In a 2012 course he was teaching on the “story of freedom,” University of Oklahoma professor J. Rufus Fears told his students, “Historical thought is using the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present, and to plan for the future. Historical thought is using the knowledge of the past to make decisions in the present and to plan for the future. The founders learned from history. They learned from the English experience of liberty. They learned from ancient Greece and Rome and the republics and democracies that had flourished there.”
In contrast, Fears said today’s officials “live in an ahistorical age” and even “believe that we are above the lessons of history, that all of our science and technology has made us immune to the laws of history.”
At a dinner event launching the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ first J. Rufus Fears Fellowship, attendees were told the lessons of history that Fears championed, and their relevance for today’s political issues, will be the focus in the weeks ahead.
“Over the next five months, we are going to be telling stories,” said Trent England, executive vice president of OCPA, “stories about people who survived Communism, stories about people who have built successful businesses, stories about people who have influenced the direction of Oklahoma for the good.”
The program is named in memory of Fears, a beloved professor of classics at the University of Oklahoma and the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at OCPA. During his life, Fears was an acclaimed teacher, scholar, and renowned lecturer. He was a historian of liberty who influenced students to connect the lessons of the past to the political questions of our time.
Dr. Rick Farmer, a longtime academic with extensive government experience, is the Fears Fellowship director.
Participants in the program will meet for six sessions, held on Saturdays from September to January, where they will learn how to apply the principles of freedom and free markets to real-world problems. Participants will meet successful Oklahoma leaders from politics and business and have the opportunity to network with like-minded Oklahomans working to improve our communities.
The inaugural class, which includes 32 fellows, heard from Gov. Kevin Stitt during the program’s kickoff dinner. Stitt noted that he started his company, which now does business in 40 states and employs more than 1,200, at age 27, and discussed how his private-sector experience informs his approach to governing.
“I can’t do this, do it by myself,” Stitt said. “And so I have to recruit and retain the very, very best people.”
That recruitment effort often involves people who have not spent their entire adult lives in government. “My playbook is kind of to get these business folks to lay down their career and come work with me in state government,” Stitt said.
The governor praised participants in programs like the Fears Fellowship, which help produce future leaders.
“I applaud you for being here, getting involved, for learning from the great leaders in this organization,” Stitt said. “I need you in state government, too.”
While OCPA’s focus includes policy development and advocacy, England said the Fears Fellowship represents a long-term strategy to sustain today’s successes.
“We can keep fighting policy battles 10 blocks up the street, and writing articles and giving speeches until we’re blue in the face, but it is a losing war if we do not have a generation that can pick up the torch after us,” England said. “We will lose. Right? It’s as stark as that. We win or we lose based on whether or not we have a generation that comes next that can pick up that torch and hold it high and run forward and continue to preserve these ideas in the great state of Oklahoma and in our country. That’s what all of this is about.”