As I prepare for a forthcoming Liberty Fund colloquium, celebrating the venerable institution’s 50th anniversary, I’ve had the honor of reading an article on higher education by Russell Kirk–a piece I had never come across before. Entitled “The Revitalized College: A Model,” Kirk outlined his ideal college. As he always does, beginning with first principles, Kirk wrote: “the mission of the college is to reconcile moral principle with right reason…. That intellectual achievement and moral worth are not incompatible, and that intellectual attainment does not grant to young people a license of emancipation from claims of moral worth.”
The end of the college “is moral, but… its method is intellectual.”
With his usual wit, Kirk offered points of brilliance, quoted Newman and Eliot, and told a few stories.
Toward the end of the piece—originally, a talk given in 1971 in Indianapolis—Kirk provided an outline for courses as well as for the structure of governance. His conclusion, entitled “The Plant,” is worth quoting at length.
“The college’s buildings should be handsome and permanent, but not luxurious. The campus should not resemble a public park or a fun fair: the more cloistered, the better. The administration building should be as small and uncomfortable as possible, to dishearten educational bureaucracy.”
“The doctrine of in loco parentis should be abandoned, for the most part. Despite this college’s dedication to the idea of moral worth and its emphasis upon the moral imagination, the college is engaged in the improvement of intellects, not the immediate cure of souls.”
“The first building to be erected…should be the faculty club or commons, to promote the development of genuine community among the senior scholars and to assure them of the respect in which they are held. Around that center the college should develop, intellectually and physically.”
“The campus should be compact, the buildings harmonious, and the whole should present the appearance of a distinct, self-contained academic community.… there should be a number of pleasant, quiet gathering places or study retreats out of doors.”
“Wine and beer should be readily available to students in public places.”
“The students will be presumed to be men, not boys, intellectually and emotionally. If they do not justify this assumption, they must go elsewhere. This campus would be a sanctuary for academic leisure.”
Amen, Dr. Kirk, amen.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
[All quotes taken from: Russell Kirk, “The Revitalized College: A Model,” in Anne Husted Burleigh, ed., Education in a Free Society (Indianapolis, Ind: Liberty Fund, 1973), 129-164. The book is worth reading in its entirety.]