Categorized | Marquette

Distinguished intellectual’s farewell to Marquette

Posted on 16 April 2008 by Letter

Photos and Introduction by Robert Fafinski III

Dr. Christopher Wolfe, a Marquette political science professor for thirty years, has had a long-lasting impact on Marquette University. As The Warrior first reported on October 11, 2006, Wolfe will be leaving Marquette to form a university of his own following this May’s graduation ceremony. The author of many books, Wolfe’s staunch defense of the Catholic Faith has often stood in contrast to the many moral relativists at Marquette. Known for engaging, lecture-filled class sessions and epic exams, Wolfe’s Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties class have a unique reputation among the brave Marquette students who have endeavored to take them.

For students like senior in the College of Arts and Sciences LesleyAnn Neulreich, the tangible benefits of Wolfe’s class are clear. “It’s hard work,” she says, “It’s very intense- but upon completion, I walked out never feeling so much gratification–it’s very rewarding. I respect him as a teacher because he asks a lot of you, he’s very intelligent and has a unique lecture style I’ve never seen duplicated. It’s intimidating, but afterwards you see the purpose- the reward is greater than the time put in.”

Dr. Wolfe has been very influential to many members of The Warrior staff. He has written the following piece as a farewell address to Marquette. Also included is a gift Wolfe intends for the serious student: a reading list of the books he considers worthwhile.

by Dr. Christopher Wolfe

I have to begin my “Farewell to Marquette” column, which The Warrior has kindly invited me to write, by expressing my gratitude to many people.

First, I want to thank my colleagues at Marquette, especially the members of the political science department. Academic life is famous for its bitter infighting and backstabbing, and in thirty years at Marquette I have experienced none of that. I have been fortunate to be part of a department where my colleagues have been unusually intelligent, hardworking, amicable, and decent people. It’s also an unusually balanced department, in terms of political views and different approaches to the study of politics. We have sometimes differed and on rare occasions debates have even become (shall we say) “animated,” but civility and mutual respect have been the constant norm in our department.

Second, I have to thank the Marquette administrations over three decades, which have always treated me very fairly – even generously. Marquette has clear criteria for professional excellence, requiring a balance of good teaching and solid scholarship according to the prevailing standards of the various academic disciplines. While I think that these standards are sometimes problematic, there is much to be said for the clarity and fairness with which Marquette applies its criteria, and I am grateful for the respect and freedom it has accorded me.

Third, I want to thank my students at Marquette, and in particular the students in my constitutional law classes over the years. Every semester I tell students – because it’s true – how much I enjoy teaching constitutional law, not only because the material is intrinsically very interesting (combining both theoretical and practical questions), but also because those courses have attracted students who are above average in their intellectual ability and who are willing to work very hard – which is a blessing both for me and (as I remind them) themselves.

Fourth, even though I have been “retired” for eight years now, I have to thank the faculty and staff with whom I played “noon hoops” for many years. We got to know so well how we each played that it was impossible to just run up and down the court and play one-on-one – we had to actually play serious (team) basketball. Both the basketball and the friendships were great to have.

Having acknowledged at least some of the debts I owe (and there are many others I could thank), I guess a “farewell” also leaves me with the opportunity to offer students some advice.

First, remember that college is not primarily about vocational preparation. If you do a good job of pursuing a liberal education, the side-benefits include learning how to think clearly, read well, and express yourself well in writing and speech. That will prepare you for a plethora of jobs – it only leaves you with the admittedly challenging task of figuring out which one (or ones) to pursue. But the main goal of college is to develop your intellectual abilities and to come to understand and reflect on the “perennial” questions of human life, and especially the question “how should I live my life?”

Second, seek out a mentor who has a coherent view of education – if possible, one deeply rooted in the Western, especially Catholic, intellectual tradition. (Yes, there is much of value in non-Western and non-Catholic cultures, and we should seek those things out; but, in the final analysis, for those of us who are Christian, the achievements of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome should provide a framework for our study.) Seek such a mentor’s advice, not only as you choose courses, but as you go along in your study.

Third, seek out friends for whom the intellectual life (in the broadest sense) is important. Intellect isn’t everything, and much of your growth in personal maturity during college years will come in activities that are not primarily intellectual (sports, dating, friendships, service opportunities). But what a university especially has to offer you is a chance to develop your intellect, and, above all, a chance to develop a broad framework for understanding reality that should help you prepare for the rest of your life – as a worker, yes, but more importantly, as a “lifelong student,” as a citizen, as a friend, as a husband or wife, as a father or mother, and as a person – ultimately, as a child of God, as a member of the Church, and as another link in the handing down of the faith to future generations. You may know other people who are smart and get good grades, but they won’t necessarily be the ones I’m talking about (though they may be). It’s the people who genuinely have the gift of “wonder” – the ones who understand the gift that life is, the gift that our human capacity to know and love is, and who respond by living a life in pursuit of “the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

Fourth, prepare for your likely future marriage well – that is, learn how to love, by coming to know the “person.” Understand that sex before marriage almost certainly will make it more difficult to think clearly and act selflessly. Don’t trivialize sex by treating it as “taking” from others, or as even as a “giving” of anything less than your full self for your whole life. Exalt it by reserving it for the unique one-flesh communion of love and life called marriage. And when you are married, don’t pass up the wonderful opportunity to have a bunch of kids – they are truly an extraordinary blessing from God.

Fifth, be grateful to your parents (and those who came before them), whose sacrifices have made it possible for you to have this extraordinary opportunity, which so many other people have not had. Repay them by using your time in college very well.

Lastly, spend your time in college as what it is: a preparation for the rest of your life. It’s not a last opportunity to live an irresponsible life of “fun.” In fact, it’s more an opportunity to learn how to have fun living a full and responsible life. Anyone who has the opportunity to spend four years pursuing a liberal education should feel tremendously blessed – just as I should, and do, feel blessed to have had the good fortune to be a part of Marquette for these thirty years.

And as a parting gift to students, Dr. Wolfe requested that The Warrior run the recommended reading list he’s compiled in his many years of study. Feel free to cut this guide out.

Dr. Wolfe’s Recommended Reading LIST

Fiction

Pride and Prejudice (and everything else) by Jane Austen

Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow

Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoevsky

The Cypresses Believe in God by Jose Maria Gironella

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Children of Men by P.D. James

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

The Viper’s Tangle by Francois Mauriac

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller

Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy

The First Circle and The Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitzyn

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray

Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Kristan Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Present Value by Sabin Willett

A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

Non-Fiction

Witness by Whitaker Chambers

Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexnor (biography of George Washington)

The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington

The Hidden Stream and In Soft Garments by Ronald Knox (and the collections of his sermons)

The Great Divorce, The Abolition of Man and Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Apologia Pro Vita Sua, A Grammar of Assent, The Idea of a University, and On the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman (and his collections of sermons)

A Parliament of Whores, Holidays in Hell and What’s Wrong with the World by P.J. O’Rourke

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy

Belief and Faith, Leisure the Basis of Culture, The Four Cardinal Virtues, and Reality and the Good by Josef Pieper

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

Witness to Hope by George Weigel

Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla

Hooking Up by Tom Wolfe

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Paul Hass Says:

    My son attends Marquette and will finish this semester. He considered Dr. Wolfe an outstanding educator, a professor well-described by the student mentioned in the article. His advice is timeless and spot on. When someone like Dr. Wolfe gives such advice his students listen because of the great respect they have for him. Their parents should listen as well, for the lessons are for all of us.

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