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Dr. Kaiser: On Being a College Pioneer, Once More

Posted: July 7, 2017

By Thomas J. Kaiser
Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
Address at New England Reception
July 1, 2017


In 1969 the founders of Thomas Aquinas College published the school’s governing document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education. I was a junior in high school at the time and was considering the options for a college education. The prospects at the time did not look good. Many of my relatives and friends who had gone to Catholic colleges or universities lost their faith. The secular universities were in a state of turmoil. At campuses such as UC Berkeley there were protests and demonstrations by students, bringing education to a halt. It was the time of the Vietnam War, and there was much anti-American sentiment on university campuses. It was also a time of great social change and moral upheaval. I began to wonder whether college education was really desirable. Was I going to gain from it or suffer from it?

Fortunately, friends of my family had heard about a new college starting up and had invited one of its founders, Dr. John W. Neumayr, to come and speak about it. Dr. Neumayr spoke about the crisis in modern education which is rooted in skepticism and ultimately culminates in nihilism. Modern universities, even the Catholic ones, also promoted a notion of academic freedom which is commensurate with this skepticism. Academic freedom doesn’t just mean the ability to pursue your own interests. It means that every doctrine and statement about the way things are is open to doubt and possible rejection. The crisis in Catholic education came about, in part, because of the desire of Catholic educators to conform to the secular model and standards of education. They accepted this notion of academic freedom as the governing principle and rejected the notion of being guided by the teaching Church.

The remedy proposed by our founders was not something new; it was something old, as old as the existence of the university itself. It is Catholic liberal education. Liberal here is not opposed to conservative. Liberal education is ordered to making one free as opposed to being a slave. This freedom consists in knowing and, finally, in knowing the highest things, and ordering oneself to the highest good in which our happiness ultimately exists. We think this knowledge is achievable and our program is ordered to this wisdom. In four years of college the students can only make a good beginning in the pursuit of wisdom. Nevertheless, they get a taste of wisdom from the authors we read. We think some of the authors we study have achieved preeminent wisdom, particularly our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas. Our program successfully prepares our students for all walks of life and we are very proud of what our graduates have achieved. They remain very grateful to us and supportive of the College. In fact, our alumni rank among the highest in the nation for giving to their alma mater.

To give you an idea of how this education prepares one for further studies after graduation, I would like to tell you of my experience in pursuing a doctorate in biology after graduating from the College. I felt better prepared in many respects than most graduate students. I knew the philosophical principles that modern science is based upon. Other students received these principles implicitly in the way they were taught and had never given them any reflection, or considered any alternatives. I had also studied Aristotle’s treatise on the soul. I knew how to study and define the soul, how to distinguish sense from imagination and intellect. I understood Aristotle’s argument for the immortality of the human soul and how to distinguish man from other animals. I knew the difference between a probable argument and a demonstrative one. I knew the difference between fact and theory. None of the students I knew in graduate school had even taken a course in logic. Shouldn’t that be a requirement for scientists? All of the graduate students in biology accepted evolution as a fact but none that I knew had read Darwin. I was extremely surprised by that.

The education I received at Thomas Aquinas College made it possible for me to think more deeply about the things I was learning and more able to receive that knowledge. You can see how this would apply analogously to almost any field of study. Our graduates have been extremely successful in any field of study they desire to pursue.

Forty-six years have passed since the College opened its doors in 1971. The crisis in American colleges and universities, in my view, has only gotten worse. Our founders predicted that academic freedom would lead to a kind of tyranny:

“Indeed, it would seem that the government of any institution by rules which prescind (or pretend to prescind) from all differences of belief, or which negate in principle the possibility of governing by the truth, must of necessity be tyrannical.”

It has gotten to the point recently where students appear to have tyrannical power over the faculty and administration, telling them who can teach and who can speak on campus. Hence, the remedy, liberal education, is more important than ever.

From 1971 to 1978 the college leased a beautiful Claretian seminary in Malibu Canyon. In 1978 the college moved to its present location and has been in the process of developing the campus from what used to be a cattle ranch. We still have not completed the building projects. Nevertheless, our student body reached its desired size in 2006. From the beginning we have planned to limit the size of the college to approximately 350 students in order to maintain the kind of community between faculty and students necessary for this kind of education. Even though we had reached maximum size over 10 years ago, we were not actively looking to start another campus. We planned to finish the development of the present campus and grow the endowment to the desired size before looking for another campus.

It seems that God had other plans for us. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of the gift of this campus to us by the National Christian Foundation (NCF). Through the help of friends such as the Dowdys, Emmitt Mitchell, and NCF, this campus came to us; we were not looking for it. We are overwhelmed with the beauty of this campus and with the work that its founder, D.L. Moody, accomplished here. We know that people with various connections to this beautiful campus have been praying that it serve the purpose for which it was created, the education of young men and women who have a desire for the pursuit of wisdom under the light of faith. We humbly and gratefully accept that responsibility. I know that these tutors and the administrators of the College will devote all of their energy to making this a success. Contingent upon the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, we will begin in the fall of 2018.

However, we cannot do this ourselves; we cannot do it alone. We need your prayers and support. More importantly, we need students. Even though we cannot formally advertise for the fall of 2018 until we receive approval from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, interested students should apply now to Thomas Aquinas College. Should the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approve the Northfield campus, students accepted to the College can transfer their acceptance to Northfield.

Finally, I had the privilege of being in the first graduating class of the College. It was a wonderful experience, an exciting adventure. I know many of the founders of the College thought of the first few years of the College as its Golden Age. I think this is because it is such an exciting time for the school and because the faculty and students get to know each other so well. No other class has the opportunity to get as much undivided attention from the faculty. Moreover, the first class sets the tone of the College for subsequent classes. You are never an underclassman! You classmates become your closest friends; you have no choice! This opportunity is rarer than once in a life time. I strongly encourage those of you who are entering your senior year of high school to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

Dr. Thomas Kaiser at New England Reception 07-01-2017
Kathleen Murphy (’16) on integrated curriculum

“I think about the entire world differently since I have come here. I have learned certain truths, whether in the natural sciences or philosophy, that I never would have imagined I could know.”

– Kathleen Murphy (’16)

Cheshire, Connecticut

“This is truly a Catholic center of learning because it reverberates with the ecclesial life of faith, a faith which unfolds the richness of reason and is given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, and through prayer, acts of charity, and a passion for justice.”

– The Most Rev. J. Michael Miller

Archbishop of Vancouver

Former Secretary, Congregation for Catholic Education