One in 500: Assistant Professor of Political Science James McAllister

Last good book you’ve read:

George Orwell’s The Road to Williams Pier.

Five Favorite albums:

The Replacements’ Let It Be, the Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, Patti Smith’s Horses and the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks

How long have you been here?

A year and a half.

How do you like it so far?

I love it here. It’s the best place on earth.

What are you teaching in the spring?

American foreign policy and a course on the German question. A lot of overlap with stuff I’ve already done.

You were on the winning side in the assassination debate last year. Are you an experienced debater?

I have absolutely no debating experience at any level, and it showed in my performance.

Actually, [Record news editor] Scott Moringiello was next to me and he said, “Wow. McAllister’s good at this!”

Really? Scott’s a good guy. I really enjoyed his article on curriculum changes in the Record, which I read from cover to cover each week.

A question of personal interest to me: you spent your undergraduate life at the University of Buffalo. What are your thoughts on Buffalo as a town?

Actually, I’ll have to reword my earlier answer: Williams is the second best place on earth. Buffalo is the best place on earth. I lived in New York City for five or six years, and I would in a minute rather live in Buffalo. It’s the greatest city in New York, without a doubt.

That’ll thrill all the downstaters who constantly tell me that upstate NY is a hellhole.

I was born on Long Island, and I spent many years in the city. Upstate New York is much better than downstate, and Buffalo is the best of upstate.

So you don’t buy all this “New York City is the center of the world” crap?

No. It’s a horrible city unless you have lots of money, of which I had almost none. I had to walk golden retrievers to pay rent. New York City’s a pretty horrible place.

The good thing about the city is that you can see shows.

It’s a great place to see shows, but, if just one show comes to Williamstown, you’re going to see it just because it’s here. In New York City there are 10 or 15 good ones a month, and if you can only afford one every couple of months; that’s just more frustration.

All the more reason to get good shows here. . .

Well, what are you going to get? They Might Be Giants? [laughter]

[laughing objectively] You have so many students in Causes of War that you have to teach two sections. How do you deal with them all? You seem to know their names.

For the most part, a lot of names are not known. My general response is to start off every conversation with “Hey!” so the name doesn’t have to be given. Generally I sleep about three or four hours a day and take a nap for an hour or two in the afternoon. So actually I’m not surviving all that well.

Lots of coffee?

Lots of coffee and cigarettes. Write “cigarettes” too. I want to convey the image that faculty members smoke and do degenerate things.

Can I include that line as well? That way people will think that I’m a gifted interviewer who has an innate skill for bringing things out.

Yeah.

How did you get interested in political science in the first place?

To be honest with you, it was purely by default. I took a PSCI course or two that I could tolerate much better than English and economics. It wasn’t out of any great love for political science. Actually my real great love was history, not political science, but I was told I could never get a job in history.

But you’ve grown to love poli-sci since then?

[emphatically] No. Actually, I have a very antagonistic attitude towards most political science. I like to view myself as a proper blend of political science and history.

Or a political science maverick, sort of like Lorenzo Lamas in Renegade.

Could be.

That’s exciting. I like Lorenzo Lamas. Anyway, you studied at Columbia with Richard Betts, the guy at the lecture. How was that and what did you do?

My dissertation was on West German rearmament after WWII. I wound up at Columbia because it was closer to home than the University of Chicago. Columbia’s a lot of fun. You don’t actually have much contact with your advisors. It’s a wonderful experience academically; socially it’s to be avoided.

And how’d you get here?

A horrible admission: I’d never heard of Williams until I was 31 years old. For me Williams was not the center of the universe. I managed to offend a lot of people by not recognizing the centrality of Williams College to the American educational experience when I applied. But now I’m utterly convinced.

But there must be some things wrong with Williams. . .

High prices for coffee at Coffee Roasters and the fact that you cannot get a decent cup of coffee after 6:00 p.m. unless you go to Baxter. That’s a problem.

Have you been to Goodrich yet?

I haven’t been to Goodrich. Better?

I haven’t had the regular coffee yet. I had one of those cappuccino chocolatey things, and that was okay, but I’m not sure how the rest is. So how’s the family?

Essentially, I have a dog. That’s my primary responsibility.

And his name is?

Russ. Named after the departed Russ Muirhead of PSCI. I figured by naming my dog after Russ, he’d live on here.

Does Russ get into fights with other professors’ dogs at all?

He and [Professor of art history Eva Grudin’s dog] Bismarck were great friends up until this semester, but now Bismarck threatens to kill my dog whenever he see him. My dog is fairly peace-loving.

Ironic, for someone who gets excited about the possibility of war so he can discuss it in class.

I’m actually very upset about it. My dog only has aggression towards squirrels.

What’s your forecast on the whole Iraq situation?

To be honest, I predicted that the US would conduct air strikes three times over the last year, so I’ve stopped coming up with policies and predictions for Iraq. I will say that Saddam Hussein has been very helpful to me in my classes. I have a very ambivalent relationship with him. It’s going to be scary to contemplate what I will do when he leaves. He’s been incredibly helpful in making my transition to Williams a success.

Is this going to help my grade in Causes of War?

It will undoubtedly help your grade, but [Record editor-in-chief Wiedower] Reed’s will be downgraded. This whole interview is Reed’s fault.

Yeah. Everything is Reed’s fault.