Eighty years ago, the prospects for freedom appeared grim as totalitarian governments dominated most of Europe and Asia. Freedom was on the ropes and fascism looked like an unstoppable force. With apologies to the defenders of London and Stalingrad, the future of freedom depended on the residents of towns such as Brady and institutions such as Texas A&M, which provided more officers in World War II than anyone — including our military academies.
Freedom prevailed because simple men of courage such as James Earl Rudder believed that our way of life was worth fighting for.
But the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and the threats to it are not always so obvious. Many Americans only now are awakening to the reality that a collectivist totalitarian ideology emanating from our own college campuses is today’s greatest threat to America. Poisonous theories, this time rooted in Marxism, promise “equity” but have provided only enmity.
Our equal opportunity society has been so successful it has led to a near perpetual immigration crisis, while equal outcomes societies literally have failed everywhere they have been tried.
But Texas A&M has an opportunity to lead higher education back from this abyss by building on our traditions and the foundation established by President Rudder.
As C.S. Lewis said, we all want progress, but if we’re on the wrong road, the one who turns back soonest is the most progressive, and higher education in America is stumbling toward a cliff. Taxpayers, tuition payers and donors are asking whether this increasingly costly investment has become more a source of our problems than a solution.
Too many institutions once committed to providing a liberal and practical education have become virtual police states of rigid orthodoxy. First in the social sciences and now spreading to the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] fields, conservatives and liberals, faculty, staff and ordinary students have been attacked professionally and personally by woke mobs of activist students, emboldened by campus diversity bureaucracies. Such centers of progressivism are failing both their students and our nation by squelching diversity of thought while advancing a multi-cultural monochrome of indoctrination.
Texas A&M is by no means immune and may be in imminent danger of succumbing. But conservatives, centrists and even traditional liberals have few places left to go. Like the armed conflict that came to us 80 years ago, this ideological one was not of our choosing. But it has come to us still, and the contrasts are just as clear.
Free speech or speech codes? Academic freedom or ideological conformity? Empiricism or subjectivism? Personal responsibility or critical theories? Individual merit or identity victimology? Tolerance or cancel culture? Integration and inclusion or neo-segregation and further division?
After completing his mission along with millions of other actual anti-fascists, Rudder went on to lead Texas A&M forward at a critical juncture in our history. Our university, state and nation owe him a debt of gratitude for showing that a first-class, practical and liberal education and promotion within should be based on individual merit — not on gender, color or creed. He was right of course. The only question now is, can such a legacy endure its latest challenge?
We believe that it can, and that all Aggies will be better off for having been shaped by such a place. They will be prepared to serve in a real-world that revolves around facts not feelings and prepared to succeed in it having learned that success and failure are the result of their abilities and decisions and not due to the patronage of their “allies” or the malevolence of invisible forces.
The prospects for such freedom may appear bleak, but this ain’t our first rodeo here on the post oak prairie. Our mission statement declares that “In the 21st century, Texas A&M University seeks to assume a place of preeminence among public universities while respecting its history and traditions.”
Not only can we assume further that place in the landscape of higher education, but also show others the way forward by making the needed course correction. Could a school so far from the front lines of the battle actually accomplish this? It wouldn’t be the first time.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Joe Bourgeois is the president of The Rudder Association Inc., a grassroots organization formed in 2020 to help steer a better course for education in Texas. Matt Poling is the recipient of the 1991 James Earl Rudder Outstanding Graduate award.