University of Virginia student activists Wes Siler, Rick Eberstadt, and Keenan Davis are working to start a new
UVA class specifically devoted to conservative ideas. The conservative
perspective, the students say, is under-represented at many public universities.
The students believe that a newly-implemented course on conservatism will do
much to balance the spectrum at their own university.
“The idea originally came about when we found out that our
university annually sponsors a class called Modern Liberalism,” said Wes Siler.
“We thought, ‘Why not balance the spectrum and have a class devoted to Modern
Conservatism as well?’”
The students are part of a conservative club at the
University of Virginia which is called the Burke Society. The club, which
boasts more than 40 members, is openly devoted to the study and distribution of
conservative ideas. It was from their association in the Burke Society that Siler,
Eberstadt, and Davis discovered that there was a large amount of interest in
receiving a conservative education.
“We’ve been working with Young America’s Foundation to bring
conservative speakers to the University of Virginia for years now,” said Siler, who was the second
president to lead the society. “Our members have enjoyed them so much that we
thought about doing something more consistent, something that meets during the
The proposed syllabus of the course, which was written by
the students with help from several professors, features readings from a wide
variety of conservative and libertarian authors. Such names as Edmund Burke,
Russell Kirk, Fredrick Hayek, Milton Friedman, and William Buckley pervade the
reading, as well as speeches by former presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George
W. Bush. These authors and public figures, the students say, represent a canon
of political and social thought that does not receive serious consideration in
much of academia today.
“We spent many hours considering the trajectory that
conservative thought followed,” said Keenan Davis, one of the students who
helped construct the syllabus, “mainly over the last century. Our course
focuses on the rise of different conservative movements within their historical
context, comparing and contrasting their themes and origins.”
Though the students worked with several professors to
construct the syllabus for the class, they gained the majority of their faculty
support after the students publicly proposed their idea to the student council
and had it rejected.
“Within 24 hours of publicizing our idea to the Student
Council, we received responses from 11 different professors who heard about the
rejection and were eager to support our endeavors,” said Eberstadt. “This showed us
that just as there is a high demand from many students to receive a
conservative education, there is also a high demand from many professors to
With renewed support from students and professors alike, the
members of the Burke Society believe that they will be able to convince the administration
at the University of Virginia to officially sponsor the course by the Fall of
2010. The students hope to use the
university’s student-initiated course system to request the course and display
the large support they have received from teachers and students alike. Even if
the student council rejects their proposal a second time, the students will ask professors to teach in their spare time and hold the class
“We have teachers, students, a syllabus, and several
available classrooms so how can this not be considered a class?” said Siler.
“The only thing we are missing now is tests.”