquely charged with the maintenance and promotion of the spirit, traditions, and ideals of the University.” The 2017 Convocation ceremony was a proud and distinct time for the university and its students.