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Ave Maria Is Off to Naples

By R. EMMETT TYRRELL, JR. | July 25, 2008

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 Law School 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 so rarely celebrated in academe. A livelier cultural atmosphere can be found at a Starbucks café 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."

Half a century ago things were different. Learning was widespread on campus — at least amongst 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 socialists explains why in the nation today there are so few historians of the stature of, say, Arthur Schlesinger or Samuel Eliot Morison; political philosophers of the stature of Leo Strauss, or political scientists of the stature of Hans 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 NRA. Yet when I was asked to speak at the Ave Maria Law School I did so with alacrity. My friend Judge Robert Bork has been a founding member of the faculty. The incomparable Justice 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.

The faculty was composed of intelligent minds, so far as I could tell. The students were intelligent, polite, and not riven by the petty discord to be found on larger campuses. What is more, the governing administrators were generous and serious. Dean Bernard Dobranski is a learned fellow who with Judge Bork has been teaching an important course, "The Moral Foundations of the Law."

From what I know of the course, most of the country's lawyers would be improved by it, except for those who would find the concept inscrutable and unprofitable. The law school simply would not exist were it not for the philanthropic founder of Domino's Pizza, Tom Monaghan. When he and his Board of Governors decided to move the campus from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to be closer to Monaghan's other project, Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, a minority of faculty rebelled, sending a dozen or more charges to the ABA.

Their hope was that the ABA would revoke the Ave Maria Law School ABA accreditation. The ABA boiled the mutineers' complaints down to one. Now after a comprehensive investigation the ABA has found that contrary to the surviving complaint Ave Maria is fully capable of attracting and maintaining competent faculty. With this it is considered highly likely that the ABA will acquiesce to the planned move to Naples in 2009, over the howls of the irritable profs who filed their nuisance complaints.

Amongst the professoriate of the land diversity is supposedly a desirable value. Well, certainly a law school that teaches the law based on Christian values adds to the diversity of the nation's law programs. I wish Ave Maria's students and faculty well, and hereby offer to speak on campus again, at least after they flee chill Ann Arbor for Naples, by which I mean the cisatlantic Naples, the one without the garbage problems.

Mr. Tyrrell is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to The New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.