Bidding the Hilltop Farewell
Letter to the Editor
Published: Monday, January 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 11:01
To the Editor:
It was strange to read the article about my departure from Georgetown for Notre Dame (The Hoya, A1, "Deneen to Leave GU at Semester's End," Jan. 24). I recognized some of my words, yet I did not recognize myself in them. I hope I will be allowed a few more words before I leave at least to balance an imbalanced picture.
I will admit that I was nursing some wounded pride at not having been as enthusiastically grasped by Georgetown at the time I was being courted by Notre Dame. Like a spurned lover, I could see only the shortcomings of an old girlfriend. Advice to students: Never speak to the press the day after you have become The Aggrieved Party.
I have had much joy in my seven years at Georgetown. The classrooms filled with laughter at my bad jokes. The late-night conversations fueled by bourbon. Retreats with students to Virginia's rolling hills. Showing off my children to students at basketball games, and vice-versa. The pride when you would applaud for us in our ridiculous robes at convocation. Endless, intricate, beautiful conversations.
Georgetown is a wonderful place to be a student, and doubtless a Jesuit, but it can be a hard place for the occasional professor who longs for Georgetown also to be his or her community. For him or her, it can be a fragmented place marked by the part-time presence of faculty speaking many jargons and needing to get to far-flung homes before the crescendo of rush hour. Too rarely do we come together to discuss things that matter — such as what we aspire for our students to become, what a Georgetown education should be, whether a whole can be made out of our many parts.
This fragmentation is one of the main reasons I lament the dearth of Catholic identity at Georgetown. Without the glue of a shared mission, academia too easily becomes innumerable silos of separated specialists. That mission for Georgetown is Catholic and Jesuit — the education of the whole person. If a faculty is educating in parts, who is to attend to the whole?
I had hoped to generate more of those conversations by starting the Tocqueville Forum. Alexis de Tocqueville taught of the vital necessity in liberal democracies for a robust form of community to overcome the twin temptations toward individualism, on the one hand, and a helpless reliance upon the State on the other. Democracy, he argued, desperately needs community to foster confident citizenship. If we cannot aspire to such community on a campus as small as ours, what hope have we when we leave the front gates?
I leave here in significant part because of the unbearable contradiction of teaching about community in the absence of one. In the best moments, I have had that experience with many of you, my treasured students. But you keep leaving and we remain, and only some deeper bond among those who remain can somewhat soften the blow of your constant departures.
Now it's my departure that looms, and there's no softening that blow. I will miss the Hilltop, and I thank her for all she has given me and hope that in some small way I have given something in return.
Patrick J. Deneen
Associate professor of government