To the End, Donald Kagan Argues for the Primacy of the West
By PETER MONAGHAN
SINce 1969, Donald Kagan has been an admired scholar and sought-after professor at
Yale University, but a consistently
contentious figure, too.
At the end of next month, the
81-year-old Mr. Kagan will retire
and become a professor emeritus,
11 years after he was granted Yale’s
prestigious academic rank of Sterling Professor—in his case, of classics and history.
Born in Lithuania but raised by
his mother in Brooklyn, N. Y., Mr.
Kagan was the first member of his
family to attend college. He studied classics and history at Brooklyn College and Brown University
on the way to obtaining a doctorate in history at Ohio State University, in 1958.
Since then he has become an es-
teemed scholar of ancient Greece
and of the history of diplomacy.
His stature derives, above all, from
his four-volume account of the
Peloponnesian War, the series of
conflicts that brought the Athe-
nian empire to its end. George
Steiner called the series, published
by Cornell University Press from
1969 to 1991, quite likely “the fore-
most work of history produced in
North America in this century.” In
2005 the National Endowment for
the Humanities accorded Mr. Ka-
gan the high honor of giving the
annual Jefferson Lecture in the
one over his proposal, in the early
1990s, when he was dean of Yale
College, that the study of Western civilization should be central
to a Yale education. Cries of protest greeted his plan to create a
Western-civilization course with
$20-million in funds from Lee M.
Bass, a philanthropist and Yale
alumnus, who withdrew his gift
when the controversy persisted.
The loss still nettles Mr. Kagan.
In his formal “farewell lecture,” in
But he has no doubt about the
outcome of the so-called culture
wars of the 1990s. “Totally lost!”
he exclaims, sounding rather like a
vanquished general on a Pelopon-
Mr. Kagan’s disaffection with
modern higher education has a
long history. In 1969, while he was
teaching at Cornell University,
armed black student protesters
occupied a campus building and
demanded curriculum changes.
That so irked him that he not only
moved to Yale but also renounced
his liberal-Democratic outlook.
He views that era’s student un-
rest with a jaundiced eye. For him,
campus opposition to the Vietnam
War derived not from principle
but from guilt at leaving the fight
to draftees, who lacked college de-
ferments: “And how do you square
that circle? You have to say that it’s
not cowardly or indecent to avoid
taking on the risks that everybody
else is taking; in fact, it’s noble.”
Sadly, he argues, protesters and
many of their professors further
compensated: “They developed a
stake in being hostile to the Unit-
ed States in the first instance, but
also to the culture that shaped the
United States—that is, the West.”
At the same time, American
higher education, as he saw it, suf-
fered from political self-replication
in the professoriate. “And that’s a
complete disaster,” he says, “be-
cause the critical part of education
is precisely controversy.”
That stance has long attract-
ed Yale students to Mr. Kagan’s
courses, particularly his seminars
on classical civilization. Some-
times called a “one-man univer-
sity,” he “is not afraid to stake his
own position, but he takes a genu-
ine interest in what students have
to say,” says Harry Graver, a junior
from New York who is studying
classics and humanities.
PEOPLE IN ACADEME
It’s No Act: Athletic Director Tries Out a New Role
or at chronicle.com/people
n James G. Stavridis, the U.S. Navy admiral who was NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of
the U.S. European Command from 2009
until this week, will become dean of the
Fletcher School at Tufts University after
he retires from the Navy this summer.
The current dean of the school of international affairs, Stephen W. Bosworth,
who has had the job since 2001, will retire. Admiral Stavridis has master’s and
doctoral degrees from the school.
n Vincent W. Stewart, who was a senior
program officer for the youth program
of the James Irvine Foundation, began
work this month as vice chancellor for
governmental relations at the California
n Eva Chatterjee-Sutton,
a former dean of stu-
dents at Bennington Col-
lege, has been named
vice president and dean
of student life at Wash-
ington & Jefferson Col-
lege. She will start on
July 1, succeeding
Byron P. McCrae, who
has been in that role since 2008.
n David D. Perlmutter, director of the
School of Journalism & Mass Commu-
nication at the University of Iowa and a
contributing writer for The Chronicle, will
become dean of Texas Tech University’s
College of Media and Communication on
July 1. He will succeed Jerry C. Hudson,
who is retiring.
n Thomas R. Kepple Jr., who will retire as
president of Juniata College this month,
will succeed Ann Die Hasselmo as president of the American Academic Leadership Institute in July. She is retiring.
n Gerald P. Koocher, a
professor of psychology
and associate provost
at Simmons College, in
Boston, and a former
president of the American Psychological Association, will become
dean of the College of
Science and Health at
DePaul University in July. He will replace
Jerry Cleland, who has served as interim dean since the college was established, in 2011.
n Steven R. DiSalvo, president of Marian University, in Wisconsin, will become
president of Saint Anselm College in
July. He will succeed the Rev. Jonathan
DeFelice, who will retire this summer after 24 years of leading the institution.
Patrick C. Haden, who is 60,
is athletic director at the University of Southern California. Mr.
Haden, a novice as a singer and
actor, recently performed in the
musical The Most Happy Fella
as a way to encourage athletes to
get involved in campus activities
besides sports. Here’s his story, as
told to Sydni Dunn.
n The Rev. Lawrence Biondi, who has
had conflicts with the faculty of Saint
Louis University over governance issues,
has said he will retire as president. He
made the announcement this month at
a celebration of his 25 years of leadership. A search for his replacement will
start this fall.
n Rod Smolla, president of Furman University, will step down from the position
at the end of June, for personal reasons.
He has held the job since 2010. Carl F.
Kohrt, a member of Furman’s Board of
Trustees and a past chief executive of
Battelle Memorial Institute, will serve as
AS the athletic director at University of Southern California, I’m in charge
of about 650 student athletes,
who I consider among the best in
the world. It’s my job to see that
they have a well-rounded college
career, just not an athletic one.
When they leave the university, I
want them to be
more than just
I’ve consistently encouraged
them to step out of their comfort
zones and try something new on
campus. So I decided to put my
money where my mouth is.
“What is the most uncomfort-
able thing I could possibly do?”
And I did so 10 times this se-
mester, taking on the role of Post-
man No. 2 in the university’s
spring production of The Most
Happy Fella, a musical about a
Napa Valley grape-grower who
courts a San Francisco waitress
through the mail.
I had pitched the idea of my be-
ing involved in a performance to
the dean of the theater school,
and a year later, she asked if I was
interested in being in a play. I
thought I would step
on stage, say a few
lines, and walk off.
me, it was a musical—and I had
WHAT I LEARNED
the School of Dramatic Arts’ Bing
Theatre. I kept repeating to myself:
“Just don’t forget your first line.”
I didn’t. What I did do, though,
was find a part of the campus I
My goal in this venture was
never to trade my day job for a
chance at Broadway; it was about
the students. After receiving their
overwhelming support, with one
team or another attending each
performance, I believe my mes-
sage was conveyed.
College is the time in a student’s life when they have the resources to branch out and experience new things. They just need
to open the aperture a little more
and see what’s out there.