BUIES CREEK, North Carolina – Campbell University President J. Bradley Creed and Dr. Wayne Flynt talked about faith, home, higher education and Harper Lee during a public conversation Tuesday night, April 5, as part of Installation Week events.
Dr. Flynt is a longtime friend of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee, a retired professor of history at Auburn University, and a notable scholar on Southern history, religion, literature and culture.
Dr. Creed and Dr. Flynt became friends while Dr. Creed served as provost of Samford University. Dr. Flynt is a graduate of Samford and a member of its Board of Overseers.
Below are excerpts of their public conversation based on four broad themes they touched on:
The concept of “home”
Dr. Flynt: You can choose home to be wherever you want it be. It can be a house where your family lived when you were a child. Or you can make home a piece of land. Or even make home the best church you’ve ever worshipped in. I have been greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell. He talks about how you make home part of the journey of our lives. We leave home to go on a journey and test ourselves against the world; and we go back because we want to take the enlightenment we’ve had back home and share it, only to discover in many cases that people back home aren’t interested in our journey and they’re really not interested in what we’ve become as a result of our journey. Therefore, going home to bring enlightenment brings clash and confrontation.
Dr. Creed: I grew up in a small town in Texas; and if you are a native Texan, if you venture from that, it’s only to do missionary work and to return again. I’ve had friends who are very congratulatory about my new position, but they are still wondering when I’m going to come back to Texas. I thought I would live in Texas all my life. . . . But both Kathy (my wife) and I have said about Buies Creek, we’ve never traveled so far to feel so at home before.
Dr. Flynt: Harper Lee had been working on “Go Set a Watchman.” Her agent tells her the book isn’t very good and wants her to recast it. She’s also sent some stories out to literary magazines, and they had been rejected. Besides that, her best friend was Truman Capote. He is a superstar, and she can’t get her work even in a small literary magazine. She was feeling really insecure. She’s quit her job. She’s frantically working on converting “Go Set a Watchman” to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She’s typing, typing, typing. She shows it to the editor, and he tells her it’s better. But she’s really frustrated. Terribly frustrated. One night, when she was living in New York City, it was snowing, and she goes to her window and throws the manuscript outside. It’s the manuscript for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
She calls her agent and says ‘I’ve quit. I’m not going to fool with this. I’ve thrown out the book. I’m not writing anymore.’ The agent told her, ‘You’ve got a really good novel in the making. Now calm down, get the manuscript, bring it back up and get to working.’ She goes out in the snow and follows the wind, and one-by-one picks up the pages and brings them back and finishes the novel. Talk about the providence of God.
Dr. Creed: We had an award-winning writer in Harper Lee — one of the best writers of all time and one of the best-selling writers of all time. We know she was a very private person, but yet was still very insecure about her writing. I think that ought to be a note to all of us that no matter how much you think someone has it all together or how poised or confident or gifted or talented they are, we all have insecurities and maybe we all will be a little more patient with each other.
On higher education
Dr. Flynt: There are a lot of ways to judge universities. If I were president and ranked all the universities in the U.S. this is the way I would do it: Show me where your students are when they enter and show me how much they have changed and improved when they leave. To me the question is, Where do you go to college based on a college that is nurturing and cares about you? There are schools where the professors really about care teaching, they really care about learning, and they really care about small classes. But those schools will not make the list of best American universities, but it may very well be that from the time students start until when they graduate, they are.
Dr. Creed: Baptists have done quite a bit in fostering and furthering higher education in starting institutions. I didn’t set out to do this, but Campbell is the third institution I’ve served that has a Christian mission.
Dr. Flynt: A good student is one who doesn’t have all the answers. A good professor is one who doesn’t have all the answers. A good professor is one on the pursuit of truth like the students. A good professor’s theory is that we are people on a journey in search for the truth and truth is illusive and difficult to find and your truth and my truth may not be the same truth.
Dr. Creed: The basic elements of teaching are that you have a professor, you have a student, and learning takes place. We forget that sometimes. It’s a blinding flash of the obvious. In the short time I’ve been here I’ve seen already what capable and dedicated faculty we have.