An Open Letter to Carly Fiorina, Senate Candidate
Dear Ms. Fiorina,
Thank you for speaking at the Sunbird Conservatives Conference last Saturday, April 17, at Fresno Pacific University. We appreciate the time you took to join us. You and the other two senatorial candidates offered all of us a chance to get an early look at the positions you each endorse and your approach to governing. You honored the Sunbird Conservative club with your presence, and I, as faculty advisor of the club, want to pass on my gratitude to you for bringing a thoughtful message to the 500 people in attendance when you spoke. As you may have recognized there were “conservatives” of all stripes at the conference from Tea Partiers to party officials, from libertarians to neoconservatives. It was a delight to get all in one room for some passionate discussion of ideas, positions and policies. And I admire your for wanting to be a leader of such a group. Thank you for accepting the invitation from our students to join us. We hope you will visit us again as a Senator, as Congressman Devin Nunes did this year, to help us understand what happens in Washington and why we can’t seem to get water in the valley.
But that is not why I am writing. I want to comment on a statement you made, and discuss an important idea. Or, perhaps I just want o complain about something you said, and offer some advice—we professors are that way sometimes. I know this may be annoying, but I offer it as constructively as I can.
You opened your comments by saying that you graduated with a bachelor’s degrees in history and so you were not qualified to do anything. When I heard these words my heart sank. Here I was, a history professor, in a university event center, attempting to guide young minds, listening to a major candidate for national office wondering what my students might be thinking. Then you went on to recount your career—a brief time in law school, working your way up in business, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and now a candidate for high national office.
I realize that you were probably just trying to make a connection with your audience, but it seems to me that your comment about your education was a bit, well, off the mark. You may not have liked law school—many don’t—but history is one of the best preparations for the study of law. What is law if not the record of people in the past attempting to come to grips with the problems of their times through agreements on what can and cannot be done? We counsel our future law students to study history, just as you did, as preparation for a career as a lawyer.
You then went on into business, and apparently had little trouble getting an MBA and an MA in management. Somewhere through it all you learned to balance competing interests and personalities as a successful manager and CEO; you negotiated the difficult task of mediating conflicting goals, taking risks and making strategic decisions with incomplete knowledge, and no real knowledge of what the future might bring as a result of those decisions. When a student of business takes up a case study, they are using the approach of an historian. What better study could you have had than history?
In your historical studies you learned, I would bet, that to understand an event, a movement, a set of ideas, or a person’s contribution you must take all of the factors you had to consider in business into account. As a student of history you had to understand how the personalities of leaders (or enemies) could affect a people’s or a nation’s future. You learned that ideas have profound effects, and what some of those might be. You, no doubt, gained some wisdom, through study of great leaders about how to make an impact and bring about a good resolution in difficult times and through crises where the future is uncertain and perhaps bleak. You must have learned, having been a student of the middle ages, that some events, like the plague, are uncontrollable, and that one can only do one’s best, exercise as much common sense as possible, and survive. Is there a better field of study for a future U.S. Senator?
So, next time (my complaint is over, and now on to my advice) I hope you will say in a university auditorium that you are a proud student of history, that you encourage all students to study hard, to look for the wisdom of their chosen areas of study, and especially to take up the study of history as a compelling interest, as preparation for courageous action in the real world, whether in business or politics. Your own history has borne out the truth of this advice, and many students, young and old, might need a reminder.
Thank you once again for visiting Fresno Pacific University, and the Sunbird Conservatives conference. You honored us with your presence. I hope someday we can discuss the historians and historical studies that have most intrigued us, that have offered us some wisdom, and prepared us for careers in teaching, leading, governing, and public service. If you need a personal historian to support your upcoming work, I humbly offer my services.
Stephen Varvis, Ph.D.
Department of History
Fresno Pacific University