WASHINGTON -- Something very good has just taken place on a college campus. After a two-year ordeal orchestrated by a group of mutinous faculty members, the Ave Maria School of Law has been given a clean bill of health by the American Bar Association and can continue with its work. I spoke on the campus last autumn and departed burdened by gloom. I feared the mutineers might win. They were the typical professorial grumblers, and such unhappy philistines so often have the upper hand on campuses.
Truth be known, I spend very little time on college campuses. The life of the mind nowadays is celebrated so rarely in academe. A livelier cultural atmosphere can be found at a Starbucks cafe or health food emporium. On most university campuses, the bulletin boards sulk with notices about "Rape Awareness Week," "Anger Management Counseling," "The Readings of the Prophet Obama." A half-century ago, things were different. Learning was widespread on campus -- at least among the profs. Free thought was encouraged, even among the profs. In the humanities, there were distinguished professors, at least on the best campuses, where they wrote and taught and often seemed to live the good life. Even the faculty communists were relatively pleasant.
The university at the middle of the 20th century was a happy place, congenial to civilized thought. Today it is gloomy, populated -- particularly in the humanities -- by narrowly opinionated adepts of identity politics and sham studies: the feminists, the black-studies lecturers and other special interests too esoteric to mention. The prevalence of these irritable sciolists explains why in the nation today there are so few historians of the stature of, say, Arthur M. Schlesinger or Samuel Eliot Morison; political philosophers of the stature of Leo Strauss; or political scientists of the stature of Hans J. Morgenthau.
Frankly, when I am asked to appear on an American campus, I beg off, protesting coyly that the place might be too dangerous. I have not had my vaccinations. I have a date on the shooting range at the National Rifle Association. Yet when I was asked to speak at the Ave Maria School of Law, I did so with alacrity. My friend Judge Robert Bork is a founding member of the faculty. The incomparable Justice Antonin Scalia advised at the founding of the school. Though it was founded to teach the law based on the moral precepts of the Catholic Church, I knew I would be free to say precisely what I thought -- no thought police, though, of course, I might not be invited back.