Friday, October 27, 2023
Here is the text of my tribute to Alan Charles Kors, Professor of History, Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, delivered at the 2023 Philip Merrill Award dinner of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. -- Robert P. George
Alan Charles Kors is our Moses.
For forty years—more than forty years—we have been wandering in the desert, trying to make our way to the promised land—a land of free inquiry, truth-seeking scholarship, and non-indoctrinating teaching. Alan has led us. Inspired us. Encouraged us. Exhorted us. Supported us. And, when we have been a stiff-necked people, reproved us and rebuked us.
He has led us and inspired us by example as well as by precept. Was there ever a more truly independent thinker? A more determined truth-seeker? A bolder or more courageous truth-speaker? A more dedicated and honest teacher?
Certainly not in our time.
And where would the higher education reform movement be without our Moses? Although we have not—yet—made our way to the promised land, without Alan’s work and witness—without his willingness to sacrifice and even make himself an object of anger and animosity—we would likely not be making our way at all. We probably would have been drowned in the all-too-red sea of toxic ideologies that have afflicted academia since the hostile takeover of much of it several decades ago.
No one in this room needs reminding that those ideologies are more toxic today than they ever have been. Academia and the broader intellectual culture are full of ideas (or what pass in these sad times for ideas) so inane, so obviously irrational, that they would have been regarded as the stuff of low comedy as recently as five years ago. But there is a strong, vital movement fighting back. They—we—are building valuable infrastructure within existing institutions and building new academic and para-academic institutions to replace those that are too far gone to save and reform. Organizations like ACTA, the NAS, FIRE, Heterodox Academy, and the Academic Freedom Alliance are doing the Lord’s work. They will be joined soon by the new American Academy of Sciences and Letters. Programs and institutes and whole schools dedicated to academic freedom, integrity, and excellence are springing up all over the country at institutions large and small, religiously-affiliated and non-sectarian, private and public.
Although it remains distant, we are, finally, beginning to glimpse the promised land.
I doubt that Alan or I or perhaps anyone in the room here tonight will have the blessing of actually entering the promised land. If anyone deserves to live long enough to enter it, it is Alan; but I will leave that question between God and him, the two of them having a rather complicated relationship. But I thank God that Alan and I and all of you are getting a glimpse. We know that over the horizon there is indeed a promised land, and it can and will be reached and entered. A Joshua of our movement will finally lay siege to the decadent Jericho that is contemporary academia. Although its ramparts seem robust, its walls are, in truth, thin and weak. The trumpets will sound, and those walls will come tumbling down.
And when our intellectual descendants enter that land flowing with the milk of intellectual freedom and the honey of scholarly excellence and academic integrity, they will shout and sing of Alan Charles Kors, the visionary, tenacious Moses who led his people through the grimmest of deserts, never abandoning faith in the highest intellectual standards and noblest moral ideals, never giving up hope, even when our little band of reformers seemed weakest and most vulnerable. “For,” if I may quote Deuteronomy, “no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that he did in the sight of all Israel.”