I was dismayed by President Hibbs’ decision to bypass the student Senate vote on the Student Leaders for Racial Solidarity club. Every student who has taken Principles of American Politics must recognize that the rationale which Hibbs used is straight out of Tocqueville, and not in a good way.
President Hibbs announced that he had privately, not publicly, come “to the realization that it is unnecessary and unduly burdensome to ask the students to go through with a vote.” He read the club constitution, “spent time with the student leaders” (of the club, perhaps? or perhaps those of Student Government?), and had heard reports from the proposed club’s advisors.
While this might explain Hibbs’ approval, it does not explain why a Student Government vote would be “unnecessary and unduly burdensome”—or to whom it would be so. This burden remains obscure.
But the likely effects of his decision are clear: the controversy remains unresolved, because deliberation has been cut off by executive fiat. This course of action encourages a habit of dependence in those favored by his decision and provokes resentment in those rejected.
President Hibbs acted like Tocqueville’s “soft despot” who violates what the American tradition calls federalism and what Catholic Social Teaching calls subsidiarity, unduly centralizing power to relieve citizens of the burdens of citizenship. He deprived his students of an opportunity to reason together about UD’s common good, to speak courageously, and to exercise charity.
Acquiring these virtues is burdensome, and so is self-government. But every Philosophy and the Ethical Life student knows that acquiring virtue is the purpose of studying ethics; virtue cannot be acquired without practice. How are we to acquire virtue without opportunities to practice it?
Deliberating about this proposed club was an obvious occasion for students to practice these virtues.
UD aims to educate “the whole person.” That education is not limited to the classroom. By this decision, President Hibbs has diminished, not augmented, liberal education at UD.