An unofficial biography of the Maine Masonic College 2005-2006
by Edward L. King, Past Secretary, Board of Regents
As he prepared for his election as Grand Master of Masons in Maine, Claire V. Tusch began conversations with a number of Maine Masons known to have concerns about Masonic education. Upon his election, Bro. Tusch encouraged these several Masons to meet and lay out a broad concept for an educational program that would motivate and stimulate Masons both new or veteran, young or old. After several meetings over the course of a few months, these Brethren announced their recommendation that Maine Masonry create a Masonic College, offering a new paradigm of instruction far beyond that now available in most Masonic jurisdictions throughout the world. It was a radical proposal but quickly embraced by the Grand Master.
At the beginning of 2005, he sent invitations to a selected group of Masons – including one who was not even a member of a Maine lodge – asking if they would be willing to take part in this new endeavor. Past Grand Master Walter M. Macdougall, a university professor and one of the steering group, had written about the need for ‘higher education in Masonry’ in a presentation to the Maine Lodge of Research nearly thirty years earlier. He was tasked with the lead role in bringing the diverse group together. These men were charged with providing an educational environment for the purpose of inspiring Masons to explore the nature and purpose of Freemasonry which would lead to a deeper self-understanding of the founding principles, tenets, and lessons of the fraternity. They were given unconditional support and constant encouragement but each of them knew they were on the cusp of something far more than what had been originally conceived.
But what form would this ‘entity’ take? Meetings, phone calls, e-mails were frequent as the group tried to give the organization a shape. They begin by questioning the assumptions set forth by the steering committee and they agonized over potential issues such as exclusivity and elitism. As the concept of a Masonic College was explored, it was readily and rapidly agreed that we, as Masons, had a responsibility to learn as well as to teach. It was agreed too that there was considerable talent within the fraternity in Maine that had remained untapped. In what could only be described as a ‘group epiphany’, it was also recognized that we possessed the ability and interest in providing educational opportunities which extended beyond the fraternity ‘to all mankind’.
To implement the evolving vision, this organization decided to follow the general outline of the advanced education model as found in programs such as the ‘senior college’. It created its members as Regents and each applied their respective talents to the task at hand, devoting considerable time and energy to the expanding vision. While other Masonic groups have been known to take years in establishing programs, the Maine Masonic College held its first formal meeting in March 2005. By the time Grand Lodge was held barely eight weeks later, there were fully-formed by-laws, an outline of goals and objectives, and even a small printed brochure for handout at the meeting. The Chairman, RW George Macdougall presented a proposal that it be adopted as a part of Grand Lodge. It was passed without discussion or dissent and thus in May, 2005, the College officially became a part of the Grand Lodge of Maine, AF&AM!
During that summer the Regents continued to meet and it become more clear that this entity could be a viable and productive part of the Grand Lodge’s education and outreach endeavors. It was agreed that, with few exceptions, courses could and should be open to the general public since there was nothing inherently secret (or private) about the majority of the courses we would offer. Community involvement has long been a part of Freemasonry and this educational process could be easily shared with those interested.
But how to start such an endeavor? Having several Regents with advanced degrees including two active in collegiate education, it was suggested that we hold an Inauguration Ceremony and with PGM Macdougall at the helm, we traveled to the University of Southern Maine in October, 2005 where the Regents and their officers publicly acknowledged the goals, objectives and responsibilities of this undertaking.
Program development continued in earnest during these months with a complete and extensive instructor’s guide prepared, a plan for course oversight developed and an adherence to higher education policies of accrediting institutions adopted. Unique amongst other Masonic educational programs, the Maine Masonic College would require a complete scope statement be submitted before any program’s development was approved. As the months flew by, we kept thinking about the possibility of being all things to all people, particularly in light of the building wave of interest in a distance learning program. While this was (and continues to be) explored, it was felt that the College’s first responsibility was to Maine and that while a huge online program would be a tremendous boon for Freemasons everywhere, we did not at the outset have either human or financial resources to support such an endeavor. Thus, we moved ahead with instructor-based course presentations, keeping an eye on potentials for the future.
The first college course was offered in March, 2006 with the title “Symbols: Who Needs Them?” taught by a psychiatrist with a specific interest in the topic. District Deputy Grand Master Eric W. Kuntz, M.D.’s presentation was – according to course evaluations (another unique part of the MMC) – perhaps the best program that anyone had attended on this subject. Our second course also focused on symbolism and was taught by a Mason who is a university instructor, Past Senior Grand Warden, and one of Maine Masonry’s most prolific authors, RW Charles W. Plummer. Bro. Macdougall taught our third course on a subject that he has been teaching at Maine’s flagship university for decades: philosophy! Those who attended all three of these courses during the Spring of 2006 saw a burgeoning opportunity to learn and grow – and knew this was just the beginning.
More than at any time in the recent past, the two years of Grand Master Tusch was marked by a close cooperation with his elected Deputy Grand Master, RW Gerald S. Leighton. In Maine, it has been tradition for over a hundred years that the Deputy Grand Master be elected to the office of Grand Master after two years in office. Brother Leighton during his term as Deputy and now as Grand Master of Masons in Maine has been an enthusiastic supporter of the College as well. Without this continued and sustained encouragement, the College’s initial success would have been far more difficult to attain. One of the original Regents, RW Robert Landry was elected in May, 2006 to be Deputy Grand Master so if it is the will of the membership, he will move into the office of Grand Master in 2008 and we know that we’ll continue to have unflagging support for our endeavors.
What about the costs? Despite the expenses of publicity and a commitment to keep the cost of courses affordable for everyone, the College was able to ‘break even’ in its first full year of operation! It is recognized that this endeavor might require expenditure of funds in future years but the opportunity to provide education for Masons and their communities in this very unique venue is felt by all to be most worthwhile.
As the 2006-2007 academic year continues, there are over a dozen course offerings with plans approved for expansion providing for a Certificate in Masonic Studies upon completion of eight specific course offerings covering topics such as astronomy, geometry and communications.
Whether it’s traveling throughout the jurisdiction to explain the College, creation of course material, or curriculum review, each of the Regents – already active with many other facets of Freemasonry in Maine – is thoroughly devoted to this endeavor and spends an average of 5-10 or more hours each week on this work alone. It has been truly exciting to see the strides we’ve made – and to look at what’s on the horizon!
January 18, 2007. Edward L. King, FPS
Read about our Inauguration Ceremony HERE.
Biographies of some of those mentioned above can be found attached to the descriptions of the courses they teach.