Professor Peter Fritzell

Professor Peter Fritzell

A Note from Fritzell

To: Special Correspondent (where “Correspondent” is meant to be a pun):
From: Fritzell (aka, Pete, Peter, Uncle Peter, etc.)

I wish I could write to each of you individually; but since there are well more than three hundred of you, and because I can no longer sit without pain at a desk for much longer than fifteen minutes at a stretch, and because even “cheaters” no longer suffice as computer-glasses, I find myself driven to a sort of mass-mailing in contemporary disguise.  What’s more—thanks to Jason Spaeth (Lawrence class of 1992) and his wife, Anne (who is, coincidentally, a graduate of the University of North Dakota, as both Marlys and I are)—I find myself in an even more awkward position, because the Spaeths have recently established an endowed scholarship fund at Lawrence in my name (to the tune of $250,000!), which to my mind and middle-income pocketbook  is an almost overwhelming memorial fund before the not-too-distant fact.

A small number of you (among today’s Lawrence insiders) already know about “the Fritzell scholarship fund,” as I gather it is being called. Indeed, you knew about the fund well before I did, which is as it should be, though that fact doesn’t make it any easier for me to handle. You and the Spaeths, along with fond reminiscences of each of the other “correspondents” herein addressed, have got me eating a large slice of humble-pie—with a huge topping of immense gratitude.

Another small number of you (including some of the same) know that I am presently measuring out my life if not exactly in coffee spoons (see Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” if need be), then certainly not in years, but more like months (The prostate cancer which has for some time been metastasizing  in my bones, has made its way into soft tissue, and is slowly creeping further inward and outward at the nano-level, as such things do.)—which is my way of trying to explain briefly that “almost overwhelming memorial fund before the not-too-distant fact”—and another way of getting at the awkward position in which I here find myself.

For those of you who have not known, as for those who might otherwise not have come to know, about the establishment of the Fritzell fund, may this letter serve simply as an announcement, whatever else it may be.  I want you to know because I think you would want to know, and I’m pretty sure you know why—because you are parts of my personal Lawrence pantheon (if a personal pantheon isn’t flatly contradictory, and even if it is). Each of you is a part (as are the Spaeths) of my extended psychic family, my personal exemplars of the very best of Lawrence, however infrequently we communicate, and even if we never do.

As named scholarship funds, memorial or otherwise, are characteristically treated, they are but drops in the bucket of Lawrence’s (or any other institution’s) endowment, miniscule parts of any capital campaign, even one dedicated to funding scholarships, as is the current “Full Speed to Full Need,” even one as pointedly generous as the Spaeth’s. Traditionally, you seldom hear about them except on Honors Day, when they are awarded; and if they are awarded to entering students, even less seldom.  When such funds are established in the names of members of the faculty, they are most often dedicated to particular departments or programs (as are most endowed funds for awards and prizes)—all this by way of saying a little something more about the terms of the Spaeths’ donation and, coincidentally, about that “personal pantheon.”

Not too long ago, Spaeth (as I call him, as he calls me Fritzell) and I finally got in touch with one and other, so I could thank him. He, his children, and his mother were under self-isolation on the Spaeth ranch in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming, while Anne was back in the Twin Cities tending to her restaurant (the production of takeout orders, etc.). Jason had driven to a point high enough on the ranch (7,000+ feet, as he informed me) that he could get a dependable cell-signal and return the calls I had tried to make a couple of days earlier. Beyond sharing notes and thoughts about fisheries and wildlife on the ranch (brookies, browns, antelope, mule deer, elk, etc.) and in the Green River watershed more broadly, beyond discussing some of the challenges of the new Covid-19-induced forms of home-schooling, the central part of our conversation went more or less as follows:

Spaeth (speaking now of the scholarship fund):  This is all about honoring you, Fritzell.
Fritzell:  No, I don’t think so. In my view, it’s finally more about you and others of your ilk, those of you who, to my way of thinking, exemplify the traditional  and historical best of Lawrence—and, coordinately, about the two generations of Lawrence’s faculty who helped to shape what you’ve become.

Pretty much everything I said or implied to Jason on that occasion I will echo below, though perhaps in a more refined or developed fashion, viz.: There may be  three dozen or so  of you (say 10%) whose careers and successes we could have predicted more or less adequately when you were graduating seniors. Perhaps you went on to take over a family business.  Or perhaps your career has been (and is) a fairly conventional outgrowth or development of your major course of study—e.g., biology major becomes professional biologist of one kind of another; or cello-performance major becomes professional cellist; or English major becomes librarian or professor of English or editor; or history major becomes archivist or historian; or psych major becomes clinical psychologist or high school counselor. But there are very few of you, if any, whose careers and achievements could have been reasonably predicted when you were, let’s say, even a third-term sophomore, much less a third-term freshman; and for the vast majority of you, neither you nor your faculty mentors and advisers had any sensibly clear idea at all of the shape your career would take at the time of your graduation, much less your conspicuous successes beyond that time.

Why not?—because your undergraduate education was not designed to provide such assurances. The overwhelming majority of you entered Lawrence and graduated during an era when you were required to take (and, in fact, were encouraged to take) no more than a third (and, ideally, no more than half) of your courses in your major department and closely related fields of study, an era in which there were no officially programmed “minor” courses of study, an era before the computerization and digitization of the process of advising and registration, etc. As all of you know, the design and development of your course-programs, your choices among courses, involved often lengthy meetings and discussions with your faculty advisors, your “official” advisors necessarily, but as often as not, other members of the faculty and staff as well, those informal advisors and mentors and coaches, those surrogate “parents” or “aunts” and “uncles” whom you came to know and need—and more, your own parents, grandparents, and members of your peer group with whom you had close and dependable friendships. Sometimes (often?)  your choices among courses for a given term involved finding what we called a “gut” or a “gimme” that, given your aptitudes and local scuttlebutt, would balance out what we knew was otherwise going to be a demanding term, because your other courses were going to be tough, or because you were going to be engaged in some other time-consuming activity, or because of events in your personal or family life, or because, in some prior term or terms, you had faced some crisis from which you needed to recover, etc., etc. At other times (sometimes the same times), the process involved encouraging you, even against your will, to take a course in a field of study of which you had no prior experience and in which you had no reasonable interest, but with an instructor whom your advisor (or your peer group) was suggesting would be right for you, or good for you, etc., etc.

Throughout it all, we—i.e. together, you and your advisors and mentors—were engaged in shaping a four-year course-program that included not only the completion of required courses (both within your major and without) but a kind of exploration of possible majors, the foundations and completion of your  major, and the shape, reasonably coherent, of the remaining, roughly 1/3rd of your undergraduate course-work, which, as often as not, meant incorporating or accommodating what someone might call a mini-minor or two—all the while seeking to adjust, adapt, enhance, and refine your aptitudes (mainly as discovered through your course work) in their relations to your interests and your aspirations, and vice versa. Someone might call what we were doing both personalized and individualized. Personalized it most certainly was, but “individualized” only to a point, because what was individualized about it was not a continuous set of independent studies or tutorials, but rather the particular combination of required courses (within your major and without) and the patterns that emerged among the other courses you took, those outside your major and beyond general education requirements, and beyond as well (depending on the period of your study at Lawrence) the likes of Freshman Studies or Topics of Inquiry or Freshman Seminars—in short, the other approximately one third of your course-work (that might today be eaten up by a cookie-cutter minor). It was your course-program as a whole that was individualized and personalized—all in a manner that could not have been predicted or prescribed before the fact.

To attempt to illustrate: Take Spaeth first, since he is a kind of primary subject here. Eventually, with much give and take along the way, by hook and crook, he became a full double-major in English and Economics—a combination unusual, weird, very difficult to complete, and certainly uncommon for a future investment banker, which he became, and even more unusual, you might think, for someone whose later interests have turned to land and wildlife management. Or take the several of you who, though you were majoring in poli sci or biology or English or philosophy or psych, took 2 or 3 courses in economics and 2 or 3 in history, not enough in either case to be equivalent to a minor, but enough to get you well into three modes of thought, as even a single, formal minor most likely would not have—and which, in any case, enabled you to discover and pursue interests and abilities you didn’t know you had, and helped you form and inform your ways of thinking and being beyond those characteristic of your major course of study—and more, which have come to play rather significant roles in your later vocations and avocations.

“Liberal Education” is far too abstract and clichéd a term to explain what you did, much less what you have done, in and with your education. “Liberal education” cannot account for that one among you who was a biology major, for example, who took six courses in English (what bio major does that?), and who then went on to a master’s degree in alpine ecology, and then to veterinary school and practice, and finally to a position as scientific writer and editor for the Mayo Clinic.  You cannot pre-program such a life, nor should any institution profess to, not even in the age of big-data-science and artificial intelligence. Just as you cannot pre-program the life of the bio-major with courses in poli sci and English who becomes a successful venture capitalist; or the English major who becomes one of the nation’s leading experts in hazmat materials and, eventually, a professional photographer; or the double-major in chemistry and English who becomes a physician; or the budding oboeist who becomes an English major and a professor of English and a mother of three; or that other major in English, who took a full complement of courses in history, who completed a Ph.D. in English, became an editor and professor of English, who authored several books as such, and then went to law school and became a professor of law with special expertise in intellectual property rights; or the several among you who, with several different majors, have gone on to notably successful careers as lawyers, or officers of corporations and agencies, large and small, public and private, for-profit and charitable, local and regional, state and federal and international, much less the numerous educators among you who find yourselves teaching subjects and with methods that you didn’t even think of when you were freshmen or sophomores or seniors;  or the math major who also became an English major and a professor of English; or the philosophy major who became a development officer for a major university; or the French major with a few courses in poli sci who went on to the state department; or the government major with a few courses in French who did the same, in reverse, as it were.

As I see things, every one of you receiving this letter is a kind of justification, and certainly a validation, of the commitments and hopes of two generations of the Lawrence faculty—first, those faculty who began their professional lives at Lawrence in the late-1940s, 50s, and early 60s, and who were mentors not only to a near-majority of you, but also to the next generation of the faculty, my generation. Of that latter generation, 21 of us began teaching at Lawrence in 1965 and 22 in 1966; and all but a handful of us defined the remainder of our professional lives through Lawrence over the following three dozen years or more. We, those two generations of Lawrence faculty, thus overlapped with the generations of Lawrence graduates receiving this letter; and together we exemplified what Lawrence was, I’d like to think at its historic best—what its faculty and students were like, and what they became, over a period of roughly half a century.

And that in a nutshell is why I’m inclined to view the so-called Fritzell scholarship fund not, finally, as a matter of honoring me, but as a statement about that era at Lawrence, and an exemplification of the best of what it still stands for. Obviously and necessarily, my personal pantheon of former Lawrence students and advisees (both formal and informal) is dominated by what we used to call Main Hall types (before econ and poli Sci moved out), but by no means exclusively (since so many other “types” of students in those days took courses in Main Hall). Obviously, too, to get a full representation of the best of Lawrence in those days, you would have to consult the personal pantheons of all other members of the then faculty. Nonetheless, I am confident in and, dare I say, inordinately proud of the members of my personal pantheon; and I thank you for the meaning and value you continue to give to my life.

Now a note or two on the terms of the Spaeths’ donation, and I quote:

“Students are eligible to receive the PETER A. FRITZELL SCHOLARSHIP who are qualified for admission to Lawrence University, or if they are already students at Lawrence, are eligible to continue at Lawrence, and have demonstrated financial need. . . . The size and number of awards will depend upon the financial need of the recipient and the earnings generated by the fund. In determining the amount of the award for each recipient, Lawrence will employ its normal criteria for measuring the need of applicants for financial aid. The PETER A. FRITZELL SCHOLARSHIP will be awarded for one year, although it is expected that recipients who uphold the qualifications of the award will continue to hold the scholarship throughout their undergraduate careers at Lawrence.

“Lawrence will maintain the PETER A. FRITZELL SCHOLARSHIP as a perpetual fund on the books of the University. The principal of the fund shall be kept invested, with only the earnings applied in support of the University’s scholarship programs.”

As any of you with a bit of experience in investment management will know, what these terms mean, first, is that in current markets and investment-practice, the Spaeths’ very generous donation will produce scholarship funds somewhere in the range of $10,000-$12,500 annually. As any of you with college-age children or grandchildren will know, what these terms mean, further, is that such a return on investment will cover approximately one-fifth of the annual cost for one student at today’s Lawrence.

To my way of thinking, it is therefore notable not just that the Fritzell scholarship fund is available to any student, of whatever class of whatever intended (or declared) major, but that the Spaeths and Lawrence have left the door open to future contributions to the fund, and even to the prospect, distant as it may seem at the moment, of increasing the amount of the scholarship—and more even, the number of recipients annually. Wow! 

So, finally, the kicker you’ve all been wondering about—the little dream I have for the Fritzell scholarship fund—that the principal thereof might increase to the point that it could earn annually an amount equivalent to the full cost of a year’s education for one student at today’s Lawrence, however Lawrence decided to distribute those earnings. Pie in the sky, of course; but these are such things as dreams may be made on.

If you are able and inclined to contribute, now or in the future, please know that you have my deepest thanks. If you are unable or disinclined to do so, please know that you have my deepest thanks in any case, for being who you are and for exemplifying your capacity to carry on the commitments and values of two generations of the Lawrence faculty—in short, for justifying and sustaining our hopes.