Ruane Center for the Humanities

Ruane Window

This magnificent window graces the Great Room in the Ruane Center for the Humanities at Providence College. The window was designed by artist Sylvia Nicholas, a stained glass master who lives in New Hampshire. Sylvia Nicholas also designed the stained glass windows in the St. Dominic Chapel, as well as several sculptures located throughout the campus. This masterful display of major figures in philosophy, history, science, and other areas of the humanities, was installed in the Fall 2017 semester, following the building’s dedication four years earlier. To see details of the individual panes, simply explore the galleries for each row, below. How wonderful to see Darwin next to Gandhi and Shakespeare next to Galileo! These are the sorts of juxtapositions one has the liberty to explore in a liberal arts education.

Row 1 (Top)


Row 2 (Second from top)


Row 3 (Second from bottom)


Row 4 (Bottom)


Sunday, January 15, 2017 on NBCs “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) if he would be attending the inauguration this coming Friday, January 20.  The civil rights hero and moral voice of the Congress responded that he would not.  Asked why, Congressman Lewis replied that he did not consider the President Elect to be a legitimate President.  He explained that the Russian influences and intrusions in the recent election cycle were the basis for his assertion.  Not surprisingly, Donald Trump spit out a tweet denigrating Mr. Lewis, and a flurry of reactions from all directions continues.

So, who’s correct?  Is Donald Trump going to start out as an illegitimate President?

Last evening I enjoyed a delightful dinner and conversation with some friends.  The topic of Rep. Lewis’s remark and Mr. Trump’s pending inauguration came up.  One friend worried that the institutions that define America and hold us together may become severely eroded over the next four years.  Let’s start there, with our institutions.

Over my teaching career I frequently used this example to illustrate the strength of our American institutions, since for most students these events were history.  In the 1972 presidential election Richard Nixon was elected President and Spiro Agnew Vice President.  The election, however, was the occasion of the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s impeachment seemed all but inevitable once that scandal broke into clear view.  Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency under a cloud of corruption.  This presented a Constitutional crisis, for the Founding Fathers, despite their many wise moves, had not provided for replacing the Vice President.  Were Nixon to be removed from office by impeachment, Agnew’s resignation would leave the nation leaderless.

The Constitution provides that, should the President be impeached or die, the Vice President shall take over that office.  But what if there is no Vice President?  A Constitutional amendment, in this case the 25th, was needed to provide a process for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President.  The process is that the President nominates someone, who must then be approved by a majority in both the House of Representative and the Senate.  Amending the Constitution, however, is a hugely larger task.  It requires a 2/3 majority vote in each house of Congress, followed by ratification by 3/4 of the states.  I can’t imagine how anything, however grave the content, could pass such a process today.  Yet, the 25th Amendment was approved and ratified, and Sen. Gerald Ford (R-MI) soon became Vice President.  That cleared the way for President Nixon to resign, thus avoiding removal by the impeachment process.  Gerald Ford subsequently became President.  He ran for re-election in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter.  Gerald Ford is the only person to serve as US President without ever being elected to that office or to the Vice Presidency.

I detail this example to illustrate the strength of the institutions enshrined in our Constitutional system.  These institutions hold us together as Americans and define, in part, the world view that unites us as a nation of laws.  The Nixon-Ford transition was a proud moment in American history, from an institutional point of view if not from a moral one.  We had another institutional electoral crisis with the 2000 presidential election, when the Supreme Court stopped the recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in George W. Bush becoming President.  Neither a Constitutional Amendment nor a decision by the Supreme Court were necessary in 2016, even though Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, the most ever by a President Elect.  Our Constitutionally enshrined electoral process played out as designated, and Donald J. Trump will assume office at noon on January 20.  From an institutional perspective, he will be the legitimate President of the United States.

Is John Lewis, a revered leader of our country who literally put his life on the line to secure voting rights for all citizens, wrong?  Is he questioning the very institutional structures for which he nearly died?  The reason he gave is Russian influence in this election cycle.  I have some hesitation in simply accepting this justification, for the reality of Russian hacking, while indisputable and intended to have influence, has not been proven to have determined the outcome.  Thus, Americans went to the polls and cast their votes as they saw fit; their votes were counted; the Electors voted as they saw fit; and the results of the Electoral College were accepted by the Congress.  Donald Trump was duly elected according to our legal processes, despite the highly troubling and disturbing intrusion by Russia.

I do not intend to question the integrity of John Lewis, nor even, basically, to disagree with him.  I simply wish to present a different reason for the same conclusion.  Institutions are important, as exemplified above.  They provide identity, continuity, and unity, especially important in a country that prides itself on welcoming diversity among its people.  Yet, in and of themselves, institutions are merely granite columns, rituals, and sheaves of paper.  Their vitality and efficacy derive from the character and actions of the individuals who inhabit them.  The legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, therefore, depends on the character and actions of Donald Trump himself.  Let’s examine what he has said and done before concluding this discussion of legitimacy.

Mr. Trump responds with tweets to any criticism, real or perceived, and attacks the character and integrity of his critics, thus deflecting or distracting from the criticism.  He exhibits no capacity for self-examination.  For example, his spokespersons justified his Twitter denigration of John Lewis by saying “He [Lewis] started it.”  Really?  That’s the response of a pre-adolescent (with due apologies to pre-adolescents).  He mocked a disabled reporter and bragged about groping women.  The list of crude and rude words and behaviors is extensive and wearisome.  Nevertheless, however distasteful, this behavior is not sufficient to delegitimize his presidency.  The question is not resolved yet.

What do draw into question the legitimacy of his holding the highest office in the land are the policies he says he will implement.  He says that, should Russia cooperate in fighting terrorism, he will likely lift the sanctions on Russia, making no distinction between those recently imposed for hacking or those imposed for invading and taking hold of Crimea.  So far, Russia’s fight against terrorism–in Syria, at least–has resulted in massive bombing of civilians, including women and children, to secure the presidency of Assad, hardly an assault on terrorism.  Trump denigrates John Lewis, but has yet to utter a single critical word about Vladimir Putin.  In turn, Putin today denounced the Obama administration for trying to delegitimize the impending Trump presidency.  It seems the Russian president knows just how to stroke the narcissistic inclinations of the soon-to-be American president, and Trump does not seem to recognize how he is being manipulated, whether by Putin alone or Putin with the help of some people close to Trump.  This Putin-Trump relationship raises serious concerns for undue influence in our government by a foreign power.  This poses a direct threat to the very governmental institutions that assure our security.  The danger may lie less with Russia’s intrusion on the election than with Putin’s influence on Trump.  I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of the former; rather, I want to emphasize the peril presented by Putin’s proximity to the President Elect.  The independence of the Presidency from undue outside influence is foundational to our national security.

Another institution fundamental to American democracy is a free press.  Mr. Trump, throughout the campaign and after, dismisses and undercuts the press.  He calls them liars and, in some instances, refuses them access to rallies or to the microphone, as at his recent press conference.  Probing questions are either deflected or dismissed outright.  Reince Priebus, a senior advisor to Trump, recently said there are plans to move the White House Press Corps out of the White House.  The reporters whose day-to-day job it is to monitor and inquire into the activities of the White House so that the public can hold their elected officials to account may be removed from the very venue that enables them to do their job directly and responsibly.  This is a significant threat to our democracy and ought not to stand.  The press, on the other hand, has even greater responsibility to persist in deep, investigative reporting, and to recognize when they themselves are being trolled by tweets.

More might be said, and may be as time goes on, but these two examples are serious enough to illustrate the threat that a Donald Trump presidency poses to the very institutions that define and secure our nation in a dangerous world.  A morally bankrupt man is about to assume the power to destroy the very institutions that constitute this country.  Donald Trump, while legitimately elected, is truly an illegitimate President.

Portland’s Chinese Garden

Recently I was in Oregon visiting my sister-in-law.  We took a day trip to Portland, where we visited Powell’s Bookstore, which claims to be the largest bookstore in the world.  Covering an entire city block and having several stories, the claim may just be accurate!  One thing is for sure, I spent entirely too much money there and had to ship my books back rather than carry them on the plane.

Following the bookstore, we went to the nearby Lan Su Chinese Garden, also covering an entire city block.  What a lovely and inspiring place!  The garden was built by craftsmen from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou in China’s Jiangsu province, famous for its gardens.  Sixty-five artisans from Suzhou completed the garden in 2000, assembling materials brought from and partially constructed in China.  Doorways and windows create an illusion of infinite space.  Each doorway is headed by inscriptions on each side.

Knowing the Fish Pavilion

Knowing the Fish Pavilion

Everything here has a story here.  One of the first stops as one tours the garden is the Knowing the Fish Pavilion.  It is said that two philosophers were talking as they watched the fish in the pool.  The first one noted how happy the fish are.  The second one said: “You are not a fish.  How can you know that the fish are happy?”  The first answers: “You are not me.  How do you know what I know?”

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PC’s Labyrinth & Sundial

Shepherd’s Corner doesn’t have the corner on labyrinths.  Providence College newly converted a roadway into a walkway in front of Hunt-Cavanagh Hall.  Two delightful surprises were built into the walkway–a labyrinth and a sundial.

PC Labyrinth

PC Labyrinth

On the College’s website the labyrinth is described as follows:

“The labyrinth at the entry of the Department of Art and Art History represents a miniature replica of the 13th-century artistic motif featured on the floor of the great Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France.

Walking the Chartres labyrinth (Image source unknown)

Walking the Chartres labyrinth
(Image source unknown)

The medieval fascination with labyrinths was inspired by ancient prototypes, the most famous coming from Greek mythology where Daedalus builds a labyrinth for King Minos at Knossos to house the Minotaur.  The labyrinth also shares qualities with eastern mandalas as a symbol of sacred geometry.  Gothic builders incorporated the labyrinth into many Catholic churches of Europe (i.e., Amiens), recasting it as an instrument of pilgrimage and prayer.  The pilgrim followed 11 winding circuits set inside four quadrants culminating in a rosette center.  In this manner, the pilgrim was able to embark upon a spiritual journey to Jerusalem right in the local church structure itself.

The incorporation of this art historical motif in the visual arts district of campus not only connects Providence College to a long and rich tradition of sacred spaces and iconography, but provides a beautiful stopping point for admissions tours, gallery visitors, alumni, and current faculty, staff, and students.”

The sundial, of analemmatic design, is interactive.  Stand on the date and your shadow tells the time.

PC Sundial

PC Sundial

Sundial In Use (PC photo)

Sundial In Use
(PC photo)

An Unpleasant Encounter

Car WindowI bought a new car about a month ago, a 2014 Subaru Outback.  Then, last Thursday (March 20) I was out to dinner with a friend.  After dropping her off near the Providence College campus, I was driving home, going south on River Avenue, a few blocks south of Smith Street in Providence.  I heard a loud noise, as though something hit my car.  Indeed, something had, hitting the window in the cargo area on the passenger side of the car.  It was a BB, most likely, based on the service agent’s assessment of my description.  Although it doesn’t show well in this photo, the window is shattered, looking like a finely woven spider web.  I took the car to the dealer for repair, and somebody’s idea of fun cost me about $500–not fun in my book!  I reported the incident to the Providence Police, so hopefully they will investigate and prevent something even more serious happening to someone else.  If you live in Providence, you probably don’t think of River Avenue, near PC, as a dangerous area.  I think it will be a while before I drive it in the dark again, though.