Historians of the future who look back at us, assuming the survival of critical intelligence in the future, will characterize our times as the Age of Bureaucracy. A time in which nearly every human endeavor—religion, education, economy, national defense—was swallowed up in huge institutions which existed for their own sakes rather than for the purposes they purported to accomplish.
To espy healthy, purposeful institutions one must look in small out-of-the-way places like Rose Hill College, now in its first year of operation. In my capacity as a politically incorrect professor, I have often been asked by concerned parents for guidance as to the colleges to which they might entrust their children—places of sound education and decent moral atmosphere. I have been hardpressed to answer, usually being limited to pointing out that some places are worse than others.
The appearance of Rose Hill fills a genuine need. It joins the handful of institutions that one can recommend to such parents and promises to become the St. Thomas Aquinas College of the South. Located on a five-acre estate in the historic district of the charming small city of Aiken, South Carolina, Rose Hill is paying sincere attention to both rigorous traditional education and wholesome spiritual atmosphere.
The launching of a college in these days is, to say the least, a bold and risky act. Rose Hill is largely the creation of one man, Owen Jones, a native of Florida and former Episcopal priest, now devoutly Orthodox. Jones has sunk his own intellectual, spiritual, and moral capital into the school to make a reality of his vision, a rare thing in these days when institutional visions are more often perverted than made flesh and when overweening government has absorbed so much private wealth that new institutions are beyond even thought for most of us. (Even so prudently administered an institution as Rose Hill operates at a cost of $3,000 per day.)
The stated mission of the college is to provide an alternative to “the secular agendas, government intrusion, and multicultural superficiality [that] are now the rule. . . . Classes are always small, taking the form of tutorials and seminars rather than lectures, and . . . emphasis is placed upon active inquiry into principles, not the passive collection of facts. . . . Rather than studying textbooks and other secondary materials, students read a common curriculum of primary works, from ancient times to the present.”
Anyone familiar with the actual state of American higher education today cannot help but applaud this effort to return to a classical concept of learning. Broadly speaking, higher education everywhere has been reduced to a smorgasbord of noncommunicating specialties and unrelated courses that consist largely of description of empirical phenomena. (The subject matter is not really empirical, however, because it is shot through with unexamined leftist assumptions.) And higher education everywhere is under the effective control of a peculiar caste of opportunistic and interchangeable politician/bureaucrats whose worldview consists entirely of trendy secular jargon.
It is these conditions, and not political correctness, multiculturalism, or deconstruction, that are the real problems of higher education today. They provide the background on which such abominations can flourish. It should surprise no one that students emerge from four years of the kind of college education now offered with no capacity to understand and apply larger principles and perspectives, no information but a lot of tendentious prejudices and corrosive cynicism. That students occasionally emerge better than this is a tribute to the students and to the intrinsic value of learning itself, even under the worst conditions.
The first class at Rose Hill has 17 students, with five faculty. Despite rigorous academic demands and behavioral rules For Immediate Service (or perhaps because of them), student morale seems high. The entire class proceeds together in the study of languages, science, mathematics, philosophy, and theology. Jones envisions in five years an enrollment of 100 in four classes, with ten faculty.
Of the first class, many are Orthodox communicants, though there are also several Protestants and Catholics. Some of the students emerged from homeschooling. Two already have bachelor’s degrees from prestigious institutions but are beginning over at a place where they believe they will fulfill their desire for true intellectual development. (The curriculum is more demanding than most graduate schools.) Some of the women students perhaps reasonably hope that Rose Hill College will be a place to find Christian husbands.
The college accepts no federal aid of any kind and depends entirely on gifts and Jones’s own resources. “The young people we have attracted to our program so far,” says the founder, “represent a growing faction of the youth of our society who are spiritually sensitive by nature and who are questioning the very premises of our secular order. They realize that [here] they are led to a process of decision-making that requires them to step out of the mainstream before they are hurled over the falls” by present-day American society.
Rose Hill seeks to implement its belief in the interconnection of knowledge and virtue and the very Orthodox idea of the inseparability of doctrine and practice. It wants to create a “small, intimate learning community” where social and religious life are integrated with education. Students are forbidden drugs, alcohol, and inappropriate interaction of the sexes. As a part of the building of community and the joining of learning and practice, students are given hands-on experience in the cultivation of the college’s magnificent gardens.
Anyone familiar with the lack of intellectual and moral community and of educational coherence, so widespread today, cannot but be impressed with the thought and planning and well-directed energy that have gone into this hope-inspiring institution—a remarkable example of how works seeming to be nearly impossible can be accomplished by faith and vision.