Thomas S. Martin

Thomas S. Martin

Thomas S. Martin is 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.

Would an Admiral Make a Good Superintendent of a University?

Thomas Martin

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?     *

Tuesday, 04 June 2019 13:09

Who Is An American

Who Is an American?

Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin is 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.

Ancient Greek wisdom: Man by nature desires to know. Every generation is born ignorant.

So I asked, two sections of twenty-five students in Introduction of Philosophy, if they had read The Declaration of Independence.

In the first section, four answered favorably and in the second, six.

Ten out of fifty.

I then asked who could tell me the origins of their Rights in the Declaration of Independence.

Blank stares.

This is fertile ground, a teaching moment: it is important to teach the oldest things to the youngest of people.

Next class, each student is armed with a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Look at these three sentences:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Questions for discussion:

Who are “one people”?

From whom are the Founding Fathers dissolving their political bands?

What truths are self-evident?

From where do Rights originate?

What does “unalienable” mean?

What are the order of the Rights?

Do Rights necessarily have to be in this order?

Who is the Author of Life?

Is the life you claim to be your own, your own?

Is Liberty the same as freedom?

Why is it “the pursuit of Happiness” and not just “Happiness”?

Who is an American by Right?

Who has the Right to be an American?

Given that a person born in the geographical boundaries of the United States is an American, is there also a spiritual sense of what it is to be an American?

Could an American by birth fail to uphold the spirit of America by not treating fellow citizens equally?

Are all men equal in physical and intellectual abilities?

Are all men equal in income?

Are all men equal in education?

Can education be given to man?

If all men are not equal in physical and intellectual abilities, income or achievement in school, in what sense are we equal?

If a person does not hold these Rights to be self-evident, is he still an American and guaranteed these Rights?

What is the difference between all men being equal in identity and all men being equal before their Creator?

Was it wise for Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers to broadcast the Declaration of Independence beyond the shores of America?

What ought Americans do if their Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are denied by the government?

How long did the American Revolution last?

Is there still a revolution going on in America?

It takes several minutes for students to answer from where their Rights come; some say government, someone says God.

If the government were the author of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, what might the government do with the Rights of citizens?

Take them away.

Good, that necessarily follows. This is a teaching moment. Students making connections.

What is the Bill of Rights?

Blank stares.     *

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