Irving Update Summer 2018


Another semester has ended, and it’s time for an update! Brace yourselves, there’s a lot going on. I won’t blame you if you get confused and lost and have to ask me questions about this all over again next time you see me.



This last semester was my final semester of coursework for the Ph.D. In order to get my Ph.D., I have to fulfill several requirements.

  • ☑️ 66 credits, divided as follows:
    • ☑️21 in the IPS Core
    • ☑️36 in my concentration (Politics)
    • ☑️9 in electives
  • ☑️Ancient Language
  • ☑️Qualifying Exam
  • ☑️Modern Language (in progress)
  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Dissertation Proposal
  • Dissertation Defense

Last year, I took four classes per semester in order to complete all my credits. In Fall 2017, I took:

  • IPS: Hegel, Nietzsche, and Dostoevski
  • Medieval Political Philosophy
  • Thucydides
  • Leo Strauss

In Spring 2018, I took:

  • IPS: Homer and Vergil
  • Cicero
  • Johannine Writings
  • Philosophy of Law

This Summer, I am taking Italian for Reading Knowledge. It’s an intensive summer course which meets 2 nights a week, 4 hours at a time. The point is not to be able to speak Italian, but to be able to read it. One of the real highlights of this class is that all six of us who are taking it have seriously studied at least one other language, and I think we also have all had at least limited exposure to a second foreign language. It means we don’t have to sit through three hours of explanation and confusion on the mysteries of what counts as a relative pronoun or an indirect object. The professor can just say “here is what you do for an indirect object in Italian and here are the exceptions” and we are able to get it.

Later this summer I’m going to attend a week-long seminar on Natural Law hosted by the American Public Philosophy Institute. It’s here in Dallas on the UD campus, so I won’t have to travel for it.

Moving forward, I plan to take my Comprehensive Exam in October 2018; after that, I have to get a dissertation proposal approved and then write & defend the dissertation itself. You could say that I’m sort of at the halfway point in the program. I know one intensely disciplined and motivated colleague who finished his dissertation a year and a half after he finished coursework, but his is a rare accomplishment. I will have to do a lot of research for my topic, especially given the depth of the existing scholarship on the subject, so I will probably take another three years or so to write and defend.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, it should come as no surprise that I am planning to write about Dante. I don’t have a finished proposal yet (let’s be honest, I don’t have a started proposal yet, at least not on paper), but I expect it will be answering something along the lines of “Why does Dante put a city in Hell but not in Heaven?”

In one final piece of school-related news, I was recently chosen as a recipient of the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation scholarship. Mr. Sumners is a fascinating character: he was the Democratic chair of the US House Judiciary Committee (and widely considered to be a top candidate for the next Supreme Court vacancy) when FDR proposed the court-packing plan. Sumners ruined his political future by opposing the plan and stalling it in committee. If you’re nerdy like me, you’ll get a kick out of reading the excerpt from the congressional record in which he is questioned about his recalcitrance (skip to the last pages for the Q&A). The scholarship is substantial enough that with a little frugality I will not be required to work during the school year.




Last fall, I started teaching Introduction to Ethics for Richland College, one of the schools in the Dallas County Community College system. It felt really good to be back in front of a classroom again. In a funny twist of fate, my first class was actually a Dual-Credit class at an area charter school: I was teaching high school students on a high school campus, but it was a college-level class. I taught the same class again in the Spring, but this time on the Richland campus. The spring class was very small, but I really enjoyed the close interaction with my students.

Taking four classes and teaching one kept me busy enough that I couldn’t also keep working at Chick-fil-A. I took a leave of absence for the Fall semester, returned during the Christmas break, and then officially resigned when the Spring semester started again. It was a wonderful place to work, and I am incredibly grateful for the experience and growth I was given working there, but it was time to move on. I still can’t stop saying “my pleasure” when anybody says “thank you.”

Fancy archival staple remover

I did pick up some work on the UD campus, however, working as a graduate assistant in the Donald and Louise Cowan Archives. Drs. Donald and Louise were both massively influential in the formation of the University of Dallas; they thought and wrote a great deal about the liberal arts and about literature. The University has established a center for organizing their papers and other resources so that they can be made available to the public. In the fall I was mostly doing a first-pass over the papers (many of which are still loosely piled in boxes), removing obvious trash, duplicates, and items which don’t belong to our archive. I also got to use a fancy archival staple remover called a “spatula” (see picture). In the spring, I was cataloging and sorting the Cowan Archive book holdings [Shout out to Helen Howell, my cousin and the New Saint Andrews College librarian, for the invaluable experience I got working for her one summer when NSA was inventorying their holdings].

I am also working on the editorial board of Ramify: the Journal of the Braniff Graduate School of the Liberal Arts. I am an Associate Editor for Volume 7 (which should be published within the month) and then I will take over as Editor-In-Chief for Volume 8.

For one month this summer, I am working as a receptionist at Cistercian Preparatory School; it’s a boy’s school just across the highway from UD, and they run four week-long summer camps in June and July. I sit at the front desk, answer phones, and do Italian homework. It is a gift of a job (and the camps run like a well-oiled machine…it’s very impressive). It’s also highly air-conditioned, so I find myself in the peculiar position of turning on a space heater for my feet. In Texas. In the middle of Summer.


When the summer camps wrap up, I’ll be heading over to see my family in northern New Mexico; my sister is moving from Idaho to Texas (College Station, a few hours south of DFW), and we’re all going to meet up at the family cabin in the mountains.

I’m hoping to travel to a couple conferences this fall: one on Christianity and Literature at Oklahoma Baptist University, and one on Dante in Birmingham, AL.

In November, I’m going to be in the wedding of a dear friend who is getting married in Portugal (her fiance is Portugese, and between immigration restrictions and her future father-in-law’s generosity, it was simpler to have the wedding there). I’M GOING TO BE IN EUROPE! Since the biggest hurdle to visiting Europe is getting over there in the first place, and since I don’t have to get back to a job, I’m going to take a couple extra weeks to see some places on my bucket list: Oxford, London, Florence, and Rome. (Note: because I am a genius at travel planning, I fly back on Thanksgiving day.)

Looking to the even more-distant future, I have applied to work with the New Mexico State Legislature as a Republican analyst for the 2019 legislative session. If that works out, I’ll be in Santa Fe for a couple months at the start of next year.


Inspired by an essayist I follow on Twitter (Phil Christman, who wrote that tremendous meditation on what it means to be Midwestern last year), I am keeping track of the books I read in 2018 on a twitter thread.

I also got a MoviePass card this year and have been doing my best to take advantage of it. As with the books, I’m keeping track of my movies on their own twitter thread:

I’m still regularly attending Chapel of the Cross (a Reformed Episcopal Church in the ACNA), but I have also occasionally visited St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Irving. Chapel is 20 minutes away and only does communion at 8am during the school year, while St. Mark’s is only 3 minutes from my house and has a 10am communion service. I’ve also visited All Saints Presbyterian (CREC) over in Fort Worth for a baptism.

Every year I stay in Irving, I find myself more and more delighted with the community of friends I have. Moving is hard, and during my first year in Texas I was incredibly skeptical of all the people I met who said that they loved the community. Friendships take time, but they can flourish … even in Dallas.

ON THE OTHER HAND: I still have nothing good to say about the traffic or construction.


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