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.”