This afternoon I learned of the passing of Walter E. Williams, who I had the honor of studying under during my time as an undergrad. More than speaking to his accomplishments as an economist–which are plenty, and many have outlined them better than I can–I’d like to talk about him as a person, from just my brief time sitting in his class as a lowly freshman.
I went to George Mason University because I wanted to go to a college where there would at least be some chance of me not failing classes because of my political views. One of the draws of GMU for me was Walter Williams, well-known in conservative and libertarian circles because of his role filling in for Rush Limbaugh, and for his politically incorrect views on racial issues. So, at the first chance I could, I enrolled in Wiliams’ class. It was a ~7:30 AM class. And it required calculus, a prerequisite I had never taken. Way out of my element, I went anyway.
On the first day of class, I sat front row center. I took out my recorder. And when Williams walked in, he asked me, “How do you discriminate when looking for someone to date?” I wasn’t sure the appropriate way to answer for class. But, true to form, Williams came up with the most politically incorrect possible answer of all, one perhaps more politically incorrect than the one in my head. The rest of the course went on similarly. This was a sample question for his final exam prep, for instance:
“Nonsense is forbidden” meant, of course, trying to argue against religion.
The day of my final exam, I was pretty sick. Williams saw that I wasn’t feeling well and, though he had brought bagels and orange juice for the class to enjoy after the test, personally brought me a cup and left it on my desk and told me to feel better. I know it’s a very small gesture, but in the world of academia, and the world of politics, thats something that has still stood out to me since 2011*. Just a simple act of kindness. And he was a kind man.
Also, in case any of you get a kick out of this like I did, here’s a treat from Williams’ website:
(*I originally wrote 2015, which was when I graduated, not when I took Williams’ class)