Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Christopher Wolfe: Marquette Professor Off to Start New University

Our colleague Christopher Wolfe was the subject of a very flattering article in the Journal-Sentinel today.

Wolfe is going off to take on the stunningly ambitious task of starting a university. As the article explains:
Wolfe intends to work on establishing a university of his own, one inspired by the intellectual approach of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher.

“Since the mid-1980s, I’ve been thinking I’d like to start a new university,” says Wolfe, 58, and the author of several books, including “The Rise of Modern Judicial Review” and “How to Read the Constitution.”

“To start an institution from scratch, to do it the right way - that’s a wonderful opportunity that I’d like to take a stab at.”

Since early 2005, Wolfe has been serving as co-director of the Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies, a non-profit center that promotes the accurate reading of Aquinas’ philosophy and theology and seeks to relate his thinking to the modern world. The center is based in Washington, D.C., but will move when the university’s location is decided.

Searching for truth

The university Wolfe envisions would stand in contrast to what he views as a “flabby relativism” in modern education, a belief that all ideas must be recognized and given similar weight.

“There is a truth,” he says. “It’s sometimes hard to see what that truth is, but we need to pursue it, and we can discover it to a great extent.”

Truth, as Wolfe sees it, is no mere “grab bag of facts” but requires a coherent order that ought to be reflected in education. Although the new university would be open to many intellectual sources, it would encourage an approach stressing unity and order in education and accepting the possibility that one can know God and the good life.
In reality, nothing about Wolfe’s ideal of a university is new or innovative. Traditionally liberal arts colleges, and indeed major universities, thought of themselves that way.

But that was before curriculum degenerated into a hodge-podge of whatever courses professors wanted to teach, whose content was whatever ideas were fashionable among professors.

Wolfe has taught a long series of outstanding students, and the Journal-Sentinel quoted two of them in the article.
Keith S. Alexander took Wolfe’s constitutional law course almost a decade ago and still recalls how it prepared him for law school at Notre Dame, Wolfe’s own alma mater.

“You learned a lot,” says Alexander, now a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa. “It was very challenging. He was demanding, but also made us better. I felt I was a better thinker and a better reader.”

Tom Hrdlick, a partner in the law firm Foley & Lardner, called Wolfe “a decisive factor” in his going on to law school. “He said, ‘It will go by like that.’ He said, ‘You have the opportunity to do something significant with your life,’” Hrdlick remembers.
Notice to Students:

Wolfe is still teaching at Marquette on a part time basis. You can still take his courses during the 2007-2008 school year. He’ll be teaching POSC 133 (Constitutional Law) this fall, and POSC 134 (Civil Liberties) this spring. His 133 class is now full, but there are usually some students who drop, so you still have a shot at getting in.

(Going and begging, with a convincing story as to why you really, really need and want to take the class is worth trying too.)

The spring 134 class is, of course, still open.

Wolfe’s students always find the class hugely demanding. So skip it if you are looking for a gut course.

But students who tackle the demands and stand up to the challenge virtually always come away convinced that they have had a great experience.

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