By Alexander Junxiang Chen
“In the face of the sometimes grave questions that life presents, we should marshal our best capacities to get good answers. I will argue that it is sometimes morally necessary to change your mind. But everything depends on how you do it.”
— John Churchill (ΦBK, Rhodes College)
Address to the Phi Beta Kappa Association of Kentuckiana
University of Louisville, 2006.
Polymath. Scholar. Leader. Defender and champion of the liberal arts. The ways in which the illustrious life of John Churchill, who was perhaps most prominently Secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Society from 2001 to 2016 and Dean of Hendrix College for 24 years prior, are innumerable as they are prescient.
Churchill, who passed away in 2019, dedicated much of his almost half-century career to both his own pursuit of learning and to that of others, enabling countless students and scholars to tread similar paths. Now, in an effort to sustain not only the memory of Churchill’s life for posterity, but also the principles he championed and hoped could resound long after his passing, a new archival collection has been established at Hendrix with these exact goals.
The John Hugh Churchill Collection contains everything that one might need to better understand the intellectual titan and his vision for the future of liberal arts in America. Replete with selections from his writings and speeches, as well as reflections from colleagues, mentees, and loved ones upon his passing, the archive serves as an indelible testament to not only his visionary ideas but also his unwavering commitment to ensuring that the humanities remain an integral piece of the fabric of American education.
“It was our desire that students, faculty, scholars, and others interested in higher education, the liberal arts, philosophy, and Phi Beta Kappa would be able to access [this] archival material, which includes his Yale dissertation, his book The Problem with Rules, and several of his speeches,” says Skip Rutherford, Dean Emeritus of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas and brother-in-law of the late Churchill. “John always remembered from where he came, [and] he was especially proud of his work with and support of Phi Beta Kappa chapters all over the country as well as helping establish new ones.”
“In these days in which it seems that civility, respect and listening carefully to each other are lost, dipping into the John Churchill Archive offers inspiration and hope for the future,” adds Larry Churchill, Professor Emeritus at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and brother of the late Churchill. “John was a life-long champion of the liberal arts and sciences. He believed that an education that is broad and deep, one that speaks to the fundamental human experiences—life and death, meaning-making and living honorably—as an essential part of a happy and fulfilling life . . . if there is a thread that runs through the collected papers and speeches housed in the John Churchill Archives at Hendrix, it is this affirmation.”
The new archive joins at Hendrix College the John Churchill Memorial Plaza, which serves as a public forum on campus, and the Jean and John Churchill Endowed Scholarship, awarded each year to a Hendrix student. Interested readers can peruse the collection here. They will not be disappointed.
Alexander Junxiang Chen is a senior at Harvard University who is pursuing a double concentration in neuroscience and chemistry. He was inducted into the Alpha Iota of Massachusetts chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in April 2023.