#OurTufts: Vickie Sullivan

Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science Vickie Sullivan describes her experience teaching at Tufts in an #OurTufts series post
Vickie Sullivan

"When I started in college, I didn’t know political theory was an academic subject. By chance, I ended up in courses with professors who knew how to bring classic political-theory texts to life. In addition, they believed students could have original insight into these great works. As they encouraged me back then, I try to do the same for my students—fostering their passion for political theory while expecting them to aim high. I encourage my advanced students to read secondary literature and to engage in genuine scholarly debate. Tufts students are brilliant and love the challenge. 

I brag to colleagues at other institutions that I have the best teaching gig in the country. I love talking to smart young people about the works I love. Teaching helps me with my research. My publications contain notes in which I credit students who have had a genuine interpretative insight. I am so grateful for the discussions that we’ve had that I dedicated my book on Montesquieu to students who’d taken my seminar on the subject over the years.

A student from my Montesquieu seminar last year returned to my class this year when we were discussing the section of The Spirit of Laws where Montesquieu examines criminal laws. Montesquieu subtly pushes against the notion, very common in his time, that punishment should entail retribution and vengeance. The former student wanted to participate in that discussion again because he’d gained insights on law from a philosophy course and wanted to say how important Montesquieu’s ideas had been in the reform of criminal law. I admire the student’s commitment.

I know some former students see me as sort of a mother figure, which is nice. One student of mine—as he was packing to leave for accepted students’ day at a graduate school—emailed me to ask me if he should bring a blazer. I told him to bring the blazer—and that I loved that he’d asked me that question." 

Vickie Sullivan is the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences. #OurTufts is a series of personal stories shared by Tufts community members