The magnificent Driskell Hotel, completed in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Driskell and located in downtown Austin, Texas, served May 9-11 as the venue for the “National Summit on the Building Academic Centers.” Sponsored by the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History and by Robert Koons’ Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions at the University of Texas, the summit assembled from across the country more than forty scholars and public intellectuals engaged in addressing the general crisis of civic illiteracy and historical amnesia among college graduates. Participants included AHI Senior Fellows Mary and David Nichols from Baylor University, AHI Academic Advisor Colleen Shaheen from Villanova University, John Tomasi from Brown University, Mark Bauerlein from Emory University, and National Association of Scholars Executive Director Peter Wood.
Sessions on the promise and peril of center-building included “Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Visions, “New Programs and Initiatives,” and “Development and Donor Alumni Cultivation.” Thomas Lindsay, Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, challenged the attendants to lead a campus recrudescence in examining what it means to be an American citizen by “introducing their students to the perennial questions and issues that define American democratic theory and practice.” Here in abbreviated form are Dr. Lindsay’s six central questions:
1. “What is the meaning of human equality as articulated in the Declaration’s assertion that “all men are created equal?”
2. “What does the Declaration mean by asserting that we possess rights that are not “alienable?”
3. “Why does the Founding generation consider government just only when it is instituted by the consent of the governed?”
4. “Why did the Founders opt for representative democracy over the ‘pure’version of democracy practiced in ancient Athens?”
5. “How does the Constitution seek to reconcile democracy, which means rule by the majority, with the rights of minorities?”
6. “What economic conditions make American democracy possible?”
AHI cofounder Robert Paquette spoke in Hamiltonian terms of how the “fate of a great civilization” might well hinge on the success of endeavors like the Jack Miller Center, Tomasi’s Political Theory Project, Robbie George’s Madison Program, and the AHI in recentering attention on Western culture and on American ideals and institutions. He referred to hard lessons learned by the failure to establish an Alexander Hamilton Center on the Hamilton College campus and to the advantages of independent centers that seek to work in from without. He urged cooperative programming in building economies of scale in the production of scholarly excellence as well as information sharing among center-bulders in the construction of lists of prospective benefactors. Toward these ends, Paquette informed the participants that the AHI will be making a public announcement in the weeks ahead on the receipt of a major challenge grant for programmatic initiatives.
All in all, the administrative staff of the Jack Miller Center–Mike Andrews, Admiral Mike Ratliff, Pamela Edwards, and Tom Kelly–stood tall in organizing a vital discussion with exemplary efficiency and inspiring results.