All Commentary
Sunday, October 1, 1995

Henry Salvatori: A Man of Integrity

His Foundation Helps to Preserve American Values and Traditions

Dr. Doti is President of Chapman University in Orange, California.

Everyone seems to have strong beliefs these days. No one seems to be reticent about sharing those beliefs with anyone who will listen. Whether it is a question about government being bigger or smaller or taxes being higher or lower or welfare spending going up or down, most people have definite views.

What is uncommon nowadays is not people with strongly held beliefs but people who are willing to put their beliefs into action. I have had the honor and privilege to come to know personally a wise man who has the guts and fortitude to act on his convictions.

Henry Salvatori’s deep and abiding love for the United States, which is based on the opportunity that awaited him and his immigrant family when they arrived from Italy in 1906, drives his desire to see that our youth acknowledge what made our country great. This desire finds expression through the Henry Salvatori Foundation—a foundation established to help preserve and revitalize America’s founding principles and ensure that we do not lose sight of what our forefathers created.

In a society where academe is increasingly dominated by the multicultural view that the United States has no shared culture and nothing special to offer the rest of the world, American values and traditions may strike one as outdated. But before concluding that promoting such values and traditions is an anachronistic attempt to stimulate a blind and jingoistic patriotism, one should look at the visionary life’s work of Henry Salvatori.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1923, he received a master’s degree in physics from Columbia University in 1926. Mr. Salvatori played a leading role with the development of the seismic method of oil exploration that is still an industry standard. In 1933, he founded Western Geophysical Company. Under his ownership and leadership, it became a great success in providing geophysical exploration services to the oil industry in the United States and world wide.

Long before the subject of computer science became fashionable in higher education, Henry Salvatori’s passion for scientific development led him to establish a computer science center and chair in computer science at the University of Southern California and a chair in computer and cognitive sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Salvatori’s forward thinking was also evident in the area of political philosophy. His financial assistance to William Buckley Jr. in the 1950s helped start the National Review. When the Great Society was in full bloom in the late 1960s, The Henry Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World was established at Claremont-McKenna College. He was an early supporter of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which among its many other activities oversees The Salvatori Center for American Founding Studies at Boston University.

After chairing Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in California, Henry Salvatori was instrumental in convincing Ronald Reagan to run for governor, thereby launching a career that would lead to the presidency and the Reagan revolution. During those revolutionary years when the New Deal coalition unraveled, Henry Salvatori was part of Reagan’s “Kitchen Cabinet.”

Given Mr. Salvatori’s penchant for backing trends long before they become popular, it is not surprising that he has been a long-time financial supporter of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C., committed to the Jeffersonian philosophy of limited government.

The establishment of the Henry Salvatori Foundation is an earnest attempt to make coming generations aware of the great truths that lie at the heart of our country’s constitutional order. While it may strike one as unfashionable to help young people now and in the future better understand our nation’s traditions, heritage, and common culture, it is probably more important than ever to be enlightened by the ideas of federalism, the separation of powers, free markets and free speech, individual rights, the culture of principled dissent, and the dangers of majoritarian rule. In a world slowly sliding into intolerance and rigidity, a rigorous examination of individual freedom and responsibility seems to take on heightened importance.

Political Correctness Takes Hold

A recent article by Evan Gahr in The Wall Street Journal (January 27, 1995) points out that most major foundations are bankrolling political correctness on college campuses across the nation. Gahr cites the work of a project director for several Ford Foundation grants, Johnella Butler, who wrote in a recent essay: “We are only beginning to undo the effects of the distortions set in motion 500 years ago when Columbus brought massacre and the most brutal form of slavery known to these shores, all in the interest of spreading Western civilization with all its long lasting assumptions of racial, cultural and male superiority.”

Are those the assumptions of Western civilization? What about the Greeks’ reliance on reason and rational disputation in advancing the search for truth or the Judeo-Christian tradition of independence from the state? What about John Locke’s view of “natural law” or the English tradition of freedom and limits on the tyrannical use of power? What about Adam Smith and laissez faire?

And what about our Constitution—a work of creative genius with its separation of powers, checks and balances, and Bill of Rights that seeks to limit the power of government and provide personal freedom and equality under the law? Certainly, few would deny the significance of the Constitution—perhaps the finest document ever written for the establishment of self-government. Yet, the Constitution was not among the 31 “standards” included by the authors of the soon-to-be-released list of “National Standards for United States History” that these authors believe are critical for student understanding.

Herman Cubillos, a former foreign minister of Chile, recently stated:


The countries of Latin America have always looked for example to the world’s great melting pot, the U.S. Now we see that the U.S. is exacerbating its inter-group differences by making group membership the basis for government favors and handicaps, as well as by treating the culture of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as an embarrassing anachronism. If the U.S. doesn’t want to sink into the Third World out of which we are rising, it must treasure its culture.

Establishing a foundation committed to supporting efforts that lead to an enlightened love of our country and the justice and nobility of its heritage is not passé. These are values and traditions that should not be shunted aside but rather examined carefully in order to understand the challenges to our society posed by the ideas of freedom and reason. Henry Salvatori has again been a visionary in identifying a need before the rest of the pack—namely the need to encourage scholarship and teaching that foster the articulation of those great truths that lie at the heart of freedom.

I recently asked Henry Salvatori what he believes is the secret for success. He replied briefly but succinctly, “There should be complete and absolute integrity in everything one does.”

It is Henry Salvatori’s integrity that not only gives him the courage of his convictions but also the qualities of heart and mind that lead him to act on those strongly held convictions. To those of us concerned about preserving American values and traditions, it is reassuring to know that one person can still make a significant difference in the world.

  • James L. Doti, Ph.D., has served as Chapman University's president since 1991. He earned his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Illinios, Chicago where he was an Edmund James Scholar.