As Williams students begin to choose classes this weekend they will notice a giant void in the Political Science department. There will be no 200-level political philosophy courses offered next year by the Political Science department due mainly to the departure of Assistant Professor of Political Science J. Russell Muirhead.
Professor Muirhead is a strong asset to our community and the College will suffer several repercussions due to his departure to teach at Harvard. We understand that Professor Muirhead enjoys teaching at Williams and greatly admires the political science department, but who wouldn’t turn down a job offer from Harvard? That is the question the administration must address.
Professor Muirhead is widely regarded by students as an excellent professor with a thorough understanding of his discipline. Students enjoy attending his classes, but apparently the administration could not meet his needs. What does Williams not offer that Professor Muirhead required? The College prides itself on having first-class students, top-rate teachers and extraordinary resources, but whatever we offered clearly was not enough.
The greatest loss felt when a teacher like Professor Muirhead leaves is borne by the students. We lose a great teacher. Not only that, there is no replacement readily available to teach upper-level political philosophy classes. This is another serious problem for students.
We are told over and over at Williams that we are the future leaders of America. How will we lead without a strong background in political philosophy? What of the students who were planning to take the American Political Philosophy, Ancient Political Philosophy, Modern Political Philosophy and Democracy courses offered by the political science department? When was the last time a student at Williams did not even have the opportunity to engage in an advanced political philosophy class?
Williams College students, administrators and faculty need to think seriously about these issues. The community needs to establish strong incentives to ensure the best professors want to stay at Williams and the best students want to come. Williams College can no longer consider itself an elite institution if we cannot hold onto our best professors.
At this point the question that lingers is how many other professors would leave Williams if the right opportunity were offered? Why is Williams not the best opportunity a teacher could desire? Is this really the academic community that we like to think it is?
We at the Record worry seriously about these questions. We wonder if the administration is really working its hardest to attract and keep the best professors.
Professor Muirhead will be missed by the entire Williams community and those fortunate enough to have spent time with him in the classroom should consider themselves lucky. They studied with an instructor who will now be teaching at another “better” institution.
We realize that Professor Muirhead’s specific situation may have been out of the hands of the administration, but the incident is worrisome. Williams must fight competitively for the very best teachers if we are to remain a premier teaching institution. Big names do not make great teachers, but great people do.