David Horowitz at Kenyon College


Two of the founders of this website, Richard Baehr and I, attended Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college in Ohio notable for its literary tradition, its stunningly beautiful campus, and its emphasis on excellent teaching. We were both delighted to read David Horowitz's account of his recent college speaking tour, and his comments on our alma mater.

My biggest surprise on this trip was my visit to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Normally when parents ask me where to send their college—age children my one piece of advice is to avoid small liberal arts colleges in isolated areas. Kenyon fits this description to a T. But from the interviews I conducted with conservative students and one conservative professor while I was there, along with my experience with a self—selected cross—section of the Kenyon student body, I would say this by far the best school I have been to in twenty years....

Literature is still taught as literature and not as a pretext for teaching Marxism, post—modernism and other kitsch academic religions. The political science, history and sociology courses seem relatively free of the race—class and gender hierarchies mythology. And the students I met were bright, free of leftist cant and remarkably open—minded....

To my amazement, at Kenyon the 200 or so students who attended my lecture of whom half appeared to be from the left focused entirely on the issue of academic freedom and my Academic Bill of Rights. The questions were intelligent and thought—provoking and displayed a serious interest in the problem created by the virtual absence of conservatives on the faculty. I have not had a more pleasureable experience talking to students in years, a fact made even more impressive because five of my previous six talks in the two weeks preceding had been marred by incidents and demonstrations.

In addition to the reasons David finds to explain Kenyon's unusual atmosphere of serious and open confrontation, I would add a note or two.

The most respected figures at Kenyon are its professors who actually teach and teach well, not those who simply publish widely. Kenyon remembers and honors its great professors of the past, and actively encourages deep involvement of the faculty in the intellectual growth of the young minds entrusted to it. The professors under whom we studied were inspired by the examples set by Denham Sutcliffe, John Crowe Ransome, and other legendary teachers of whom we heard much, but who had passed away before our arrival. Role models matter. A lot.

The town of Gambier, founded at the same time as and inextricably wedded to Kenyon College, sits on a hilltop where the Appalachian foothills begin to rise out of the lush farmland of central Ohio. It is a self—contained community devoted to learning and nothing else, with professors living an easy walk from their classrooms and offices. In such an environment, behavioral standards evolve and become powerful constraints on all kinds of posturing. Because students are respected by and involved with their faculty, they reciprocate by respecting the standards embodied by their teachers.

In other words, civil society, a concept beloved of conservatives, actually can operate to guide people in the general direction of a virtuous community. Both Richard and I have continued to take an interest in Kenyon, and both of us know that it is no academic utopia (no place is). But we went on to graduate school at the two best—known campuses in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and neither of us can say we encountered better teaching or a better learning environment there than in Gambier, Ohio. The students and faculty there seem unusually happy, a condition not often found on America's campuses.

Thomas Lifson   5 05 05