Colleges and universities often use a “mace” to connect the institution’s mores with the best traditions of higher education dating back to the first universities founded during the Middle Ages.
A mace symbolizes authority, learning and scholarship, history, reputation and values. It suggests commemoration, elegance, honor, pomp, purpose, quality, solemnity, stability, and continuity.
During my service as president of Cornerstone University we developed a bat for the university. While the product of our efforts is extraordinarily beautiful, that result was by no means guaranteed during development because we were forced to learn by trial and error. We’ve discovered articles on the history and significance of the academic mace, but haven’t found any useful “how-to” content. To help you with the process is the purpose of this article.
First, your president should be supportive of the effort and preferably enthusiastically involved. His leadership can smooth out the hurdles in a process that will take months and could take years.
Second, identify a Mace development coordinator. The importance of who this person is and what vision, talent and work ethic he brings to the task cannot be overstated. This project needs a champion, because the president has neither the time nor perhaps the expertise to give it to him. Developing a distinctive mace involves a unique combination of knowledge and skills: artistic, philosophical, administrative, political. Identifying a highly regarded coordinator who possesses these gifts and who “gets things done” is the key to success. I found a retired music professor emeritus who was eager to continue contributing. He was a gift from the god.
Third, take the time to carefully and thoroughly research the history of college bats, the style of bats used in universities around the world, the art and symbolic meaning of bat making, and the types of academic events in which they are featured university clubs. Maybe visit other colleges and universities to see their clubs and to learn how those clubs were developed. Only after completing this review should you begin the lengthy process of drawing a sketch where the shape, size and evolving symbols of the club can be visualized and evaluated. This is an iterative experience. You will embrace, then abandon, a series of “big ideas”. Metal against wood. Philosophical versus practical. Academic, athletic, regional or state images? Length or height, weight. Gems and precious metals? Cost. Clubs range from inexpensive functional pieces to one-of-a-kind, “priceless” art objects.
Fourthly, at this juncture we have found it helpful to share a progress report with select staff and members, inviting their feedback. We worked closely with three or four professors whose expertise in philosophy, Academy traditions, and the history of our university protected us from inadvertent presentation errors. Throughout the process, the Mace coordinator kept me regularly informed as chairman, which allowed me to contribute ideas and connect the project with the appropriate supporters. We found that this temporary exhibition has also generated interest and enthusiasm for the project.
Fifth, if appropriate, link your mace physically, not just symbolically, with the heritage of your institution. For example, identify a piece of wood or metal taken from the original campus or Old Main and include this element in your club design. Our institution was founded by religious leaders in a church, so we reached out to the current church leadership, asking for their assistance. They kindly donated to the university an original piece of oak from which our carver made part of the university seal featured on the mace. This element is not only beautiful, it is exciting, full of meaning, honors our ancestors and reminds our students that the university was not born yesterday. And the people who attended church were warmed by the memory of the university.
Sixth, once you have determined, at least generally speaking, the materials and probable design of your bat, the next step is to look for craftsmen or women with superior artistic and technical skills who can craft a college bat to the level of excellence you wish to demand. We crafted our mace from Honduran mahogany and surprisingly found an incredibly skilled and fast wood carver in our town. Precious gems were donated and installed by local jewelers. A nearby fine furniture company donated and complemented our bat’s high-gloss lacquer finish, highlighting the bat’s finely sculpted features and preserving the natural tones of the wood. Both a local architect and sculptor contributed their design expertise. Area carpenters crafted and contributed a Michigan cherry wood frame, along with a black marble base, to create the pedestal for the bat. I recommend that you prioritize regional artisans or women to facilitate communication, preserve local character, and promote constituent engagement. Who you select also affects how long it takes to complete the project.
Seventh, as the club development project nears completion, write a set of standards governing when and how the club will be presented. Remember, to develop your institution’s traditions by associating a certain aura with your club you have to handle it in a special way. Consider these guidelines: The mace should be used in all official ceremonies and only in official ceremonies (not borrowed for a frat party or athletic championship); a mace-bearer, a position of great honor, should be chosen for his achievements; the mace bearer should wear white gloves to indicate elegance and to preserve the finish of the mace; the mace should drive all processionals and recessives; the mace should be placed in a position of prominence and dignity on the speakers’ platform, etc. You may also wish to designate a bat steward, a person responsible for taking care of the bat before and after the event, including delivering the bat to the event venue and returning it to the President’s Office after the event concludes. Appointing a Mace Trustee is a practical matter, but it also provides the university with another opportunity to engage people in the university’s august traditions.
Eighth, the university’s mace should reside in the office of the president, who will be responsible for securing and displaying the mace. Institutions have placed their maces elsewhere, but I believe the symbolic authority conferred on the mace is enhanced by its residence in the president’s office, much like the key to the city in the mayor’s office.
Ninth, when we unveiled our club, I could tell that all of the funding needed for the development of the club had been provided by friends at the university. This comment always resonates with the faculty and CFO.
Tenth, finally, when your bat is finished, I recommend a bat commissioning ceremony during the fall or perhaps a special summons. When you present and explain the symbolism of the bat, you are celebrating the values and growing prestige of the institution.
The varsity bat we developed was quickly adopted as an iconic addition to varsity lore. Those who wear it speak of the honor accorded them. It connects us with those who came before and those who will come later in pursuit of learning. Like great art, it moves us. It’s the university.