Kepler Graduates’ Influence in Academia
Mark Urban-Lurain PhD

A Commencement Address by Dr. Mark Urban-Lurain

Welcome Kepler students, families, friends, board members and faculty.

It gives me great pleasure, and pride, to be part of this celebration in honor of the Nereids, Kepler’s second graduating class.

As Carol, Dennis and I discussed this evening’s theme – Expanding our Sphere of Influence – one of the images we had was that of ripples on water. The idea that each of you is a ripple in the river that is astrology – and life. Each and every one of you, through your hard work, sweat, tears and perseverance, arrives here today a different person than you were when you started your studies just a few years ago. The flow of your each of lives has been altered in ways you may not yet perceive. And will take you in directions you cannot begin to imagine.

There is no doubt that the ripples from Kepler College are being felt in the astrological community. Dennis will share his thoughts on that with you in a few minutes.

Tonight, I would like to talk about the ripples that Kepler may have in academia.

When we use the metaphor of ripples in water, we need to remember that individual waves don’t exist in isolation. They’re connected to the waves that preceded them and to those that follow. When the waves intersect, they reinforce each other, cancel each other, and behave with complexity that’s not apparent if we only look at a snapshot in time.

As I thought about the ripples that are flowing from Kepler, I looked back on the ripples of my own life that brought me here tonight. I’d like to share some of those ripples with you. As I do, I ask you to think about the ripples in your life that brought you here. How they intersect and where they may carry you – and all of us – from here.

Ripple 1: Linda Goodman
Like many people, I’d never given astrology much thought. I knew my sun sign and sometimes read my horoscope in the newspaper while reading the comics. During my senior year in college, my girlfriend, Jan, who eventually became my wife, was reading Linda Goodman’s Love Signs.

She’d read excerpts about the Scorpio man - Taurus woman combination and ask: “doesn’t that sound like us?”

Sure they did.

But, I scoffed, these broad, generally positive statements, could have described any random pair of individuals. However, since this Scorpio was hot for that Taurus, it seemed imprudent to dismiss her interest out-of-hand.

So, I proposed a test. We would visit an astrologer who didn’t know either of us to see if there was anything to it. Thus, on a grey November day, we found ourselves on the doorstep of an Adams-family-esque mansion in Detroit. The wind and the dogs were howling and I expected Morticia to answer the door. Instead, Florence Crews, a rather grandmotherly woman, greeted us and invited us into her home.

Over the next hour, she told us things about each of us that we didn’t know about each other – such as the timing of critical illness – and that she certainly couldn’t have known herself.

This wasn’t a ripple; it was a tidal surge that washed over my worldview and swept me out to sea. How did she know these things?

A trip to a bookstore turned up the Parkers’ Compleat Astrologer and Isabel Hickey’s Astrology, a Cosmic Science. And with that odd pairing of books, I begin to teach myself to calculate horoscopes and do crude delineations.

Ripple 2: The Calling.
Jan triggered another ripple when she saw an ad for a talk by astrologer Zip Dobyns. At that time, I’d never heard of Zip, but it looked interesting.

During the question and answer period, I asked Zip about astrological research; where did all of these ideas come from, anyway? As many of you know, Zip believed passionately in research and the importance of advancing the scholarly status of astrology. That belief prompted her to obtain her own Ph.D. to help legitimize astrology in a culture that values educational credentials.

Zip introduced me to Betty Barron, the local astrologer who was hosting her talk, as someone who was interested in research.

I began studying astrology with Betty; my first opportunity to study with an expert, practicing astrologer. Here was someone who was fluent in the language of astrology and from her, I learned to approach it methodically, yet holistically. However, while Betty valued me as a student, she didn’t see me as an astrologer. Like Zip, Betty also believed that for astrology to have a future, it would need to emerge from the marginalization of its “dark ages” and return to the academy as a legitimate discipline of study and research. She saw this as my calling.

Ripple 3: Graduate School.
If I was going to purse this type of study and research, I would have to go to graduate school. But where to go and what to study? There was no Kepler; no Bath Spa; no internet and online education.

However, Michigan State University had a master’s degree program in Interdisciplinary Social Science that allowed me to create a curriculum focusing on the philosophy of science, research methods and computer modeling. This curriculum not only provided with me the tools for asking research questions, but, more importantly, it helped hone my critical thinking skills.

I came to realize that one of the challenges presented by astrology is that it transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. The goal is not simply to reframe astrology into the languages of other “accepted” disciplines, but to broaden our understanding of the world, the richness of which cannot be captured in the narrow language of any one discipline – including astrology.

Ripple 4: My astrological “coming out”
Although I went to graduate school to gain the tools to ask astrological questions, I didn’t reveal my astrological interests to faculty until I began the search for my thesis committee. As I approached various faculty with whom I had studied about my research interests, their reactions ranged from surprise, to amusement, to virulent hostility.

I soon learned a lesson that many graduate students learn: faculty usually want graduate students to support their own research efforts. Supervising a graduate student whose work doesn’t contribute to your own research program is considered a waste of time and may even be detrimental to gaining tenure. This is true even if the research a graduate student wants to do is “mainstream.” However, a research proposal to study astrology? Balderdash!

I approached several faculty with whom I had studied and worked, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. Finally, Jim Gard and Eileen Thompson, two young assistant professors for whom I had done extensive computer programming and statistical analysis in support of their research, agreed to be on my committee. In turn, they convinced a senior faculty colleague to chair my committee.

Soon, more ripples were spreading, this time through the psychology department, as my committee members had to endure the derision of their colleagues. At the time, I didn’t see the impact these ripples would have in all of our lives.

For Jim and Eileen, the criticism of their open-minded support for my work brought to light the reality of free inquiry in the academy and solidified their own developing disillusions about their careers. Not long after I graduated, I was sad to see them leave the university for other positions.

For me, their support was a crucial milestone on my path. They not only made it possible for me to pursue my research, but I learned how crucial supportive faculty are to helping students succeed. This is a lesson that continues to influence my own teaching.

Ripple 5: The Astrological Community
After completing my master’s degree in the early 80’s, I began to attend national astrology conferences. It was an exciting time in astrology. Computers were taking the drudgery out of chart calculation and opening the doors for new techniques. ISAR and NCGR were growing. AFAN was formed.

I was able to meet, learn from, and become friends with, some of the most well known astrologers in the world, including many of the founders of Kepler college. I truly experienced “community” as Webster defines it: “a body of persons with common interests scattered through a larger society.”

However, I found that one common interest that often united many astrologers was a rejection of anything “mainstream,” be it science, religion, or the academy. They were happy to question authority, as long as it wasn’t astrological authority. The critical evaluation of evidence as the basis for accepting or rejecting astrological claims was as foreign to some astrologers as the idea of studying astrology was to many of my graduate school faculty. And equally disturbing to me.

Ripple 6: Kepler College
It was late night at UAC in 1992 and I joined an animated conversation with several astrologers about creating a college whose core focus would be a rigorous, scholarly approach to astrology.

The internet was in its infancy – there was email, but no World Wide Web – but the possibilities for using this new tool to move beyond a traditional physical campus to make this dream a reality was exciting. But most exhilarating of all was the idea of creating a community of scholars who would impact not just astrology, but whose influence would extend into the world at large.

So, are the ripples from Kepler College being felt in academia at large? I believe they are.

First, the very existence of Kepler has been felt, as the Washington state Higher Education Board approved our programs in the face of resistance from some in the academy. These ripples will most certainly build into waves as Kepler moves into the accreditation process.

However, I believe the results – you, our graduates – speak for themselves. Many people have worked tirelessly to provide you this opportunity, but you are the ones who have seized it. In doing so, you have made Kepler a reality. We all thank you!

Second, Kepler has inspired our own faculty to engage with the academy. We can all look to Dr. Campion and Dr.-to-be Hand for inspiration to see that the academy can accept a scholarly approach to astrology. Astrology, and the academy, are both better for it.

Finally, the biggest impact in academia is only beginning to be felt. Some Kepler graduates are already pursuing a scholarly life in other institutions.

In August, Maire Masco, part of our first graduating class, began her Masters program at St. John's College in New Mexico, in Eastern Classics.

Carolyn Matthews, who receives her diploma this evening, starts the MA program in Transpersonal Studies at the Atlantic University in Virginia this January.

Congratulations to both of you! You’re the first ripples from Kepler to reach across the shores to other academic institutions. I know you will make us proud!

Of course, this fall marks the beginning of the Kepler master’s program. Many of you are – or will be – part of our MA program. We’re all excited about the opportunities that the MA brings.

As you begin the next part of your journey, reflect on the ripples that brought you here. More importantly, reflect on where your ripples may take you and the impact they may have.

Some of you are finding the life of a scholar rewarding. Part of the scholarly life is the cross-fertilization of ideas across institutions. I want to urge you to consider carrying the ripples from Kepler to other academic institutions. Once you have completed your masters degree, you will have a solid foundation for doctoral studies at any number of institutions and the opportunity for the life of a scholar and teacher. You can carry the ripples from Kepler out to the academy and the world at large.

For each and every one of you, wherever your ripples go and take you, congratulations and good luck!

Thank you.