We bill ourselves as a school for independent thinkers. How is that compatible with being “the most conservative university”? Everything depends upon what it is to conserve intellectually. Our central mode of study is the Great Texts from Homer to Heidegger. We not only read Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, we also read Hegel and Nietzsche, and read them “from the inside,” with appreciation. We study them not to learn how they used to think but to learn how to think, and thus to become independent thinkers.
One thing many conservatives cannot seem to understand is that the classics came into being as innovations. Aquinas stepped out of the dominant Augustinian tradition at his time to enter into extensive exposition of the newly arriving Aristotelian corpus, which many church leaders viewed with suspicion. He transformed thought by assimilating that into a richer, more inclusive synthesis.
Many conservatives who call themselves Thomists view Aquinas’ work like a marvelous medieval cathedral — complex, harmonious, aimed heavenward. We have only to repair and clean it. It is rather more like an organism that develops by responding to changing circumstances the way Aquinas himself responded. So what the study of the classics can teach us is how to be alert for the emergence of new candidates for classical status and in that way learning to become independent thinkers.
At the University of Dallas we are not locked into the past: we draw upon it to face the present and the future. I am happy to be associated with an institution that is voted “most conservative” in that sense.