The Idea of a University

Thanks to the Hoover Institution, I’ve been privileged to spend a week here at Stanford, connecting and reconnecting with various professors I know, walking the exquisite grounds, envying Peter Robinson for the lemon tree he has in his backyard, and in general enjoying the best of university life. It’s fascinating to see these communities in action, and all they have to offer. The specialization is astounding: there’s almost no field of endeavor that doesn’t have some great group of minds looking at it, and trying to work out solutions for nearly every challenge.

At the same time, I’ve always been a believer in the liberal arts. Much of what passes for the liberal arts today, of course, is cotton candy. Yet at its core, the training of the mind that comes with a true liberal arts program seems to me of increasing value in our age, as is the role of small, liberal arts colleges. Here’s a talk I gave recently at Ave Maria University, one of those schools, and the justification for it. 

Note that I did not refer to Satan, unlike someone else who has gained notoriety for a speech at Ave. Though I share with Evelyn Waugh the idea that it is a wicked thing indeed to propose that an education should be aimed at fitting a student for the modern world. The allusion will become clear in the speech, and here is a link to a review of the book in question in the New York Times in 1959 by no less than George Orwell.