Would an Admiral Make a Good Superintendent of a University?
Thomas Martin holds the O. K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Along with his fellow colleagues who are dedicated to the study of the Great Books, he teaches the works of Plato, Aristotle, and G. K. Chesterton.
Bill Wright, a friend and a retired Buffalo County District Judge, recently asked me what I thought, as a university professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, of the hiring of Admiral Walter “Ted” Carter as the new President of the University of Nebraska. His starting salary is $934,600 with the possibility of an additional $140,000 if he hits the performance goals.
The Admiral is the former Superintendent of the Naval Academy, so running the University of Nebraska, I suppose, is roughly equivalent to his current position of command. However, the mission of the Naval Academy differs from the mission with which Nebraskans have tasked their university for her future citizens.
Sure, President Carter’s base salary seems exorbitant, but it is one-fifth the salary of football coach Scott Frost — who has the additional incentive of $950,000 if he wins the Big Ten and National Championship in the same year.
Is there anything more important than football in Nebraska?
The Admiral knows that the education of youth — especially at the undergraduate level — ought to be as appreciated as the winning performance of the football players of Nebraska. The athletic model, as built on the foundation of practice, discipline, determination, and performance, also needs to apply to academics.
Every football coach studies the plays of successful programs. The same can be done for the formation of students by implementing a high-quality undergraduate core curriculum.
The Naval Academy has high academic standards in educating cadets “to become professional officers of ‘competence, character, and compassion’ in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.”
The Naval Academy’s core curriculum focuses upon science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), which is anchored to twenty-four hours of Humanities: two classes in Rhetoric and Literature; three history classes; one U.S. Government and Constitution; and two classes of electives. The electives include such classes as Literature of the Sea, “the study of sea literature from the epic to the novel, with an emphasis on literary qualities, human relationships with the sea, and problems of command.”
A naval cadet may well read Moby Dick or learn about Don John of Austria and the sea battle of Lepanto.
While not all of Nebraska’s undergraduates can be expected to complete the math and science core of the naval cadets, they all ought to study the humanities, the foundation necessary for the formation of “competence, character and compassion.”
Who would expect a quality performance from a football team that did not have a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning program?
This is why Athletic Director Bill Moos recently announced the construction of a 155-million-dollar athletic facility to house the football team.
“We are making the investment to once again be a national leader in facilities, and continue our mission of competing at the highest level and building for championships.”
Imagine if we expected and educated our university undergraduates to be leaders in “competence, character and compassion” in their families, communities and nations?
To put things in perspective, the University of Nebraska at Kearney has a new general studies proposal being put forth by the Academic Vice-Chancellor to reduce the current humanities requirement from six hours to three hours. That’s right! A student may soon graduate from a University of Nebraska campus with only one humanities course.
This is one-eighth of what is expected of cadets at the Naval Academy.
We are graduating a generation of students who — without history, literature, poetry, and/or philosophy — cannot be rooted in their own culture, though they may become multi-cultural.
While students may become somewhat versed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), this is simply focusing on the brain without developing a mind: A brain stem without content; facts without thought.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste.
So, to answer my friend Bill, we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of Admiral the University was hired. Can he possibly turn this ship around? *