Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeff Sessions

The Enduring Value of Enduring Questions

In an October 22 letter to Carole Watson, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, questions grants the agency has issued to consider questions like “What is the good life and how do I live it?” Sessions “[affirms] the value of the humanities” but insists that “care and discipline must be exercised by any government agency that decides to favor some projects over others.”

I am surprised and disappointed that a conservative who “[affirms] the value of the humanities” would target the Enduring Questions program, which supports the development of courses that enable “undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.” In my own Enduring Questions course–“What is Love?”–which I offer at Ursinus College, students and faculty read, in their entirety, among other things, Plato’s Symposium, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. The grant, of a little less than $25,000, freed me up to develop, assess, and improve the course, not a part of my regular offerings as a professor in our politics department, over a two-year period.

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In an October 22 letter to Carole Watson, Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, questions grants the agency has issued to consider questions like “What is the good life and how do I live it?” Sessions “[affirms] the value of the humanities” but insists that “care and discipline must be exercised by any government agency that decides to favor some projects over others.”

I am surprised and disappointed that a conservative who “[affirms] the value of the humanities” would target the Enduring Questions program, which supports the development of courses that enable “undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental concern of human life addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.” In my own Enduring Questions course–“What is Love?”–which I offer at Ursinus College, students and faculty read, in their entirety, among other things, Plato’s Symposium, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. The grant, of a little less than $25,000, freed me up to develop, assess, and improve the course, not a part of my regular offerings as a professor in our politics department, over a two-year period.

My course is not an anomaly. The Enduring Questions grant program exists, as the description shows, to put students in touch with fundamental human questions and those who offer help in pursuing them. As the National Association of Scholars (NAS), an organization founded to “confront the rise of campus political correctness” has recognized, the Enduring Questions program is the opposite of politically correct because it engages students in a struggle “over the core issues of the human condition,” in “debating, weighing evidence, and conversing with others” about those issues. And as NAS President Peter Woods reminds us, the NAS journal Academic Questions includes the question how “do we recenter liberal education on the enduring questions of the human condition?” in its statement of editorial purpose. Enduring Questions is the very program critics of the politicization of higher education have been looking for.

Of course, some classes recommended by faculty review committees will fulfill the purpose of the program much better than others. But there is no question that over the history of the Enduring Questions program, more undergraduates than would otherwise have been reached have been engaged in challenging courses, asked to reflect on important, timeless questions, and encouraged to take seriously what great books have to say about them.

So when Senator Sessions asks whether $25,000 should be spent so that students can ask “what is the good life, and how do I live it?” the NEH and conservatives should, for once, be of one mind in answering “Hell yes.”

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Why is Leahy Blocking a Bill to Track Down Sex Offenders?

The media narrative for the past month has been that the GOP is waging a “war on women.” But one story that’s fallen through the cracks is the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions last spring to crack down on fugitive sex offenders. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in January, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is now reportedly blocking it from full Senate consideration. Big Government reports:

The Act was designed to grant the U.S. Marshals administrative subpoena power so that they could better investigate sex offenders who had not registered as required by law. The FBI already had similar authority for health care and child crime cases; the Secret Service already had similar authority for cases involving threats to officials. …

In January, the bill was reintroduced and passed through the Judiciary Committee. And now, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has put a hold on it, blocking it from full Senate consideration.

There’s no good excuse for such a hold. Administrative subpoena power is necessary because it is faster moving than traditional subpoena power; it is frequently used in emergency situations. And there is no greater emergency than tracking down sex offenders, who have the highest recidivism rate of any criminal subgroup.

You have to wonder what Leahy’s reasons are for holding up the bill, which is non-controversial, and would presumably have bipartisan support. Sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, and there should be universal interest in aiding efforts to track down convicted predators who are trying to dodge registration laws.

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The media narrative for the past month has been that the GOP is waging a “war on women.” But one story that’s fallen through the cracks is the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions last spring to crack down on fugitive sex offenders. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in January, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is now reportedly blocking it from full Senate consideration. Big Government reports:

The Act was designed to grant the U.S. Marshals administrative subpoena power so that they could better investigate sex offenders who had not registered as required by law. The FBI already had similar authority for health care and child crime cases; the Secret Service already had similar authority for cases involving threats to officials. …

In January, the bill was reintroduced and passed through the Judiciary Committee. And now, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has put a hold on it, blocking it from full Senate consideration.

There’s no good excuse for such a hold. Administrative subpoena power is necessary because it is faster moving than traditional subpoena power; it is frequently used in emergency situations. And there is no greater emergency than tracking down sex offenders, who have the highest recidivism rate of any criminal subgroup.

You have to wonder what Leahy’s reasons are for holding up the bill, which is non-controversial, and would presumably have bipartisan support. Sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, and there should be universal interest in aiding efforts to track down convicted predators who are trying to dodge registration laws.

Democrats have recently been attacking the GOP for opposing new provisions in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The law typically has bipartisan support, but this year Democrats have made additions that would create loopholes for illegal immigrants and other measures that Republicans believe are unnecessary or irrelevant to the law’s purpose.

But the bill proposed by Sessions has crucial practical implications when it comes to preventing and prosecuting violence against women and children. This isn’t just a symbolic proposal, like some of the “poison pill” provisions Democrats added to the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization can be characterized as. Big Government writes:

Back in 2006, when considering the predecessor law to the Finding Fugitive Sex Offenders Act, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pointed to the tragedy of Dylan and Shasta Groene, who were abducted by Joseph Duncan, an unregistered sex offender; he killed Dylan, as well as the kids’ mother, stepfather, and teenage brother. “Joseph Duncan was essentially lost by three states,” Cantwell explained. “He moved from State to State to avoid capture. No one knew where he was nor even how to look for him.

Its cases like that which make Leahy’s hold on the bill seem incomprehensible. If there were any bills relevant to women, you would think this would be at the top of the list. Of course, it would also be difficult to claim the GOP is indifferent to anti-women violence if this bill was introduced on the Senate floor.

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