THE HOYA: What led you to make this your last semester of teaching?

SCHALL: Not any one thing, of course. In a broad sense, the day comes for everyone when he must decide. Just when is the best time is prudential, a judgment. I have had a number of annoying health problems in recent years. I do not want to begin a semester that I cannot anticipate finishing. It seems fair to the [government] department to give them time to find a replacement. Jesuit superiors give good advice here. But it is not rocket science. What Socrates, Cicero and Scripture say on old age, as my students know, I take to be basically true. You make a decision and live with it. Many of my colleagues, just older than I, were required by law to retire at 70. But now we are the almost only country in the world that does not discriminate against age. I will be 85 in January. Thus, I have been able to teach 15 extra years, as it were. So it seems fitting to retire at this time.

THE HOYA: Do you have plans after you depart from campus in March?

SCHALL: Aside from the famous aphorism “The best laid plans of mice and men…” I will reside in the Jesuit House in Los Gatos, Calif., on the Bay-side slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is the large center into which I first entered the Order in 1948. I spent my first years from the time I was 20 to 24 there. It serves now as an infirmary, a residence and the offices of the Provincial of the West Coast Jesuit Province. A priest as priest does not “retire,” even if he is officially retired. I have a number of writing projects that I hope to continue once I am settled in. I have family in California and old friends. It is not forbidden for stray former students to visit the place should they find themselves in the vicinity.

THE HOYA: What is it about Georgetown that has kept you here for so many years?

SCHALL: Well, number one, I never had a better offer! Why would I want to go any place else? I have always had interesting and excellent students here. My colleagues in the government department have been good scholars and colleagues. The Jesuit Community has been a place where I could study and write at my “leisure,” to use Pieper’s famous Aristotelian word. Likewise, Georgetown is in Washington. I have found any number of extremely intelligent and effective men and women who are friends and guides over the years. Washington is larger than Georgetown, but still Georgetown is quite obviously at home here also, though there is always the question of how much we can be or are allowed to be “at home” anywhere in this world. This unwelcome for Catholics is becoming more and more an issue, alas.

THE HOYA: What are some of your fondest memories of Georgetown?

SCHALL: Amusingly, one of my fond memories was on the plane from California on which I flew to take up teaching here. I was on United or some airline that had one of those company magazines. The magazine that was in the seat that I was in had an article about the 10 most “drinking” universities in the country. Lo and behold, Georgetown made this “exclusive” list of 10! That must have been in late 1977. I confess that I have not seen any current list, but I was always amused by that article. I have not myself observed much of this drinking here, but I know that it can be more of a problem than it should be. We all should know, as it were, how to drink.

As I often mention, the beauty of the Healy building, in the morning sun, in snow, in fog, in spring flowers against its base or seen from 35th Street just before Visitation or from the Key Bridge is not easily to be forgotten. I think the campus is defined by the Healy building, and that is fixed in my memory.

But I suppose my fondest memories are those in a large class after I have finally succeeded in identifying each student by name and face, to see a student suddenly catch the drift of what Aristotle or Aquinas or Nietzsche or Plato was talking about.

THE HOYA: Is there some text or topic that you have found most interesting to teach?

SCHALL: The good thing about political philosophy is that it requires one to be open to everything, not just itself. I am more interested in texts, as it were, that open us to everything. Each of the books that I assign in courses has a particular place within the whole not only of the course but of the intellectual life itself. In my second course each semester, I have followed an eight-semester cycle. In the course of four years, a student will cover a semester on Aristotle, then Aquinas, on Plato, then Augustine, on classical theory, then medieval theory, natural law, then Roman Catholic political philosophy. My books “Another Sort of Learning,” “Students’ Guide to Liberal Learning,” “The Mind That Is Catholic” and “The Life of the Mind” are designed to call to students’ attention to books and ideas that they are not otherwise likely to encounter.

THE HOYA: In your personal studies of political philosophy, is there a topic that you still find confounding?

SCHALL: Well, far be it from Schall to say that there is nothing that he encounters that confounds him! That would be something of a divine claim. I have thought a lot about the mystery of evil. Most of my political philosophy books discuss this issue. Often, people just assume that everything will turn out all right no matter what they do. But it can hardly be like that. Plato’s basic problem has always haunted me ever since I was able coherently to formulate it. That is: “Is the world created in injustice?” It obviously seems to be unless we understand the lesson that is presented in the four eschatological myths in Plato. Josef Pieper’s new little book, “The Platonic Myths,” for which I wrote an introduction, seems to me to get at the heart of the matter.

Benedict XVI, himself a mind of truly superior intelligence and a careful student of Plato, never tires of reminding us that the one thing that God will not touch is our freedom. Thus, it is always possible to reject what we are. Otherwise we would not be what we are. Much of political philosophy is a frantic effort to invent ways to avoid the consequences of our freedom and what it is for, namely that we reach the end for which we exist, but freely. On no other condition could it be ours. This, too, is why we need to read Augustine so carefully and so often. He understood both the darker side of our nature and its highest purposes better than almost any one of our kind.

THE HOYA: What are the biggest changes that you have seen since you arrived here as a student?

SCHALL: Well, obviously, the campus has not really acquired much new land, especially anything close by. Hence, we have more buildings all over the place. Where I now live in Wolfington Hall was the back parking lot in my early years here, but before that, it was a gully of some sort, I think. Georgetown remains a rather medium sized school. Everything is now wired for sound and sight. What was once in paper is now online — announcements, grades, schedules, lectures, you name it.

I first came here in 1956 as a graduate student where I remained til 1960 when I finished my doctorate. Georgetown in those days had many great professors, and I tried to take or audit each one of them. Often they were Europeans who came here one way or another because of World War II. I think of Heinrich Rommen, Goetz Briefs, Josef Solterer, Louis Dupré, Wilfred de San, Jan Karski, Rudolph Allers, Martin D’Arcy, S. J., Thomas McTigue, Karl Cerny, Valerie Earle, William O’Brien, Edmund Walsh, S. J., Jeane Kirkpatrick, Henry Veatch, Hadley Arkes, Evron Kirkpatrick, Howard Penniman, Carol Quigley and any number of others. I suspect few of these names are known to today’s students, even to the faculty. Yet many of them were giants, and all were first-class.

Georgetown has long been known throughout the world, largely because of its law school, its medical school, the Foreign Service school and the language school. The arrival of Patrick Ewing and John Thompson II put the school on the map in another way. No one should underestimate the fame that comes to a school through athletics –— sometimes infamy, to be sure. Almost all the departments seem to have settled down to a good routine. No doubt the bureaucracy of the university, as elsewhere, is the most notable growth.

In a sense, there are three or four universities on the same campus. The university the students see, the university the faculty thinks it teaches in, the university the administration thinks it rules, and the university that is kept in physical shape by gardeners, drivers, cooks, craftsmen and other service units, not the least of which is the one that keeps the computers going. The one that keeps the water flowing may in fact be of less importance.

Yet a university is a place of the mind. The temptation of a place like Georgetown is politics. We are tempted to study politics before we pay much attention to either what is or what man is. I have been struck in recent years of how little of the basic names, dates and places of our tradition that students no longer know. Both the Bible and Shakespeare, not to mention Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Augustine, are often but vague names. We have good courses on these sources, but in the clutter of general education, much of civilization is lost.

THE HOYA: What about THE HOYA?

SCHALL: Over the years, I have had some 40 columns and essays in THE HOYA, plus a number of essays in other student journals. Probably one of the most influential essays I ever wrote first appeared in THE HOYA some years ago called, “What a Student Owes His Teacher.” This essay found its way into my book “Another Sort of Learning” and was, indeed, part of its inspiration. You would be surprised how many students have told me that the idea that they “owed” anything to teachers was new to them. Actually, a number of my Hoya essays have made it into other Schall books. Over the years, Hoya editors would invite me to do a column. I always appreciated that courtesy.

These student essays were written as reminders of the higher things that liberal education should be about. Very often they arose from what we were reading in class. I have long been convinced that much of what a student encounters about what is important he must find for himself in books that no one seems to tell him about. If I receive a letter or email from a student, I usually try to give him back something short to read, sometimes a JVS Hoya essay or a Schall on Chesterton essay, but something that we both, student and myself, ought to think about.

Sometimes I think the imagery of what a university is, the “ivory towers,” is not reflected on enough. The phrase is mostly said in derision, something similar to Plato’s description in Book six of “The Republic” about why the philosopher has a bad name in the city. Modern pressure to make college a training ground for certain crafts or professions, as well as the demands of departments for more time for the specialization, has left little time for reading and serious reflection. A student who spends 20 to 50 hours a week working, on a ball team, volunteering or goofing off simply misses what his time means here.

The university should be designed to protect us from the pressing world at least for a few years during which we are free to read and write and think. Even heavy class loads will interfere. Once a student leaves the front gates, he will be inundated with the world and the pressing problems of going forth to his life. The specter of the online university is no longer just over the horizon, the place where we only need a machine and an online connection. The essence of education is simple: a teacher, a student, a room and a book. I often cite Yves Simon’s remark that nothing can protect a young student from giving his soul to an unworthy professor. We have to seek the meaning of what is. This is the adventure that finally defines us.

THE HOYA: If you had one piece of advice to give to a freshman, what would it be?

SCHALL: That is easy. Students have often heard Schall’s basic advice: “Don’t major in current events.” Or as my older aphorism has it: “To be up to date is to be out of date.”

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