Gatepost Interview: David Smailes -Professor of political science

Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

What is your professional and educational background?

I got my undergraduate degree at the College of Wooster in Ohio back in 1981, believe it or not. Then, I took a year off and worked. I was a DJ during the nights and weeks, and I worked in a library during the day. I went to grad school at UMass Amherst and got my Ph.D. there in 1991, when it was finally awarded. After that, I went to Regis College up in Weston and taught there, and I’ve taught at Westfield out in Western Massachusetts, and now, Framingham State. 

What brought you to Framingham State?

A couple things. One is that I live in Framingham, so the commute out to Westfield was kind of tough. But more important, I knew the campus well from being in town, and I had come to visit campus a couple years before that. So, I got to know the department then, and I really found it a great place. There was so much going on that was really right in my backyard, but I never dreamed there would be an opening here that I could take advantage of. Then, when they advertised for a job, I thought, “Well, this is perfect. I’ll apply and see what happens.” So, I’m very glad it worked out the way that it did. 

What inspired you to teach?

I think what inspired me were teachers whom I admired. I had a couple really good teachers in my past – a high school teacher who really got me interested in history and politics, and then in college, I had a political theory teacher who really got me interested in the big questions about politics, questions of justice, and also democracy and how it should work, and so on. He is actually the reason I went to UMass Amherst. He did his graduate work there, and I thought what he taught was so interesting. When it came time to pick a grad school, I said, “Wow, why not go where he went?” So, I ended up coming out to UMass as a result. But I think just the chance to talk about really interesting ideas – I think that’s what really drew me to it. I thought about law. I thought about politics as a career. But what I was really interested in was talking about ideas, and I get to do that and get paid at the same time for it, which I think is great. 

What motivates you to continue to teach?

Well, I think, in part, it’s the fact that students are always challenging me in new ways. Every year is different. Every class is different. The other thing is that in my field, I’ve never taught any of these classes the same way twice. Politics is always changing – it’s the story that never ends – which is one way I think is a good way to describe it. So, I never get bored with it. I never get tired of teaching it because it is always different, and it’s always challenging for that reason. I can never just sort of sit back and get into a bad habit of just teaching things over and over and over again to the point where I lose my interest in it. Instead, I’m always learning something new. In a lot of ways, I’m still a student in that sense. I’m always learning something new about my field, and there are always new things happening in politics, so it makes it exciting. 

What would students be surprised to know about you?

They might be surprised to know that I have a lot of different interests other than just political science. I really enjoy the history of film. I’m really interested in always expanding my horizons with literature and poetry. I really find, a lot of times, that exploring new things … is really exciting. So, that part I don’t always get to bring to the classroom. But it’s a big part of my life and a big part of what makes me grow as a person. So, it might be surprising to know I’m more than just about politics, maybe to some people. 

What advice do you have for students at FSU?

I would say challenge your professors. You’re paying a lot of money to be here, and you want to get the most out of the experience you can. So, don’t let us – sort of – be lazy. Make sure we’re teaching you what you want to learn, and if you’re not learning it, demand it! Because, I think students really have to play an active role in what they want to learn. As a professor, I have an obligation, a duty, to provide those opportunities, and if it’s not happening, then I need to be challenged as a faculty member to make sure it happens for students.