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An alternative narrative of higher education

President Paul Pribbenow
Paul C. Pribbenow, President

Our colleague, Harry Boyte, who heads Augsburg’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship, recently argued in The Huffington Post that America needs an alternative narrative of higher education, one that focuses not on meritocratic excellence, but on “cooperative excellence…[the] principle that a mix of people from highly varied backgrounds can achieve remarkable intellectual, social, political, and spiritual growth if they have the right encouragements, resources, challenges, and calls to public purpose.” And, as Harry further points out, we have the makings of this alternative story of higher education in institutions like Augsburg, with its rich heritage of faith, learning, and service.

And so we do, as this issue of Augsburg Now so compellingly illustrates. You hear it in the stories our recent graduates tell about what they love about Augsburg—its people, its location, its diversity, its commitment to service and justice, its educational experience like no other. You hear it in the tributes to retiring faculty members like Donald “Gus” Gustafson and athletic legends like Edor Nelson ’38 and Ed Saugestad ’59—even as you read the accomplishments of this year’s distinguished teachers and scholars, future legends. You hear it in accounts of innovative theater programming, bringing together students from Augsburg and the University of Minnesota to perform a groundbreaking production of Peer Gynt at the university’s arboretum. You hear it in the voices of students and alumni sharing their vocational journeys, shaped in this remarkable community.

The power of the Augsburg story is that it is not new—it is what I call “the saga of Augsburg” (see my recent essay, “Lessons on Vocation and Location: The Saga of Augsburg College as Urban Settlement” at, a story that is grounded in our rich history as a college dedicated to the Lutheran Christian faith, to the power of a liberal arts education, to vocational discernment, and to our urban setting. And it is a story more relevant than ever, as it counters the ways in which higher education is viewed as a commodity to be purchased, a ticket simply to a successful career, a stepping stone instead of a firm foundation.

Our society needs an alternative story about higher education in order to recover its soul. Augsburg offers such a story in both its history and its aspirations as a 21st century “student-centered urban university, small to our students and big for the world.” And now we need to recruit a corps of storytellers—good folks like you—who know this story well and are willing to stand with us to share it with the world. In our tradition, that is called evangelism. Will you join us?

Faithfully yours,

Paul C. Pribbenow, President

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