Conservative Professors Discuss Life at Williams
This post contains excerpts from a student article originally published in the Williams Record. Click here to access the original article.
At a predominantly liberal institution, conservative faculty are in the minority Williamstown and Berkshire County have, since 1984, consistently supported Democrats for president. The College faculty largely matches this demographic, with the vast majority of faculty political donations going to Democratic candidates or committees. Several professors at the College, however, openly profess conservative views.
Four professors agreed to go on the record for this article: Professor of Mathematics Steven Miller; Professor of Art Michael Lewis; Professor of Political Science Darel Paul; and Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy Chris Gibson, who will depart the College and begin teaching at Siena College, his alma mater, at the end of the academic year.
“I would prefer to leave the politics aside” “I try not to express ‘my views’ as such, except to say where I find arguments strong or weak, convincing or not,” Paul said.
“I recognize that some students are afraid to speak up and challenge prevailing sentiments, especially on social or cultural issues,” he said. “Therefore, I try to cultivate polite disagreement in class to show that a range of views have logic and evidence on their side.” When Gibson was asked whether his views might ever cause discomfort for students, he responded, “Well, I hope not. I can never know for sure… I’m trying to be as careful as I can not to give my own viewpoint.”
Lewis takes pride in the fact that students often cannot detect his ideology. “One of my blue sheets — I will quote it literally — said, ‘I like Professor Lewis’ lectures, although he constantly injects his liberal beliefs into class.’ Actually, I took that as a compliment because I would prefer to leave the politics aside,” he said. His goal, he said, is to give all students a respectful and open-minded hearing in class.
Miller added that the need for students to defend their beliefs has been beneficial for at least some conservatives. “I was talking with a colleague who said that one of his students has become a conservative voice, and he credits his time at Williams,” Miller said. “He had to defend his ideas night and day, and he had to become eloquent; he had to become well versed in the facts. He couldn’t be lazy.”
“I’ve felt very welcomed on this campus” Considering the liberal campus environment, professors have often found common cause with conservative students seeking mentorship. “Certain names from the faculty are almost passed down from student to student, as ‘This could be someone you could talk to,’” Miller said.
Gibson and Paul have been more formally involved in conservative student groups on campus. Gibson recalled attending events with the Society for Conservative Thought, including helping to lead a discussion of Patrick Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed. Paul has been heavily involved with the Society for Conservative Thought, as well as with Williams Catholic. “I would say my main role has been to provide moral and intellectual support,” he said. He also helped lead the discussion on Why Liberalism Failed, and focused his efforts toward providing a nuanced alternative to prevailing campus sentiment. “Even those who disagreed with [the book] got to see conservatism as an intellectual project rather than as simply a political or, even worse, a narrowly electoral one,” he said.