The Words of Thomas E. Corts
Thomas E. Corts was known as a man of words. His academic preparation was in rhetoric, and he always spent time choosing just the right words to use for whatever venue or occasion. At the time of his 2006 retirement as Samford University’s president, the university published a commemorative collection of his favorite quotations and scriptures, as well as quotations from some of his writings. The following selections are from Corts: Deo, Doctrinae, Aeternitati.
Throughout my professional life, my conviction has intensified that human institutions will always be dramatically shaped by individuals. A university uses group process, consensus and participatory management, but the important decisions in life are traceable to individuals endowed with the capacity to take a stand and to lead. Those persons, one by one, have their moment on the stage, “threescore years and ten,” and only by institutions such as Samford University do we perpetuate beyond our own lifespans life’s truest beliefs and greatest treasures.
from an address, “Samford University at its Sesquicentennial; Empowered to Bless,” to the Newcomen Society, October 9, 1991
There is no way we can be in education if we cannot deal responsibly with new ideas. We have to willingly suspend belief, to consider unbelief, in order to posit belief. There can’t be any black without white. There can’t be any white without black. It is the presence of the one that makes possible the other. I do not believe anyone can come to true faith in Christ unless he is willing to consider the possibility that he is in error. Anything less, and God would be dealing with robots. The church in every generation has had to come to grips with the new and the untried. The Christian college is the best device known to man for dealing with the truth of God, wherever it may be found—whether in traditional academic disciplines or in the Bible itself.
from the President’s Address to the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools, June 1991
Samford is not temporary. It is here to serve from generation to generation.
. . . Life is a long chain of interconnections linking the consequences of the past with the prospects of the future. . . . Institutions, like families, pass along attributes, characteristics and advantages that accumulate. Samford University has been shaped by the intentions and convictions of people in earlier days. It gains income from endowments begun by the sacrifice of good folks who in the last century believed it should flourish in service to God and his children. . . . We build upon efforts they began and work to make this university even more effective to future generations.
from Seasons, Fall 1997
I have always been fascinated by the spoken word. I went to college not certain about a major, but sensing that some kind of ministry ought to be my life’s work. In an early speech course, I got interested in debate. The instructor was very much classically oriented. She loved talking about Quintillion and Cicero, and the Greek and Roman theories of rhetoric. That spark of contact with the ancient world drew my interest to rhetoric. I had always been interested in words and still find words perfectly fascinating—what they mean, how you can stream them together to reach certain ends.
from Seasons, Spring 2006
Character is what we earnestly need and what we seek to encourage at Samford. Moral strength cannot be effectively taught or inspired in one three-hour course. Character is the gathering of those qualities and values that form habits of the heart, that encourage one instantly to see the right thing and to be unwilling to tolerate anything less. Samford works hard to be a character-influencing university.
from Seasons, Summer 2002
How little time was left . . . time to unburden myself of the weight of gratitude. I almost felt myself a teenager in their presence. But heaviest on my heart then, and as I write this, is the awareness of “the debt of love I owe.” All of us, blessed by the kindness of others, have a responsibility to pass it on—to do for others something of what was done for us. Time may dim the light of understanding, but it can never extinguish the sense of thankfulness that motivates us to random acts of kindness.
from Seasons, Fall 2000, writing of a couple who gave him money to pay for college
It is best if a leader can be a little nearsighted and especially farsighted. As a privilege and responsibility of leadership, the leader assesses the state of the enterprise and forms a vision. Since, by definition, a leader depends upon others, the leader must use all the means of persuasion to convince associates to share that vision and to join in supporting its pursuit. If the vision is not reasonable and attainable, it will not be taken seriously. But the leader also has to be nearsighted enough to evaluate the enterprise up close to measure the distance between where it is and where it wants to be. For a leader to seriously misjudge an enterprise or how it is progressing can be very damaging. Day to day, often in incremental steps, a leader must press for consistency in quest of the great goal envisioned. The highway to fulfillment of the vision has detours, rest stops, exits and mishaps—even a lot of asking, “Are we there yet?”—but success requires pressing together toward the destination.
I especially like people of conviction—those who have thought through an idea or position and who have decided to espouse it. They do not flit from pillar to post, but have a sense of having tested and tried alternatives and found what they believe. That is not to say that they cannot consider another view—suspend their conviction long enough to ponder a counter-idea. But, their ideas are not merely flags under which they sail, but rudders that steer their course (as Oliver Wendell Holmes said).
It is clear to me that there is “a season for everything under the sun.” One unfinished season for Samford, in this generation, is to be granted its rightful share of attention, appreciation and support. Participating in a university is like being in a relay race—our generation has the baton for a few laps, and then we hand off to another. That is the way the Lord’s work gets done. Like many faculty, staff and trustees, I have given (and am giving) this University the best years of my life. I do not begrudge a minute of it. I would cheerfully do it all over again. But the achievements earned to date did not come by coasting—they came by hard work, creative thinking and sacrificial giving. We cannot rest on the attainments of recent years and simply fade into the sunset. Beyond personalities, Samford, the university that will outlive each of us, must boldly grasp the destiny within its reach. It has taken many generations for Samford to become a thriving, strong private university. We cannot allow it to slip in our time.
from the Founders Convocation Address, January 29, 2004