Great Books program receives $1 million donation from alumnus

Alumnus A. V. Elliott donated $1 million to Mercer University in order to create an endowment for the A. V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas.
He feels very strongly about the education he received at Mercer University and credits the lessons learned here for behooving him greatly in the path of his business.
Elliott claims that Mercer’s humanities program gave him the skills needed to think critically when it really mattered and these skills made his business, a local 100-person shop called Elliott Machine Shop, a success. He has a deep love for humanities, and Elliott expressed this love with a donation to the Great Books program.
“It’s a testament to the education that Mr. Elliott got in the ’50s and a testament to the way the university is right now that we received this endowment,” said co-director of the Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations and Mercer Great Books and philosophy professor, Dr. Charlotte Thomas.
Mercer’s Great Books program provides the opportunity for students to read classic works of the past and to study the primary texts of literature, science, history and more.
These courses offer an alternative track for general education. Classes are smaller than most general education courses and focus on reading and discussion of great works. Students read works like The Iliad, Emily Dickinson poems, The Bible and many more.
Mercer is one of few universities to offer such a program. In addition to class experiences, where students lead discussion about the works, students attend the Conference of Great Books and Ideas, which brings in literary experts to explain a specific work and to help the students further engage in the text.
The A.V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas is coordinated by the Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations, which has put on the conference for four years.
Each conference has focused on a figure or work from the Great Books curriculum, featuring both public and private lectures and including a faculty and student reading group on the focused figure or work. Some previous conferences have focused on Plato, Montaigne and Tocqueville.
The conference initially began with writing grants, but now the $1 million endowment from A. V. Elliott will be able to provide funding for the event each year. The conference brings new opportunities and enhances the Great Books experience.
In addition to the conference, the Great Books program holds summer programs for high school teachers and high school students. Teachers learn the importance of these primary texts and how to engage the texts within the classroom, and high school students learn and practice techniques for reading and analysis of these texts over a week’s time.
“Humanities education is in peril right now,” said Thomas. Most students and colleges are putting emphasis on the sciences and other tracks. “But,” she added, “Mercer has a commitment to the humanities.”
This gift to the conference shows the commitment Mercer has made to the preservation of the importance of humanities, especially within the Great Books program.