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Khalil Habib recently joined the pol­itics faculty at Hillsdale. The King’s College | Courtesy

New Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Khalil Habib, after being hired this fall, has already become a popular name on campus. His classes for the spring 2019 term filled by the second day of reg­is­tration.

“I’ve been talking him up to everyone that’s been asking about him,” said Freshman David Strobach, who plans on majoring in pol­itics. “He’s hon­estly the most bril­liant pro­fessor I have here. He’s the most engaging, the way he makes such complex topics so simple. The con­ver­sa­tional aspect of his classroom is fan­tastic.”

Habib, a pro­fessor from Salve Regina Uni­versity in Newport, Rhode Island, was hired this fall as an asso­ciate pro­fessor of pol­itics at Hillsdale College. He received his under­graduate degree in political science from the Uni­versity of Maine, his masters in political science from the Uni­versity of Toronto, and his Ph.D. in phi­losophy from Boston Uni­versity.

Habib offers a unique per­spective to stu­dents on American political thought as he is orig­i­nally from Lebanon, and then later moved to Bahrain. He immi­grated to the United States while he was still a young child.

Freshman Ceanna Hayes says she loves learning from Habib in her U.S. Con­sti­tution class because she gains a fresh appre­ci­ation for the American founding prin­ciples.

“You really under­stand these founding prin­ciples in a dif­ferent way than if you were taught by someone who was born in America who is accus­tomed to and doesn’t really appre­ciate how com­pletely radical it is that the American expe­rience was suc­cessful,” Ceanna said.

Hayes said she enjoyed Habib’s teaching so much that she dropped out of her music class this semester and picked up one of his 200-level pol­itics courses. She said he some­times ref­er­ences the Con­sti­tution class while teaching the 200-level course in order to help her under­stand the class better.

“No one else in the class is even in Con­sti­tution,” she said. “He’s just that devoted to each student that he will lit­erally make a com­parison, and he’ll point to me and say, ‘Now Ceanna, this is how this ties into the passage we’re reading in the Fed­er­alist papers today’ — which is absolutely fan­tastic.”

It was Dr. Habib’s expe­rience as an immi­grant that led him to pursue pol­itics.

“As an immi­grant to this country, I can tell you one of the things that always per­plexed me, having come from the Middle East, having seen first hand the dev­as­tating effects of civil war and reli­gious per­se­cution, I could not wrap my mind around how 350 million people were getting along and coex­isting peace­fully; it just seemed like a political miracle,” Habid said. “And since I knew that political mir­acles are very rare and not likely pos­sible, there had to be some sort of science or art behind it or some mind behind it.”

Trying to locate the answer to the success of the American exper­iment, Habib explored eco­nomics, religion, the­ology, and even phi­losophy until he took his first political science course as an under­graduate.

“I even­tually realized that with respect to America’s founding — not to diminish the con­fluence of factors that came together at the right moment with the right people –there was a real con­scious effort, par­tic­u­larly as expressed in the Fed­er­alist Papers and other important doc­u­ments, to artic­ulate an idea of gov­ernment and natural rights that have their roots in political thought,” Habib said. “I sud­denly under­stood that it wasn’t simply by accident that we have sep­a­ration of powers, rep­re­sen­tative gov­ernment, and a con­sti­tution that focuses on indi­vidual rights and the pro­tection of liberty and property. There was real delib­er­ation, and this was a nation that took and con­tinues to take very seri­ously the idea that indi­viduals can chart their own path.”

Besides his unique per­spective on American pol­itics, Habib also offers an enriching classroom dynamic. When asked about his teaching style, Habib said he focuses on close reading of the text and fos­tering debates and dis­cus­sions with stu­dents.

“I don’t believe that a pol­itics course should be any­thing other than a mirror of a political com­munity,” Habib said.  “We’re in it together, and we’re going to debate. We’re going to artic­ulate posi­tions that are very con­tro­versial and we are, through mutual respect, and through con­ver­sation, going to have a debate. So the classroom for me is a mini polis.”

Hayes said she also enjoys Habib’s sense of humor.

“I have lit­erally five pages of quotes of just funny things Habib has said in class,” Hayes said. “The first day of class we were talking about the second amendment and he says, ‘Well alright, can I, in the interest of self-defense, assemble my own nuclear armada?’ And we’re all just like, ‘You probably shouldn’t do that?’ And then he replied, “Well, you can’t but I can — I’m Lebanese.”

Habib first came to Hillsdale two years ago when he gave a lecture on Islamic phi­losophy.

“That was the first time I was able, in person, to see for myself what I’d heard for so many years, and that is that Hillsdale attracts some of the best stu­dents in the country,” Habib said. “After the talk, I was asked to conduct a two-hour graduate seminar and it was just an amazing expe­rience — the stu­dents were so smart, so eager, so pre­pared, and so engaged.”

Habib said he also really admires the Hillsdale faculty.

“Some of the faculty here lit­erally changed my life and shaped the way I look at things and what I do. I learned about the Pro­gres­sives from Dr. Pestritto. I learned a great deal about Mon­tesquieu, Toc­queville, and ancient and modern repub­li­canism from Dr. Rahe.  Dr. Tom West, for example, wrote a book called Vin­di­cating the Founders that I read as an under­graduate; it changed the way I look at and study pol­itics — and I never imagined that one day I would be sitting in on one of his classes and teaching alongside these great teachers and scholars.”

Habib said the college’s mission was the number one reason why he came to Hillsdale.

“What really dis­tin­guishes Hillsdale College from any other insti­tution is its mission, and that it lives by it and that it’s not just words on paper,” Habib said. “Its mission specif­i­cally focuses on liberal edu­cation — com­mitted to teaching the greatest works of the greatest thinkers that have shaped the greatest events. And the stu­dents who come here know it.”

When asked about teaching a pol­itics course on Islamic political phi­losophy Habib said although he’d like to, it would be dif­ficult.

“The problem with teaching a course on Islamic political thought is that most of Islamic phi­losophy tends to be in meta­physics, or deeply the­o­logical. So it’s extremely dif­ficult, I think, for stu­dents with not much of the back­ground to really get much out of it,” Habib said. “You’d have to have advanced stu­dents with a lot of back­ground, espe­cially in Plato and Aris­totle, not to mention the Koran and Islamic tra­dition, but in time.”

Habib said working at the college was enough to cause him to move to Hillsdale, but as a native city-dweller, he was sur­prised to find he liked living in Hillsdale for the sur­rounding area as well.

“I’m shocked at how much I love living here,” Habib said. “It has no urban sprawl what­soever and so it has an authentic Amer­icana feel to it that I just adore. You have to remember that I’m an immi­grant so any­thing that’s pure Amer­icana for me is like a dream come true.”