Phi Beta Cons

Summers and the center

The absence of a campus right is common knowledge. Larry Summers’s resignation demonstrates that there isn’t much of a campus center either. When push came to shove, a middle-of-the-road Democrat, basically in tune with the reigning pieties, but still connected to common sense, found he lacked any muscular constituency.
Reviving academic conservatism will require a spate of new hires. The beast is simply too near extinction on most campuses for anything else to work. But the revival – or more accurately – the reawakening of the academic center could be accomplish simply through leadership. The tragedy (or was it the farce?) of Summers’s presidency is that having found himself on the high ground of intellectual freedom, he abandoned it to beg for mercy. He could, instead, have galvanized the center by an appeal to that most centrist of all principles, reasoned discourse, leaving Harvard and American higher education vastly bettered for the effort. Given the inherent strength of Summers’s position, historians and psychotherapists will long ponder why he didn’t.
Other presidents take heed. Want to take down campus orthodoxy several pegs? Tempt zealotry into an attack on common sense and then go all out to rally the slumbering center. It might just prove some sort of turning point.

Stephen H. Balch was founding president of the National Association of Scholars and currently serves as director of the Texas Tech Institute for the Study of Western Civilization.

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