Editor’s note: The below remarks were made at a symposium about college and university based think tanks sponsored by The Atlas Economic Research Foundation titled “Preserving the Roots of American Liberty: Pursuing Excellence Through Academic Centers.” The symposium was held at the Grand Concourse restaurant. The Grand Concourse is in the Station Square complex on the Monongahela River in downtown Pittsburgh near the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. (1664 words)
It is an honor to be in the presence of so many people of advanced learning who are working to preserve the roots of American liberty. I would like to thank Dr. Alejandro Chafuen for arranging this important event and for his tireless dedication to the American Cause. Alex and I were contemporaries at Grove City College and he is a founding member of the advisory board of The Center for Vision & Values. Finally I’d like to recognize my friends George Cahill and Ray Speicher. You’ll hear your thoughts echoed in these remarks.
Long before Alex and I graduated from Grove City College, George Washington learned lessons of victory – at this very same terrain – that he would one day use to win liberty for a fledgling nation. In the waning and cold days of 1753, Washington traveled the hills and traversed the treacherous icy rivers of western Pennsylvania on behalf of the governor of Virginia to warn the French to end their advances in the area and to assess their threat to the British colonies. Not too far to the south, in 1754, Washington surprised the French and fired shots that began the French and Indian War. In 1755, under the command of General Braddock, Washington waged a brave battle just across this river in a losing attempt to take Fort Duquesne from the French. At the young age of 23, Washington’s bravery and wisdom in this battle won him command of all Virginia forces. He returned to the confluence of these three rivers in 1758 with General Forbes to successfully capture Fort Duquesne, rename the outpost Fort Pitt and give this city its name. Washington retired from service following the battle for Fort Duquesne. Many years later, he would answer the call of a unanimous vote in 1775 to assume the position of commander-in-chief of the newly-formed Continental Army.
But it was here – right here, where we are now – that a young George Washington learned the lessons that would later give a young nation its freedom.
Fast forward about 250 years. I arranged a daylong visit to Grove City College by a leader of the conservative movement. He visited the college because his high school senior daughter was interested in matriculating and he wanted to see if we were true to our espoused values of Christian faith and freedom. After he concluded his day of grilling professors, he turned to me and asked rhetorically, “Do you know what this place is?” He stated bluntly, “This isn’t a college. … It’s a weapons factory.”
He believes we are preparing young people to wage the war of ideas. Perhaps his metaphor is a bit strong. My boss, Paul Kengor, told me that a favorite phrase of Ronald Reagan was “freedom fighters,” which he applied to a number of anti-Communist movements around the world. We at The Center for Vision & Values view today’s young freedom fighters in the academy as foot soldiers in the battle of ideas. These types of students are intellectual agents of change for the cause of freedom.
Regardless of the rhetoric one prefers, I do think it is instructive to use the weapons factory metaphor for our purposes today. Our panel is to address the topic of “Preserving the Roots of American Liberty: Pursuing Excellence Through Academic Centers.”
Academic Centers may represent the future of the think tank world. Why? Because we have access to the raw material and recruits that have the potential to be transformed into a winning 1-2 combination of persuasive ideas and leadership.
I’ll now turn to the subjects of raw materials and recruits. Let’s talk about recruits first. They come in two forms—faculty and students.
As the world of academia becomes more leftist, faculty of the highest scholarly caliber are seeking out places like Grove City College as a refuge of truth and a place to teach and continue their research. We’ve seen a big influx of these types of faculty in the past ten years. This is a trend that is so remarkable it seems beyond reason that it is taking place. But it is. And as these faculty seek out Grove City College, our Center for Vision & Values becomes the beneficiary of their scholarly interests. We now have 20 faculty actively engaged in a variety of scholarly and media projects such as white papers, conference papers, international conferences and research, opinion editorials, luncheon speaking, developing and teaching specialized classes, writing books, book tours and promotion, consulting for other like-minded organizations and doing radio and television interviews.
Recruits also come to us in the form of students. As academia becomes more leftist, students of the highest caliber seeking truth in learning are applying to Grove City College. One such student is Lauren Vander Heyden. She has lobbied at the UN four times and just last week took a day off from classes to lobby in Washington, D.C. My student communications assistant, Lauren Gallo, told me that Grove City College students have a high degree of civic interest – this is borne out by the recent Intercollegiate Studies Institute report – and The Center for Vision & Values is beginning to give them an outlet for pursuing their passion. She told me, “The Center is convenient; we can get involved right on campus without having to travel to Washington.” Thanks to the help of a generous foundation we are beginning a modest student fellows program next week. And in the spring we are likely to have 80-100 students involved in our annual conference we package as a one-hour course.
I do not have time to talk to you about all of our programming, but I will give you a handout that you can reference later.
I want to return to the weapons factory metaphor. Research is our raw material. Just as Pittsburgh’s steel mills need tons of western Pennsylvania coal to make steel, we need research to fire our weapons factory. Research is the raw material and foundation of our work. In fact, our tagline is “Advancing Freedom With Christian Scholarship.” Our topic today is “Preserving the Roots of American Liberty: Pursuing Excellence Through Academic Centers.” Just as coal is useless to Pittsburgh’s steel mills unless it is converted in blast furnaces, our research is useless unless converted to usable persuasive intellectual products. Excellence in preserving the roots of American liberty for The Center for Vision & Values means converting our raw material to usable persuasive weaponry, training our recruits, both faculty and students, and deploying adequately funded and supplied recruits to fronts where they can effectively win the war of ideas.
Once again, excellence means: developing and converting research into usable persuasive forms, recruiting and training faculty and students, and strategically positioning them at fronts where they can be successful. This is the work of academic centers. If we fall down in any of these areas, we lose. If we execute in all of these areas we position our recruits for victory.
When George Washington led the Continental Army his most important work, in my opinion, was similar to work of academic centers. The task he faced – defeating the world’s best-trained, equipped and funded army – was nearly impossible. Washington won by constantly focusing on the elements necessary for securing liberty—recruiting soldiers, training them, funding them, equipping them and deploying them to strategic fronts where they could win battles that would one day position them for overwhelming victory at Yorktown. This was the key to Washington’s success. And he pursued all of these things with great wisdom and a constant barrage of persuasive letters seeking support from key partners in the battle. If we are to be successful at academic centers in preserving the roots of liberty against seemingly insurmountable odds, we must do the same as Washington.
And Washington did not fight the British with outdated tactics, he used new tactics he learned right here in western Pennsylvania. Since he had one day been under the command of the British, he knew his future foe and their weaknesses. He observed the methods the Indians used right here at these rivers and hills to defeat the British. Likewise, Washington later applied these new tactics to defeat a powerful opponent that stood against liberty. Just as Washington used new tactics against the British, we will use new tactics to defeat the foes of liberty. And where better to learn to develop these new tactics than at academic centers where we have access to thousands of bright young people who are using the latest communications technology. We will win this war of ideas using the time-honored principles of liberty that Washington so nobly embodied, but we won’t use 18th century tactics, nor will we use 20th century tactics and weaponry. We will use 21st century weaponry that students know how to use—the Internet, YouTube, iPods, and other things invented at places like Carnegie Mellon just up the river.
Academic centers will become the future of the think tank movement if we pursue excellence in preserving the roots of American liberty. If academic centers pursue excellence we will: develop and convert the raw material of research to usable persuasive tools; we will recruit and train faculty and students; like Washington, we will persistently make the case for support and seek support from like-minded sources; we will strategically deploy our well-trained recruits to fronts where they can win victories; and we will achieve victory in the war of ideas using 21st century weaponry and tactics.
As a young man, Washington learned the lessons for securing liberty right here at the confluence of these three rivers. He was so adept that he became commander of Virginia’s troops at the young age of 23. We have remarkable talent present in this room … at the very same place where Washington learned his victory lessons. We have the potential – right here in this room – to train the next 23 year-old who will secure liberty for this still-fledgling, but great country.