Eternal vigilance requires a well-rounded education

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

By Steven Skultety

Mississippians rightly expect that institutions of higher learning will expose students to learned  versions of fundamental debates. We fail students if we introduce them only to esoteric  exercises and contentiousness. We also fail them if, when confronting divisive issues, we do not  provide a wide variety of views to help inform their considerations.  

As Director of the Declaration of Independence Center for the Study of American Freedom, I am striving to open new opportunities for study, and deepen students’ intellectual engagement with  a number of profound issues facing our civic society. 

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Students often hear that America’s founding documents were made obsolete by the Civil War,  industrialism, and major 20th century changes in government and society. The implications of  such changes deserve critical consideration.

Amidst conflicting narratives, the Declaration  Center challenges students to consider the possibility that the civic ideals of the Founders  continue to provide lessons for the 21st century. 

The Declaration Center stands by the  proposition that intellectual study of our Nation’s republican government as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist papers, and the Amendments to the Constitution is crucial for an academic and fully informed understanding of American  democracy. 

Given major changes in technology, transportation, and communication, our world is more  connected than ever before. Global issues indeed deserve attention. Nevertheless, we are still  citizens somewhere. The Declaration Center allows American students to consider the special  obligations they have to learn about civics and to understand the responsibilities and  opportunities provided by and for our Nation. 

Contemporary themes can lead students to think that one’s race or gender is what primarily defines a person, and that race and gender drive all aspects of our sense of self. Race and gender are important, and no one can deny that many have suffered intolerable indignities and  horrors for these traits. 

The human condition, however, features a number of other sources from  which we find core meaning and identity. The Declaration Center provides students with the  opportunity to wrestle with many ways in which the content of one’s character and the  development of one’s intellect shape our lives.  

Higher education is often seen as championing the perspective that justice should be  understood as “equity.” Some propose that equity alone should be the foundational commitment  of higher education and they seek to transform all levels of education accordingly. We all have a  responsibility to think carefully about the implications of this view. For its part, the Declaration Center encourages students, faculty, and citizens to consider the possibility that American  public institutions should embrace broad ideals of liberty and justice for all, and carefully study  how freedom, like equity, has transformative potential. 

Contemplative discussions exploring varying concepts underpinning American freedom will at times create discomfort, controversy, and disagreement. I believe it is possible to have robust  disagreement without being disagreeable.

In fact, it is only by encouraging dialogue addressing varying opinions that our republic will continue to evolve and thrive.

As Director of the Declaration Center, I hope to increase viewpoint diversity in higher education,  and am actively working to ensure that ideas about freedom, opportunity, and our Nation retain  a platform in academic discussion. 

In addition to supporting faculty research across the state, the Declaration Center will support a new academic minor in Freedom Studies at the University of Mississippi and act as a  clearinghouse for expanded student opportunities and scholarships. 

The Declaration Center plans a program of public speakers for intellectual discussions  regarding American freedom. On Friday, Oct. 27, U.S. Senator Tim Scott will speak at the  Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss at 3:30 p.m. to discuss “America’s Founding  Freedoms and Democracy Today.” Rescheduled from a planned 2022 presentation, Senator  Scott has since declared a candidate for the 2024 Presidential election. 

We all stand on the shoulders of giants – of elders and those who have come before. To honor and continue such legacy, it is vital to understand the opportunities and hard-fought freedoms that allow our American experiment. As others have said, the price of freedom is eternal  vigilance. The Declaration Center maintains that vigilance requires a well-rounded education. 

If you are interested in our academic mission and upcoming events, please explore our website, follow us on Instagram, X, or simply request to be added to our mailing list at

We encourage all Mississippians to join in our study and build a balanced and greater  understanding of our republic and American freedoms. 

Dr. Steven Skultety Director of the Declaration of Independence Center for the Study of  American Freedom