Adam Smith Award Acceptance Remarks

William Simon
Chairman, William E. Simon & Sons, LLC; President, John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.

William SimonA U.S. Army veteran, William E. Simon has enjoyed an extraordinary career: senior partner and a member of the executive committee at Salomon Brothers; first administrator of the Federal Energy Office; deputy secretary of the treasury; secretary of the U. S. Treasury under two presidents; author of two best-selling books, and co-founder of Wesray Corporation, WSGP International, and William E. Simon & Sons. He has served on the boards of over 30 companies, including Xerox, Citibank, and United Technologies, and has been an active member of the U. S. Olympic Committee for over three decades, serving as president from 1980 to 1984. A volunteer at Covenant House and a Eucharistic minister to patients at four hospitals, he has made a personal commitment to serve the sick and the poor. He is also a well-known philanthropist and has created hundreds of scholarships for underprivileged students at elementary school, high school, and college levels. In addition, Mr. Simon serves as the president of the John M. Olin Foundation, as a trustee of the John Templeton Foundation and as past president of the U. S. Olympic Foundation.

At Hillsdale’s October 1997 Shavano Institute for National Leadership 15th anniversary celebration in Colorado Springs, former U. S. Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon received the Adam Smith Award. His remarks were such a moving testimonial to the mission and legacy of Hillsdale College that we would like to share them with our readers.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be with my old friend, George Roche, and with the many wonderful friends of Hillsdale.

I am certainly honored to join the illustrious company of President Ronald Reagan and Sir John Templeton as a recipient of the Adam Smith Award. I can assure you that receiving it means every bit as much to me as receiving an MVP award would mean to a professional athlete.

Best of all, of course, is the prospect of returning to Hillsdale’s board of trustees and renewing my formal association with the College as we inaugurate the William E. Simon Chair in Economics and Political Economy and the William E. Simon Scholarship Fund. The challenge grants for these programs will match, dollar for dollar, contributions from other interested leaders around the country.

But let me speak for a moment about the man at the helm, George Roche, who has guided Hillsdale so wisely and well and who has brought it to its current leadership position.

I first met George Roche over two decades ago and, over the years, I have come to know him as a great patriot as well as a courageous educational leader who has led Hillsdale with heroic resolve, onward and upward. Today, his college stands, much like his favorite Mount Shavano, at a peak of recognition.

To cite just a few examples, in the most recent U. S. News & World Report survey of the 25 leading Midwest regional liberal arts colleges, Hillsdale ranked second. What’s more, Hillsdale was a winner in three categories of the prestigious Templeton Honor Rolls for Education in a Free Society, which earlier this year honored the finest institutions, educators, programs, and textbooks in American higher education today. Honorees were selected by a distinguished executive committee of Nobel laureates, former cabinet officials, and other seminal thinkers who studied over 1,500 nominations and selected 125 winners.

For Hillsdale to receive three awards is a remarkable achievement, placing the College shoulder to shoulder with the finest academic institutions in the country. Of course, the higher Hillsdale rises among its peers, the more powerful it becomes. Today, it is recognized across America as a beacon of truth, academic excellence, and unswerving independence.

Clearly, we know why this is so. Hillsdale has stood for teaching those first principles that have helped create the freest, most prosperous country in the history of the world.

This has been possible because, unlike the majority of schools which claim to be independent, but, in point of fact, bow to another master, Hillsdale has had the courage to say “no” to government funding. Consequently, it has been able to say “yes” to academic freedom—genuine, academic freedom.

Hillsdale professors teach courses the way they should be taught—not by politicizing scholarship, but by insisting on true balance and objectivity— which means, for example, encouraging their students to read Adam Smith, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and George Stigler, as well as Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Robert Reich.

In this way, Hillsdale is proving it is still possible to have the courage of your convictions in America at a time when words like “principled stand” have become a national oxymoron.

And, frankly, that is what sets Hillsdale apart from the crowd of politically correct schools—yes, Hillsdale truly does have convictions. It believes, both passionately and wholeheartedly, that the purpose of an education is not just to produce enlightened citizens and to provide jobs for graduates and leaders for enterprise—important as those objectives certainly are. No, there is a higher, more enduring purpose of an education. And that purpose is to both acknowledge our gratitude to God our creator for His gifts of life and liberty and to develop our minds and hearts so that we may perpetuate those freedoms from which our blessings flow.

Let me interject another message here, which is that, yes, we do have a God and, yes, we do have a God-given right to pray. Nothing so mystified and angered me as when our Supreme Court outlawed prayer in public schools.

James Madison, the brilliant architect of our Constitution, warned us that only a well-instructed people can remain a permanently free people. That is why Hillsdale continues to treasure our heritage and history at the very time when so many leaders in higher education are so eager to trash them.

In an era when administrators readily bow to shrill cries of “racism, sexism, and imperialism” by decimating the traditional curriculum—in many cases, even eliminating the term “Western” entirely— Hillsdale strongly believes students must understand and appreciate their own heritage before they can understand others. And so, Hillsdale has a core curriculum. Every student at Hillsdale is required to take two foundation courses—“The Western Heritage” and “The American Heritage.”

It is fashionable to renounce core disciplines for the bizarre, frivolous, and faddish—for courses like “Paranoia, Politics, and Other Pleasures”—but Hillsdale students must still be grounded in great works of literature, art, and history. They must still be able to master the basic laws of science and mathematics that govern the universe. And they are still being prepared to compete and succeed in a world of advancing technologies and rapid-fire change that rewards those who can think, write, and express themselves most clearly and cogently.

All the while, Hillsdale continues to set academic benchmarks and distinguish itself in truly remarkable ways.

It does not sacrifice excellence. Its SAT scores continue to rise and its professors are among the finest in America. What’s more, it publishes the wonderful speech digest, Imprimis, and attracts speakers of such renown to its campus and off-campus programs that its roster reads like a veritable “Who’s Who” of the intellectual movers and shakers of America.

My, what a very special place! Hillsdale is a citadel of courage and a place for the meeting of minds, where ideas promoting freedom are born, nurtured, developed, and then sent out to change the world.

Ideas presented at Hillsdale, which may have seemed radical at the time, have progressed from the thought-stream of intellectual conservatism to the mainstream of American life.

Such ideas include those of Adam Smith, after whom this award is named. As you know, Adam Smith was the author of one of the two revolutionary documents published in that remarkable year, 1776. While Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence on the other side of the Atlantic, the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith was writing Wealth of Nations. Smith’s proposition was every bit as revolutionary as Jefferson’s, teaching us that the wealth of nations is not a fixed sum game and that wealth can be generated wherever human creativity and enterprise are unleashed and unhampered by the heavy hand of government.

Together across the miles, the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith not only transformed our political landscape but also revived the American spirit, rekindled the great power and productivity that makes ours the strongest economy in the world, and gave new momentum to all of Western civilization.

Yes, freedom is winning. Freedom is bursting out all over the world, and that makes this an incredibly exciting time to be alive. These are some of the reasons why I am so proud to be inaugurating the Simon Chair and Scholarship program at Hillsdale. As I said in my deed of gift, the purpose of my endowed professorship is to promote a deeper understanding of the bonds between political liberty and economic freedom.

If there is one underlying principle that spans all economic history—but, sadly, one that is all but ignored on too many college campuses—it is the indivisibility of our personal, political, and economic freedoms. Our personal, political, and economic freedoms are inextricably linked. Whenever societies have permitted their economic freedoms to be sacrificed in their desire to seek security, they have inevitably seen their personal and political freedoms sacrificed as well.

The great historian Gibbon described this very outcome in writing of ancient Greece. “In the end,” he wrote, “more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all—security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.” I am establishing the Simon chair knowing that future occupants will impart these timeless truths to their students, who will include, I am sure, many deserving recipients of our scholarship grants—our future Simon scholars. I have every confidence that these wonderful young men and women will then go out and earnestly endeavor to make their mark on the world.

That is what Hillsdale is all about. And that is what we must be about—for if we want to build a future of greater freedom and less government, more of us have to become leaders ourselves.

I mentioned earlier that Hillsdale stands, much like Mount Shavano, at a lofty peak. But it is really a jumping-off point to an even higher peak, reaching up toward the stars. The higher Hillsdale goes, the greater the chances of the rest of America going along.

Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this great enterprise. And thank you for blessing me with this great honor, which I will treasure.

I am so very proud to be back as a member of the Hillsdale family. Together, we can look forward to turning over to our children, and our children’s children, an America that is stronger, better, and freer—economically, financially, morally, and spiritually—than the one we inherited.