The University of Dallas lacks many of the attributes that give other universities a major media presence. For instance, the most notable UD sports story is the ending of the Crusader basketball program’s epic 86-game losing streak in Feb. 1988, still the longest losing streak for a 4-year program.
Although less infamous than the unsuccessful seasons of the Crusader basketball team, UD’s liberal arts program is what makes our school special.
Essential to these programs are the extracurricular opportunities provided by departments; these are UD’s hidden gems.
One such program aims to contribute not only to UD, but also to American political life and the preservation of Western civilization. This hidden gem is the American Public Philosophy Institute (APPI).
The APPI is headed by politics professor Dr. Christopher Wolfe. An independent, public, and nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the APPI has been located at UD since August 2014 and continues to regularly host events on campus for UD students.
Despite the wide-ranging nature of the study and application of public philosophy, Wolfe outlines three central goals of the APPI:
“One goal that we emphasized, especially in our early years, was trying to have influence on national scholarship by promoting conferences and publishing books based on them, and I think we’ve done some valuable work in that area. In Dallas, we also have developed another line of activities, which are for local businessmen and professionals, where we talk about certain key principles that are necessary for the common good of the nation … that’s the second area.”
The final area, and the one perhaps most relevant to UD students, is the development and promotion of activities for UD students and faculty.
“We try to bring in really excellent, nationally and often internationally known speakers in order to have a chance to offer UD students additional perspectives and information on broad-ranging social issues,” Wolfe said.
In the academic year, the APPI’s regular program opportunities are well-attended by UD students and faculty. Wolfe provided an example of one such program:
“Last year, we had a conversation on economic inequality where we brought in three speakers representing three different positions: A kind of moderate liberal position, a kind of ‘Sam’s Club’ Republican position, and a libertarian position. These views are spread across the spectrum, and the speakers had a chance to discuss economic inequality and what its causes are and what the harms of it are and how we should deal with it.”
“That’s the kind of thing I’d like to do at UD — bring in really first-rate speakers who will help give additional perspectives to UD students and faculty and so contribute to the intellectual life of the university.”
Though he self-identifies as a “Natural Law Liberal,” Wolfe expressed decided resistance against contemporary liberalism:
“The thing that’s distinctive about contemporary liberalism, is its great emphasis on personal autonomy, which is one reason why it tends to be hostile to any kind of attempt of law to protect or defend traditional morality,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe instead advocates for a “Natural Law Liberalism Philosophy,” which he describes as resting on the principles of human equality, human rights and limited government.
Wolfe also explained what he perceives as the “excessive optimism” of contemporary liberalism in terms that every Fundamentals of Economics student will easily understand:
“There is a kind of excessive optimism that the simple autonomous actions of individuals as a whole will result in something that corresponds to the public good. It’s funny that, traditionally, the kinds of people we call liberals today were very skeptical of the “invisible hand” in economics, and yet, in non-economic matters, they seem to think there is some kind of “invisible hand” that results in the actions of individuals working together to bring about the common good.”
Wolfe encouraged all UD students to become involved with APPI.
This year, APPI has hosted Donald Drakeman, Ryan Anderson and Robert George, of Princeton, on topics ranging from “Why We Need the Humanities” to “Social Conservatism in America.”
Wolfe argued that these perspectives, and those to come, are invaluable to the education of UD students.
“I think UD students have an unusual responsibility to contribute to the common good in this country, precisely because they received such a fine, classical education here at UD, and having that gift carries responsibilities,” Wolfe said. “UD Students, I think, are equipped by their education to have significant impact on public life in this country.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean UD students are expected to all go into national politics.
“It doesn’t have to be on the national political level,” Wolfe said. “It can be on a local level, it can be in private associations, it can be in their own families, but wherever they are, they can have an impact. I think that’s one of the responsibilities of having a great education.”
“Americans should really value the gift they have in their nation,” Wolfe said. “[America is] a nation which was founded on basically sound principles which have led us to be an unusually free and prosperous people. And what I’d say, like Tocqueville, is thus: ‘Recognize this great gift you’ve been given, and understand that it depends on a certain kind of moral framework.’ ”