As an undergraduate at Virginia Wesleyan College, Matthew Franck ’80 majored in political science and worked as a resident assistant. In his spare time, the Hockessin, Delaware native engaged in theatre and radio and also participated in community service. Today, Franck works as the director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. He is a professor emeritus of political science at Radford University as well as a visiting lecturer in politics at Princeton. He and his wife, Dr. Gwen Brown, live in historic Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
How did your time at Virginia Wesleyan College shape the person you are today? That’s an easy question. It was at Wesleyan that I discovered what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to study and teach the subject of politics. When I arrived I had vague thoughts of law school, but I became very excited by my political science courses, took as many as I could, and otherwise filled up my schedule with humanities courses in history, philosophy, and English as much as I was allowed. The American political order in particular became a lifelong subject of study for me during my years at Wesleyan, and I went on to become a professor of that subject myself after further study.
What are some of your favorite memories of friends, professors or mentors at VWC? This is the real key to the last answer: Dr. Edmund D. “Del” Carlson was the teacher who “turned me on” to the study of politics. His courses plunged right into primary texts and basic questions of political philosophy in a way that captivated me immediately. Very quickly I resolved to do for a living what he did—and that’s exactly what I went on to do. He remains even now, almost a decade and a half after his death at far too young an age, the best teacher I ever saw.
Other teachers I admired and learned from included Dick Stevens and Bill Jones in political science, Bill Sturm and Larry Hultgren in philosophy, Stephen Mansfield and Dan Graf in history, Joe Harkey, Richard Hirsch, and Andy Orr in English, Rick Hite and Bentley Anderson in theater, and Pat Sullivan in French. And I admired President Lambuth Clarke and Dean Bill Wilson, who would always listen to student concerns and had very sound judgment.
As for friends, I am still in touch with a few of my old classmates to this day, and we still can laugh about what young fools we were then.
How are Wesleyan alumni different from other college graduates? The reason I remember such teachers and classes so well, and got so much out of them, is that Wesleyan was and is a small place, where learning occurs on a human scale, with maximum direct interaction of student and teacher. I’ve noticed in my own academic career that while professors naturally get their advanced graduate degrees at big research universities, a disproportionate number of them get their undergraduate education at small liberal arts colleges that can do what Wesleyan does so well—foster an intimate, immersive learning environment where students and teachers really know each other, and where benefits of that relationship flow in both directions.
Anything else about your VWC experience you’d like to share? The college was really young in my day, open for ten years when I arrived as a freshman and with just 800 students when I was a senior. All of us were aware at some level that we were a community that would succeed or fail together, and this produced a lot of passion about the life of that college community, in and out of the classroom. Not that we gave this much conscious thought! We students wanted to have fun and do as little work as we could get away with—and sometimes we got away with too much! We had some wild times I should say no more about, but my contemporaries will know what I mean. But even when the details blur a bit in memory, the four years I spent at VWC loom large in my life as a truly formative experience that led me to a lifetime in the academy.