(Denver Post, Aug. 19) “Is it Western hemisphere? Is it Western hemisphere north of the equator?” The inquiry sounded like a game-show contestant trying to buy a clue. Or like your boss going on offense to cover an embarrassment. Unfortunately the questioner was CU Regent Paul Schauer. The mysterious “it” was Western civilization, recognizable to most people as 2500 years of unparalleled achievement from Greece and Rome to the present. But apparently not to Schauer, Mr. Education since entering the legislature decades ago.
When asked to join four other Republican regents in establishing a university department to teach about our civilizational heritage, according to a story in the Colorado Daily last Dec. 6, “Schauer questioned what ‘Western civilization’ even means.” After his GOP colleague Pat Hayes opined similarly that “this resolution makes no sense,” the proposal died for lack of a fifth supporter on the 9-member board.
Paula Pant’s piece in the Daily not only documents this pair’s scorn for the plan. It also says the resolution was “co-authored” by Tom Lucero, Steve Bosley, Jerry Rutledge, and Pete Steinhauer. So Schauer and Hayes (now the board chairman) are the reason CU turned its back on the Western Civ idea. That’s clear, despite their letter to the Post last Sunday blaming Lucero for poor preparation and scolding me for naming them in my Aug. 5 column.
Why not focus their skepticism on asking what ethnic studies “even means,” or on venturing that women’s and gender studies “make no sense” – to name two of the numerous flimsy subjects that do have departments at CU? Then we’d know which team they’re actually on: the Republicans, conservers of liberty and learning, or the Democrats, progressively junking the tried for the untried.
Do those teams matter? Absolutely. Chairman Hayes, in a friendly note before her letter to the editor appeared, assured me all regents’ devotion to what’s best for the university “crosses party and ideological lines.” Steve Bosley, who lost to her for chairman and now heads the presidential search to replace Hank Brown, wrote me the same. No doubt they mean it.
But good intentions are not enough when university governance is debated. At stake are the life preparation of countless young citizens, vast budgets and economic impact, and Colorado’s very understanding of itself as a free society. “Politics assumes that the contest for importance is important,” as the Harvard political scientist and eminent conservative Harvey Mansfield said in Boulder last week. Depoliticizing education is impossible and undesirable; the politics must be fought out.
Prof. Mansfield lectured on campus as the joint guest of CU’s fledgling Center for Western Civilization (no department but a worthy start) and the Delaware-based Jack Miller Center for the Teaching of America’s Founding Principles. The latter’s mission speaks of equipping “future leaders…to defend [us]… against ideologies that seek to destroy the nation.” This was refreshing in leftist Boulder, as was Mansfield’s classical wisdom about reason and the soul. President Brown couldn’t attend but sent official greetings. Too bad Chairman Hayes didn’t.
Good intentions: Martin Luther King knew all about them. His powerful 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” challenges white clergymen to give more than lipservice to equality and justice. King’s letter, bound with selections from Socrates and Plato, was the summer reading assignment from CU-Colorado Springs chancellor Pam Shockley to her 850 freshmen who arrived Wednesday. Hank Brown penned an introduction.
What a great way to start college. Thankfully the grand sweep and noble meaning of Western civilization are understood by at least a few CU decision-makers. Boulder chancellor Bud Peterson, however, set no such high bar for his Class of 2011. Indeed his was among the voices raised against Lucero’s departmental plan last year. Republican regents passed over two real stars to hire Peterson. Why?