Developing a College or University Mace
Colleges and universities often employ a “mace” to connect the institution’s customs with the best traditions of higher education dating 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, pageantry, purpose, quality, solemnity, stability, and continuity.
During my service as the President of Cornerstone University we developed a mace for the university. While the product of our efforts is spectacularly beautiful, that result was by no means guaranteed during development because we were forced to learn by trial-and-error. We discovered articles about the history and significance of the academic mace, but we did not find helpful “how-to” content. Helping you with process is the purpose of this article.
First, your president should endorse the effort and preferably be enthusiastically engaged. His or her leadership can smooth bumps in a process that will require months and may take years.
Second, identify a Mace Development Coordinator. The importance of who this person is and what vision, talent, and work ethic he or she brings to the task are not possible to overstate. This project needs a champion, because the president has neither the time nor maybe the expertise to give to it. Developing a distinctive mace involves a unique combination of knowledge and skills: artistic, philosophic, administrative, political. Identifying a highly regarded coordinator who possesses these gifts-and who “gets things done”-is key to success. I found a retired, emeritus professor of music who was eager to continue contributing. She was a god-send.
Third, take time to research carefully and thoroughly the history of university maces, the style of maces used in universities around the world, the artistry and symbolic significance of mace workmanship, and the types of academic events wherein university maces are presented. Perhaps visit other colleges and universities to view their maces and to learn how those maces were developed. Only after this review is completed should you begin the long process of drawing a sketch in which the shape, size, and evolving symbols of the mace can be visualized and evaluated. This is an iterative experience. You’ll embrace, than abandon, a series of “great ideas.” Metal versus wood. Philosophic versus practical. Academic, athletic, regional or state images? Length or height, weight. Precious gems and metals? Cost. Maces range from inexpensive functional pieces to unique, “priceless,” objects d’art.
Fourth, at this juncture we found it helpful to share a progress report with personnel and selected constituents, inviting their feedback. We worked especially closely with three or four professors whose expertise in philosophy, traditions of the academy, and our university’s history protected us from inadvertent errors of presentation. Throughout the process, the Mace Coordinator regularly kept me informed as President, which allowed me to contribute ideas and to connect the project with appropriate supporters. We found this interim exposure also generated interest and excitement in the project.
Fifth, if appropriate, connect your mace physically, not just symbolically, with your institution’s heritage. For example, identify a piece of wood or metal taken from the original campus or Old Main and include this element in your mace’s design. Our institution was founded by religious leaders in a church, so we contacted the current leadership of the church, requesting their assistance. They graciously gave to the university a piece of original oak from which our woodcarver crafted a part of the university seal featured on the mace. This element is not only beautiful, it is emotional, packed with meaning, honoring our forbears, and reminding our students the university was not born yesterday. And the people attending the church were warmed by the university’s remembrance.
Sixth, once you’ve determined, at least generally, the materials and probable design of your mace, the next step is to search for craftsmen or women with qualitatively superior artistic and technical skills capable of making a university mace at the level of excellence you require. We made our mace from Honduran Mahogany and found, amazingly, an incredibly skilled-and fast-woodcarver in our city. Precious gems were donated and installed by local jewelers. A nearby fine furniture business donated and completed our mace’s polished lacquer finish, highlighting the mace’s intricately carved features and preserving the wood’s natural tones. Both a local architect and a sculptor contributed their design expertise. Area carpenters crafted and contributed a Michigan cherry wood armature, along with a black marble base, to create the mace’s pedestal. I recommend you give first preference to regional craftsmen or women in order to facilitate communication, preserve local character, and promote constituent engagement. Who you select also influences the time required to complete the project.
Seventh, as the mace development project nears completion, write a set of standards governing when and how the mace will be presented. Remember, to develop your institution’s traditions by associating a certain aura with your mace you must 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 fraternity party or an athletic championship); a Mace Bearer, a position of high honor, should be chosen for his or her accomplishments; the Mace Bearer should wear white gloves to signify elegance and to preserve the finish of the mace; the mace should lead all processionals and recessionals; the mace should be placed in a position of prominence and dignity on the speakers’ platform, etc. You may also wish to designate a Mace Trustee, a person charged with caring for the mace before and after the event, including delivering the mace to the event location and returning it to the Office of the President after the event’s conclusion. Appointing a Mace Trustee is a practical matter, but it also provides the university with another opportunity to involve individuals in the august traditions of the university.
Eighth, the university mace should reside in the Office of the President, which will be responsible for securing and displaying the mace. Institutions have placed their maces in other locations, but I believe the symbolic authority vested in the mace is reinforced by residence in the Office of the President, somewhat like the key to the city in the mayor’s office.
Ninth, when we unveiled our mace, I was able to say that all funds necessary for the development of the mace had been contributed by friends of the university. This comment always goes over well with the faculty and the CFO.
Tenth, finally, when your mace is finished, I recommend a mace commissioning ceremony during the fall or perhaps a special convocation. When you present and explain the mace’s symbolism you are celebrating the values and the growing prestige of the institution.
The university mace we developed was quickly embraced as an iconic addition to the university’s tradition. Those who bear it speak of the honor accorded them. It connects us with those who have come before and those who will come hereafter in the pursuit of learning. Like great art, it moves us. It is the university.