The Sanford School of Public Policy announced Jan. 25 that David French, a prominent political commentator and journalist, would be joining Duke as the 2022 Pamela and Jack Egan visiting professor.
The Egan Visiting Professorship is an honor “awarded to a journalist, writer or commentator of distinction in a field related to media and contemporary issues,” according to a previous Egan Professorship announcement on Sanford’s website. The program is jointly administered by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy and Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy.
The visiting professorship seeks to introduce new perspectives to Duke’s campus and “broaden the conversation in ways that will help Duke students prepare for the intellectual diversity of the contemporary age,” according to the announcement of French’s appointment.
“The goal was someone who's a pundit, if you will—a prominent voice in the public sphere, as opposed to just a straight academic research scholar,” said Peter Feaver, director of AGS and professor of political science.
The administrators of the visiting professorship believe French offers the chance to spark a number of conversations on Duke’s campus.
“He's a conservative who has resigned from the Republican Party. He's an evangelical Christian who questioned some of the activities that that community has been engaged in recent years. He has traditional views on other political issues; he's just an interesting mix,” DeWitt Director Philip Napoli said.
As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a former constitutional litigator and a New York Times bestselling author, French’s experience allows him to speak not only about his ideological views, but also his first-hand accounts.
“When you're talking about constitutional law, [I] litigated for 20-plus years, and so we're able to have a really fun interaction—not just about ‘What is the judicial philosophy?’ but ‘How does that play out in the actual courtroom?’” French said.
French held his first event at Duke Feb. 1, a talk titled “National Security and the Future of the Republican Party.” There, he spoke about growing foreign policy divisions within the Republican Party and the conservative movement in America.
“These different wings, I think, are quite emblematic of the division in the party, with a growing number of people who are rejecting extension of American military alliances [and] are suspicious of existing American military alliances and increasingly indifferent to crises abroad,” French said, “contrary to the general thrust of Republican foreign policy for generations.”
During his time at Duke, he also held more intimate discussions with students who wished to meet with him about the topics he discussed in the larger talk.
“I was just incredibly impressed with the thoughtfulness of the questions and the openness of the students. They came wanting to have a good conversation, and that was encouraging and enjoyable,” French said.
With future programs already in the works, French hopes to make the most out of his time at the University and with Duke’s students.
“I just think it's a neat program, because unlike a lot of events that I've done in the past where you go and you say, ‘Okay, you're coming, you're doing a lecture and you're leaving,’ what essentially is happening here is something far more open-ended, and I think far more interactive,” French said. “Each time I come and visit and have smaller interactions, I think it makes it much more worthwhile than the typical ‘come, speak, leave’ kind of pattern.”
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Audrey Wang is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.