by Carrie Thayer
The light was streaming through the windows in the Livingston Lord Library. There were some students milling about the aisles, looking for books, others were tapping away at computers. Pretty much the standard day-to-day in the library, or it would have been, if it weren’t for the podium and the seats surrounding it.
Last Thursday a plaque was dedicated to Dr. Charles R. Magel in the library he helped strengthen.
Magel came to MSUM in 1962 to start a philosophy department, but while he was here he noticed something the library was lacking, according to his autobiography, “Several Events in the Life of Charles R. Magel”.
“The first week on campus, I entered John Neumaier’s office and said, ‘Mr. President, you have an impressive new library building but the shelves are empty.’” Neumaier responded with, “Charley, why don’t you do something about it?”
And he did. In the early ‘60s Magel wrote a report on how MSUM’s library compared to other universities and colleges. His writing called attention to the lower book population at MSUM, which lead to a telethon to raise money for the project in 1965.
During his tenure at MSUM, Magel continued to advocate for more books in libraries throughout Minnesota.
This, according to the MSUM Executive Director of Library Services, Brittney Goodman, resulted in “millions of dollars [that] were allocated to academic libraries of the state college system for purchasing books.”
As for that philosophy department, Magel worked to offer classes on Kant and Hume, which, at the time, were unavailable at even some of the Ivy League universities.
“Not even Harvard could afford (or would allow) courses like those for undergraduates,” wrote Dr. Magel in a history of the department.
A World War II veteran, Magel began to pursue his doctorate in philosophy after reading a book by Albert Schweitzer, even though he hadn’t taken any philosophy courses as an undergraduate.
“He said to the department, I want to be a professor; I want to study philosophy,” Sam Wei, Magel’s friend and trustee said. “And according to Charley, they thought he was crazy.”
Magel completed the courses and came to MSUM to teach students.
Still, Magel’s life wasn’t just academics.
“Charley, I was told, lived his philosophy, particularly his ethical views,” Dr. Randy Cagle, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Magel began to dedicate himself to animal rights.
“Charley turned from being a hunter, a farm kid, who loved almost a daily steak, into a vegetarian,” Wei said.
Shortly before his death, Magel continued to show his support to students by donating $800,000 to MSUM’s endowment for scholarships.
Goodman hopes Dr. Magel’s gift will continue to influence alumni and former faculty.
“We have a beautiful, renovated building, but without the resources — books, videos, journals, online sources, technology and the trained professionals to help you use them — it would be an empty building,” Goodman said. “Financial contributions help us keep our resources relevant and in touch with our students’ needs.”
With his gift, Magel wanted to continue to strengthen MSUM.
“Charley spoke emotionally of his gift to the university,” Cagle said. “He never thought twice about it. He said MSUM had done so much for him, he wanted to give back.”