Many years ago, when I was a young Navy engineering officer learning the ropes, a World War II veteran Chief Warrant Officer offered some advice⎯“if it’s working, don’t take it apart to find out why.” Over the years that followed, as I moved from large reciprocating steam engines to the financial markets as a banker, I came to realize that we need to take things apart to find out why they work as they do.
Twenty years ago, I joined the board of directors of the Great Books Foundation to provide some financial experience to the organization, and I discovered a fascinating intellectual technique for taking apart ideas. Shared Inquiry™, the central discussion-based focus of the Foundation for the past 65 years, is a wonderful question-based device for engaging people in the search for why ideas have power. It is as perfectly built for civil discourse as any form of communication in our public commons, and I became convinced that helping to sustain the Foundation would be a noble and rewarding use of my intellectual energy.
Ten years ago, not long after I retired from the financial world, an opportunity presented itself for me to assume the presidency of the Foundation and to devote myself full-time to furthering our cause. While we have touched the lives of millions of people over the last six-plus decades, my only regret is that there remains a much larger audience that has not benefited from the “read think discuss grow” programs of the Great Books Foundation. We shall keep trying, however, and I hope you will help us touch more lives than we have been able to reach on our own.
George Schueppert has been president of the Great Books Foundation since the autumn of 2002. He arrived late to the liberal arts world—after graduating with a degree in engineering from the University of Wisconsin, spending over three years as an engineering officer in the U.S. Navy, working as a banker for more than 20 years while earning an MBA from the University of Chicago (the original home of the Great Books Foundation), and serving as a chief financial officer of two NYSE companies. He joined the Foundation’s board of directors in 1991 and has been enamored with Shared Inquiry ever since.