In America, if you say you’ve been educated by prot?g?s of the 20th century’s greatest liberal thinkers, people are likely to assume you identify with the American Civil Liberties Union and are an advocate for the benevolence of the state.

But, in fact, liberalism in its purest form, or “classical liberalism,” is the idea that society can run itself with only the bare minimum of government involvement. It is in that spirit that a new university, unique in both its style and substance, is open for business this fall.

YorktownUniversity.com is an Internet-based educational institution offering bachelor degrees in government and managerial economics in the classical liberal tradition. Founded by Richard J. Bishirjian, who holds a doctorate in government and international studies from the University of Notre Dame, the wholly online university is approved by the Virginia State Council of Higher Education to offer college-level courses for degree credit and continuing education.

More than 50 courses are offered in business, economics, fine arts, government, history, literature, philosophy and religious studies. The catalog even lists a nutrition class to satisfy general education requirements. The school operates on a “five-quarter” system, with each “quarter” lasting 10 weeks. While students are allowed to complete courses early, Bishirjian doubts many will, given the academic intensity of each class.

“This is not a degree mill,” he remarked. The school’s motto is, “Putting tradition back into education,” which Bishirjian said means it is putting “standards” back into education.

Most of Yorktown University’s students are aged 35 to 58 and are senior-level management executives, he said. Those attracted to the school usually sign up with the goal of becoming politically active.

The courses are taught by some 47 professors, several of whom have studied under such classical liberal thinkers as Milton Friedman – the famed 1976 Nobel-prize winning economist.

Indeed, the chair of Yorktown University’s managerial economics department is Douglas K. Adie, whose doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago was supervised by Friedman, as well as George Stigler and Robert Mundell. Stigler and Mundell are also recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics, in 1982 and 1999, respectively.

Gerald Gunderson, American Business and Economic Enterprise professor and director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., is Yorktown University’s professor of Entrepreneurial History of the U.S. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington, with a thesis in economic history supervised by Nobel Laureate Douglas North.

Valuation of Assets professor Edmund R. Shanahan holds advanced degrees in modern European history from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, in micro and macro economics from the University of London, and in the theory and practice of management from Henley Management College. Currently, Shanahan is an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, another home to classical liberalism.

The institute’s namesake, who lived from 1881-1973, dedicated his life’s work to reconstructing “economic theory and method on a sound basis of individual human action and showed that government intervention is always destructive, whether through welfare, inflation, taxation, regulation or war,” according to the institute’s website.

Mises Institute founder and president Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., explained that the term “liberal” is derived from a Latin word meaning “freedom.” Yet in America, modern “liberals” deliberately usurped the term to hide their agenda of statism, Rockwell said.

“It is the mission of the Mises Institute to restore a high place for theory in the social sciences, encourage a revival of critical historical research, promote the free and enterprising commonwealth, and counter the political philosophy of statism in all its forms,” the website continues.

Yorktown University seeks to build upon the works of classical liberals like Mises by teaching its students in the liberal tradition and by employing professors who were trained by some of the philosophy’s greatest thinkers. According to Bishirjian, who also serves as Yorktown’s president, such philosophers, economists and political theorists came to America from Europe during World War II. At that time, such liberal thinking was shunned in countries being overrun by socialism and communism.

Now, America faces a predicament similar to that which forced classical liberals from Europe, Bishirjian indicated. In his letter to prospective students and inquirers on the university’s website, the president outlines his belief that “what passes for education at many of America’s private and state colleges and universities is illiberal education and, thus, inadequate education.”

“Until the rise of the Internet, those seeking to challenge the American education Establishment about these inadequacies would be overwhelmed by barriers to new entrants to the educational marketplace. This is no longer true. By offering specially designed distance learning courses on the Internet, an end-run around current educational culture can be accomplished that founds new, philosophically sound alternatives to university education that reaches anyone in the world with access to the Internet.”

“The Internet offers an opportunity, we believe, to do something about the decline of traditional education and culture, not merely complain. The decline of culture and education are one of a piece, tied together in the overall erosion of moral capital the American people inherited from the Founders of our constitutional order,” his letter continues.

While Bishirjian acknowledges that “great strides” have been made, enabling record numbers of Americans to attend college, the institutions many of those students are entering are subject to massive conflicts of interest: Government-funded schools have an incentive to produce government-loving citizens.

“These academic institutions have become places where religious, moral and, significantly, academic standards have been watered down and are in retreat,” he added.

Additionally, while a college degree has become an occupational necessity for white-collar employment, the cost of obtaining that degree has risen dramatically. In reaction to the staggering costs of education, Yorktown University offers its courses for $299 each. Because the school is Internet-based and does not need to maintain a campus, it is able to charge the low price, while traditional universities charge hundreds, even thousands of dollars per course.

Yorktown University’s classrooms are electronic and are maintained through the use of “Blackboard” – a sophisticated software employed by 1,700 other schools, said Bishirjian. The software was put to the test this summer when the university offered 13 courses beginning in June. But the school’s real beginning was Aug. 20, when its 25 students ventured into the fall quarter.

While its enrollment may sound small compared to traditional universities, Yorktown’s numbers are comparable to the start-up statistics of other correspondence schools, Bishirjian noted.

One such school is Jones International University. Founded in 1995 by the cable industry’s Glenn R. Jones of the former Jones Intercable, JIU went “virtual” in 1999. It offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business communication, seven different master’s of business administration and six master’s in education degrees.

Now based solely on the Internet, JIU is self-described as the “first fully online university to receive United States regional accreditation.” The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a member of the North Central Association, an accrediting body for institutions of higher education in the United States.

When asked if Yorktown University will seek regional accreditation, Bishirjian replied, “Accreditation gives you one thing: government assistance.” His institution will rely on the influence of its distinguished faculty when Yorktown University graduates seek acceptance to graduate school, he said. Most graduate schools in the United States require applicants to hold undergraduate degrees from regional accredited schools.

While JIU did not respond to inquiries about its enrollment, the school’s website references a recent Merrill Lynch report on distance-learning courses. By 2002, the report claims, the number of students in such courses will reach 2.2 million – up from 710,000 in 1998. Those numbers include distance-learning courses offered by traditional universities.

Though the concept of a wholly Internet-based educational institution is new, “bricks-and-mortar” universities began offering such courses several years ago. The popularity of such programs is growing rapidly, as evidenced by the Merrill Lynch report.

Yorktown University expects to benefit from the growing popularity of Web-based education as well. Bishirjian said he anticipates enrollment to reach 200 by October 2002.

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