The Hiring of Bill Kristol: For

Haley Hamblin ‘19

According to the Davidson College “About” page, the school prides itself on being an institution of higher learning that “seeks out intellectually curious students” and supports “free, unfettered inquiry.” Yet, members of our community blatantly contradict such aspirations by indirectly asking the college to administer an ideological litmus test for professors who join the faculty.

In December, the college announced that William (Bill) Kristol would join Davidson in the fall of 2019 as the visiting Vann Professor of Ethics in Society. 

As a neo-conservative, supporting ambitious foreign policy and a robust free market, his political and moral beliefs differ from portions of the student body. 

Those students have made their opposition to his ideals and his professorship abundantly clear through social media posts, casual conversations, and comments in classes. The criticisms range from hostility to his title as an “ethics” professor because of his positions on the Iraq War to disagreement with his positions on Israel. Either way, opposition to his moral and political positions should not preclude his eligibility or worth as a professor. 

Kristol has been part of the Conservative Intellectual Movement in the United States his entire life. His father, Irving Kristol, was one of the founders of intellectual conservatism, which led to the conservative political movement that boomed in the 1980s with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. 

Bill Kristol received a Ph.D. from Harvard, worked in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, served as a faculty member at both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, and even campaigned for democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. 

His work in party politics, political journalism, and academia make him a rich source of expertise. He has a wealth of knowledge that students can learn from, regardless of their political leanings. 

Kristol offers an underrepresented viewpoint among the college faculty (at least in my experience). I’ve encountered many more left-leaning professors than moderate or right-leaning ones. I appreciate their lenses, precisely because they differ from my own, but worry that my peers, who align more closely to these professors, are not challenged to see the world through a different political lens. 

Especially in politically charged times, such as the semester of the 2016 election, Davidson students retreat to their echo chambers, reinforced by their professors and class curricula. 

The inability to understand another’s position has degraded civil discourse on campus. Rather than evaluating ideas, every idea is attached to an identity, which means to disagree with one’s idea is to attack one’s identity. 

How can two people ever engage with one another when they believe the other’s ideas “invalidate their humanity?” 

Intellectual diversity, especially in the classroom, will help students learn to engage with views different from their own and address identity in a more productive manner. 

I believe Kristol’s political lens, along with his high regard for civil discourse and freedom of thought, will offer a new way to think about and move through the world, which we desperately need at Davidson. 

How can we expect Davidson to fulfill its commitments, as stated on the website, to cultivate students’ “compassion, creativity, resilience, and moral courage” or create a “culture of free inquiry, characterized by intellectual engagement,” if we only ask the administration to hire professors whose ideals align with the majority of the current student body? 

Engaging with ideas and moral beliefs different from our own can produce positive results. We may come to question our own views and decide to shift slightly, or perhaps drastically, to another position. We may even become more affirmed in our own beliefs, but with a better understanding of opposing or contrasting views. Either way, we benefit from encountering people with diverse opinions. 

Davidson would lose its academic and intellectual integrity if we insisted they only hire progressive or left-leaning professors. Diversity of thought matters as much as other forms of diversity. 

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