The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education and Free Enterprise

David W. Preston, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Wesleyan University Foundation, gave the following speech about the importance of a liberal arts education and free enterprise at The Keating Center Dedication Chapel.

I would like to add my thanks to Governor and Mrs. Keating for all they have done for the State of Oklahoma, for our country, and now for our college.  It is an honor for us at Oklahoma Wesleyan to be able to work with you to establish the Keating Center to give us the opportunity to promote and champion the fundamental principles that not only mean so much to you, but also have combined to make our country the most prosperous and most successful nation in the history of mankind.  We will endeavor to make you proud of what we’re accomplishing through our programming, outreach, and events at the Center.

I would also like to thank Aubrey McClendon, who cannot be with us here today.  Mr. McClendon was open to learning about who we are and what we do here at Oklahoma Wesleyan, came to believe in our mission and our people, and facilitated a major contribution from Chesapeake Energy Corporation toward construction of the Keating Center.  He has earned our gratitude and respect and we appreciate him very much.

I have been asked to speak on one of the fundamental precepts that will form the basis for what we do at the Keating Center – free enterprise. 

I have also been asked to relate the concept of free enterprise to a celebration of liberal arts education.  I must admit that relating the two ideas in one speech seems to me a bit a non-sequitur, given the preponderance of leftists in most liberal arts colleges today.  It seems rather like asking me to speak about Dr. Piper’s many fine attributes while incorporating into the same speech the concept of “how to be subtle, shy, and retiring while making a political argument.”

Mr. David Preston, Executive Director of the OKWU FoundationBut I’ll try.  I do love liberal arts education.  The notion of undergraduates taking a rigorous course of study in the arts and sciences, history, and the like is an enduring and appealing idea.  It is especially appealing when the school permits its students to discover the myriad sides to any issue and to debate, without fear of reprisal from the faculty or administration, the merits of the points of view that have been presented on that topic.  That type of open debate and discussion broadens the student’s mind, sharpens his intellect and develops his ability to think critically and logically.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening in the liberal arts community today.  My most recent exposure to a liberal arts school not named Oklahoma Wesleyan, is the highly-regarded liberal arts college in Upstate New York my son attended.  It is not an overstatement to say that if a student’s point of view in a class discussion was a conservative or religiously-based argument, the student dare not make it for fear of being demeaned in class and, worse, being graded down for his view.  John Maynard Keynes?  Fine, let’s discuss it.  Frederick Hayek?  Keep it to yourself.  If you wanted to bolster your argument in a religion class you’d better cite atheist Stephen Hawking.  Quoting C.S. Lewis would earn you derision, not to mention put your grade at risk.

How free can a conservative student in such an environment feel free to express his opinion when an Environmental Science professor – a well-regarded member of the faculty – compares the profits earned by oil and gas companies from drilling wells, and the royalties earned by local landowners who lease to those companies, to the profits made by meth dealers or the Mafia?  True story.

Happily, that is not the case here at Oklahoma Wesleyan.  We encourage debate.  We respect each other and all sides of the issue.  We can and do listen and be civil and debate the merits of anyone’s argument.  We do that because that is what good, decent Christian men and women do.  It’s what all men and women should and will do if they take to heart the Four P’s – the Primacy of Jesus Christ, the Priority of Scripture, the Pursuit of Truth and the Practice of Wisdom – that form the foundation of our educational experience.   And I would be remiss not to mention the newly-christened Three I’s (Information, Integrity, and Industriousness) promulgated last week here in Chapel by noted philanthropist and sit-down comedian Charles Drake.

We also maintain a core curriculum with requirements for graduation so that our students, upon graduation, will have the breadth of knowledge and skills to be prepared to meet the challenges of the world–to think logically, act Biblically, and succeed. 

So yes, I will celebrate liberal arts education, but not as practiced at Hamilton College or Yale or Wesleyan University in Connecticut; I will celebrate the manner by which we put into practice a sound liberal arts educational experience for all of our students, not just for those who agree with his or her professor.  I will celebrate Oklahoma Wesleyan.

At my son’s college, out of desperation, the few faculty conservatives on campus established an independent institute for the study of western civilization.  The administration would not allow them establish the center on campus, so they were forced to locate the institute in the local village, off campus.  At the institute, students and members of the community can experience true diversity of opinion and honest, open debate, and conservative students can present their opinions without fear of reprisal.  It has been a great success; I’m pleased to report.

At Oklahoma Wesleyan, we are establishing the Keating Center, not out of desperation, but out of momentum.  We are building on our success and taking it to the next level.

The Keating Center will enhance how we are able to prepare our students to succeed in the real world.  Most schools recoil in horror when one dares to broach the subjects, much less promote, capitalism, free enterprise, Constitutional liberty.  We don’t.  And as a fundamental American principle, the development of the free enterprise system in our country has been the engine that has driven almost inconceivable economic success and personal freedom.

Free enterprise, narrowly defined, means an economic system in which private businesses operate in competition, largely free from state control and excessive regulation.  More broadly, free enterprise encourages the type of competition that spurs individuals to take risks, innovate, build businesses, employ others and permit all of the above to prosper, burdened only by regulations and restrictions as may be necessary to correct an overreach. 

Inherent in this economic system is the right of all persons to acquire, dispose and be stewards of their own private property.  That’s the only way it works.  Collectivization of assets and central government planning will never be successful because no measure of government intrusion into the business affairs of the individual will ever result in the most efficient decisions being made with respect to that business or that private property.

In the free enterprise system, those decisions are made – and exchange transactions are effected – in almost every instance between free people who have the best interests of their companies, their shareholders, and their employees in mind, and are in all instances made by the people most qualified to do so.

Noble Laureate Milton Friedman put it this way:  “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”  That central fact is undeniably true, and it means that there cannot be a more efficient or successful economic system than free enterprise.

Critics of the free enterprise system will trot out the Robber Barons, or unfair labor practices in the Industrial Revolution, or Enron as examples that the system has failed.  Hardly.  It is part and parcel of the free enterprise system, when put in the hands of ethical and moral men and women like the ones we are training here at Oklahoma Wesleyan, that those wrongs are righted.  Monopolies are broken up.  Fair regulations are put in place.

And for every Enron, there are thousands of companies like ConocoPhillips, or Devon Energy, or Arvest Bank, where the owners and managers make thousands of decisions every day that work to benefit everyone with a stake in the business.  They contribute to their communities, they provide for their employees’ retirements, and, as importantly, they make profits, they grow, and they employ still more people.  No other economic system, certainly not the type of socialism so dear to the modern progressive, can offer that type of promise of economic success and upward mobility.

That promise is an essential element of the American Dream, but is under relentless attack.  Look at the volumes of new regulations that hinder, rather than promote, American business—literally tens of thousands of pages in the Federal Register—passed in the last few years.  Look at the grant of authority to the federal bureaucrats to write new regulations in the ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank bills.  Look at the intrusions on business operations being issued by the EPA, the Department of Labor, and the IRS every month.  Free enterprise – and thus the American Dream – is under attack.  We’re prepared to fight back.

And so thanks to the Keatings, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and our other donors, those of us involved with the Keating Center will boldly and unapologetically promote and champion free enterprise.  We are honored and excited to do so at this critical juncture in our country’s history.


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