Georgetown University Government Professor Patrick Deneen recently announced his decision to resign from his position at Georgetown to join Notre Dame’s political science department this fall. On January 23, Deneen announced his decision on the online journal FrontPorchRepublic.com, citing his dissatisfaction with his experience at Georgetown and a personal desire to leave the Washington, D.C. area.
In 2006, Deneen founded the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, which he described as “a campus organization that would offer a different perspective, one centered on the moral underpinnings of liberal learning that are a precondition for the continued existence of liberal democracy, and one that would draw upon the deep wisdom contained in the Catholic humanistic tradition.”
In his announcement, he wrote that while “heartened and overjoyed” by an enthusiastic student response to the forum’s work, he had become discouraged by lack of official recognition from Georgetown’s administration and a lack of engagement from his fellow faculty members.
“Working alongside strangers was not how I’d hoped my life as a teacher and member of an academic community would be like,” he wrote.
Deneen contrasted hiring practices at the two Catholic universities. “Notre Dame has recruited me explicitly because they regard me as someone who can be a significant contributor to its mission and identity, particularly the Catholic identity of the institution,” he stated. This mission-based approach “is generally not a consideration at Georgetown.”
Citing a 2007 AMERICA magazine article by Notre Dame History Professor Fr. Wilson Miscamble, CSC, on the importance of hiring Catholic professors to preserving a university’s religious character, Deneen argued that hiring practices are vital to maintaining a university’s religious identity.
“Without such a criterion, Georgetown increasingly and inevitably remakes itself in the image of its secular peers, ones that have no internal standard of what a university is for other than the aspiration of prestige for the sake of prestige, its ranking rather than its commitment to Truth,” he wrote. “Its Catholic identity, which should inform every activity of the community, from curriculum to dorm life to faculty hiring, has increasingly been cordoned off to optional activities of Campus Ministry.”
”I don’t doubt that there will shortcomings at Our Lady’s University,” Deneen concluded. “But, there are at least some comrades-in-arms to share in the effort.”
While expressing his regret at leaving Georgetown, Deneen also expressed a personal desire to enjoy a “sense of community” lacking in the D.C. area. “It is a bittersweet decision, but my family and I are looking forward to living in a community that is less hectic and less dazzled by the lights of the imperial city, and contributing with every ounce of energy to the mission and contributions of Our Lady’s University,” he wrote.
Prior to joining Georgetown’s faculty, Deneen taught at Princeton University from 1997 to 2005 and served as assistant and principal speechwriter to Joseph Duffey, director of the United States Information Agency from 1995 to 1997. His interests include ancient and American political thought, democratic theory, literature and politics, and religion and politics.
Georgetown’s student newspaper, the HOYA, noted Deneen’s departure. A separate HOYA column by Georgetown junior and Tocqueville Forum Student Fellow Stephen Wu argued that Deneen’s departure “put the question of this university’s character squarely into focus.”
“In a word, it is a tragedy that brilliant Catholic academics who wish to integrate their religious convictions into their vocation no longer feel welcome in Washington,” Wu wrote. “We will never go back to being a small religious school. To have the space compressed, however, for those who would defend the old ways, and to squeeze them out slowly is the best example of eradicating intellectual diversity from a place that ostensibly prizes free discourse and thought.
The HOYA also published a letter to the editor by sophomore Chris Mooney, who mourned the loss of Deneen’s work to the Georgetown community.
“Those who have never sat in a lecture by Deneen have never experienced the spell-binding, eye-opening experience that makes every other class drudgery… I count Professor Deneen as having been the singular reason I think of Georgetown as a school that changes lives,” Mooney wrote.
Michael Desch, chair of Notre Dame’s political science department, extended a warm welcome to Deneen.
“We were thrilled to be able to hire Professor Deneen,” he told THE ROVER. “Hiring senior people is never an easy matter. He’s a terrific political theorist with a major interest in constitutional law, which is a new focus of our department. He’s also a very active public intellectual. His attraction to Notre Dame and its Catholic mission make it a match made in heaven. My colleagues and I in political science couldn’t be happier.”
Political Science Professor Vincent Munoz echoed Desch’s welcome.
“Deneen is a first-rate scholar who writes broadly and philosophically about fundamental questions of justice, law, and the common good,” he said. “In addition to his impressive scholarly profile and reputation, we were especially interested in recruiting him to Notre Dame because he is outstanding and dedicated teacher. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on Professor Deneen’s undergraduate lecture courses; he is a fantastic teacher who encourages his students to think deeply about the great texts and great ideas of the Western tradition. He will be teaching in our constitutional studies and political theory tracks.”
In an interview with THE ROVER, Deneen said that though he will officially begin his position at Notre Dame in the fall he will not begin teaching until the Spring 2013 semester. “I expect, however, to be immediately active in campus life,” he said.
Deneen said that he hopes to teach a wide variety of courses at all levels.
“I’m keen to teach freshman seminars, which have been my best classroom experiences and long friendships,” he said. “I hope to teach introductory courses in political theory, which can often inspire students to an interest in a subject they didn’t realize had shaped the world in which they live. I would love to teach two of my favorite classes from my time at Georgetown: ‘The End of Education,’ about what a university education is for, and ‘The American Regime,’ a study of the influence of various strands of American political thought upon our way of life.”
Claire is a senior history major from Welsh Family Hall. She enjoys puns and long walks on the beach. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.