Note: Jacob Klein, known affectionately as Jasha, was Heidigger's star graduate student in philosophy (before Heidigger went wierd) and one of the world's preeminent interpreters of Plato and the Platonic tradition. He later served as dean at my undergraduate school after fleeing the Nazis, one of many Jewish scholars who were no longer safe in Europe. Simon Kaplan, a respected Jewish scholar in Russia, fled the Communists in similar fashion and later joined the faculty at St. John's as well.
The motto of St. John's College:
Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque - I make free men and women out of children by means of a book and a scale (the traditional liberal arts plus modern laboratory science).
Three anecdotes, variations on the same theme, of relevance to the bitter political atmosphere this year:
1. In the late 1960s townspeople in Annapolis, proud of the long heritage of the Naval Academy, were often suspicious of the "hippies" at the other (and very unusual) undergraduate school in town, St. John's College. One early summer evening in my freshman year, as shadows from the tall trees covered the sloping lawns in the front of the campus, an Annapolis matron phoned Dean Klein to angrily complain that couples were "fornicating on front lawn".
After contacting a campus guard and learning that indeed some couples were necking in the shadows -- but nothing more -- Klein phoned the lady back and extended his deepest apologies. In his cultured voice with a slight continental accent, he explained, "If I've told them once, I've told them a thousand times -- fornication on BACK CAMPUS ONLY!"
He then hung up.
2. It is the custom at St. John's to have a Friday night lecture which all students and faculty attend. Participation in the post-lecture question period is optional. One night a visiting academic lectured on a topic I'd studied in some depth for my preceptorial (an intensive analysis of one author or subject done each junior and senior year).
The lecturer in question had completely missed the point of a question I'd asked and seemed to me to miss the point of Descartes as well, frustrating me greatly. As I walked out of the question period, I turned to Simon Kaplan, then quite advanced in age but still one of the sharpest minds I have ever met, and asked, "Sir, wasn't the lecturer WRONG about Cartesian axioms?"
Mr. Kaplan (we never use the Doctor title in ordinary circumstances at St. John's - faculty and students alike are Mr., Miss/Ms. or Mrs. during our discussions) puffed on his pipe for a few strides and said, "Yes, I think so."
Then he asked gently, "What year are you in?"
"I'm a sophomore, sir."
"Ahhhh." puff. puff. "Do not be in such a hurry. You have 2 more years to discover truth!"
3. During WWII the Navy considered seizing the campus of St. John's via eminent domain in order to expand the Naval Academy. The fledgling New Program based on the great books of western tradition had just recently found a home there, on a campus whose oldest building was constructed before the Revolution, and with funding precarious, any move would probably kill this controversial endeavor outright.
A small delegation headed by Jascha Klein was sent to Washington to try to dissuade the government from seizing the campus. They entered the office of the Secretary of the Navy, who brusquely told them, "You have exactly one minute to tell me why I shouldn't use your buildings to help the Academy in war time."
Jascha Klein silently took out his pipe and began filling it with tobacco. He lit the pipe and checked to see if it was drawing well. Then, after 55 seconds had passed, this renowned scholar who had fled Hitler stood up and went to the door.
Turning, he said, "Because without what St. John's stands for, this country is not worth defending against the Nazis."
The Navy built the addition across the Severn River instead.