Bill Kristol, Author, Scholar and Former White House Advisor, to Join Davidson as Visiting Ethics Professor

Author, scholar and former White House adviser William "Bill" Kristol will join Davidson College as the inaugural visiting Vann Professor of Ethics in Society in 2019.

Kristol's role underlines the college's historical commitment to free inquiry and rigorous debate. He brings to campus a deep history as a conservative thinker and writer, as well as a commitment to a political world in which right and left are understood to engage in governance from two fundamentally moral positions.

Kristol, who received his A.B. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University, founded the conservative Weekly Standard magazine. At Davidson he will teach and organize programs and events that draw from his distinctive experiences as a journalist, a professor, a policy maker and chief of staff to the vice president of the United States.

"Bill is one of the nation's most widely respected thinkers on policy and politics, he has a deep commitment to education and public service," Davidson College President Carol Quillen said. "We are privileged to have him as our inaugural Vann Professor."

Students immediately highlighted the opportunities that Kristol's role will present.

"I'm really looking forward to welcoming to campus someone so well known for his rationality and civility," said Kate Bock, president of College Democrats. "In today's political climate, where the nuances of policy are often lost to broad-sweeping partisan rhetoric, voices like Bill Kristol's are of critical importance, not only nationally but in the close, interpersonal conversations that we strive to foster on this campus. To have someone with his experience on Davidson's campus interacting with students is an incredible privilege. I look forward to engaging with and learning from him during his visits this spring."

"Bill Kristol will bring a much-needed perspective that we don't often get, and by that I don't necessarily mean an ideological perspective," said Joe DeMartin '21, co-president of the Davidson chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. "After graduation, we need to be prepared to make decisions with imperfect information. Dr. Kristol is somebody who knows the tension of policy choices and decision-making that takes place within the challenges of working in government. He can help us look at an ethical framework for those kinds of decisions at a time when our most regular confrontation with ethical questions occurs within the context of politics. We're going through a period of time when core, fundamental values are being challenged, and Dr. Kristol's visiting role on campus will be really valuable at this moment."

Kristol will officially begin as Vann Professor with two appearances on campus during the spring semester leading campus-wide conversations related to applied ethics. The first is scheduled for Jan. 30 in the Duke Family Performance Hall.  In the fall of 2019, Kristol will teach a seminar on campus, work with students on independent projects and help design programming aimed at helping prepare students for navigating the ethical dimensions of decision-making, whether in business, medicine, public policy, education, the media or other fields.

"More than ever, our society needs to restore our high standards of civil discourse and applied ethics," Kristol said. "Davidson has a distinguished history of students with the leadership, integrity and empathy to do that. I look forward to working with -- and learning from -- these curious and courageous young people."

Kristol founded and last served as editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, for 23 years a journal of politics and ideas located in Washington, D.C. He is a regular on television, appearing on leading political commentary shows. Kristol served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and to Education Secretary William Bennett under President Ronald Reagan. Before coming to Washington in 1985, Kristol served on the faculty of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government (1983-1985) and the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania (1979-1983). 

The Vann professorship is made possible by the generous support of Jim Vann '50 and Lee Stanton Vann, whose decades of support for Davidson already include the Vann Center for Ethics, the Vann Fellowships for Biomedical Ethics Research at the Mayo Clinic and the Vann Family Scholarship for scholar-athletes.


  • December 17, 2018


  • Vann Center