January 30, 2017
by Matt Ellison
The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service has become known for the contributions its teachers, graduates, and students make in the wider world. In the late 1960s, though, it was through service to his own school in a time of crisis, that made Government Professor Walter Giles so remarkable.
Dr. Walter I. “Jack” Giles came to Georgetown first in 1938 as an undergraduate in the School of Foreign Service. Giles, who worked as a civilian in Air Force Intelligence once the United States entered World War II, would graduate in 1943, serve in the Army Air Corps for the remainder of the war, and return to Georgetown to receive a master’s degree in 1945 and a doctorate in 1956.
Over his more than 50 years at Georgetown, Giles taught courses on Modern Foreign Governments, American Government and Constitutional Law that inspired several generations of lawyers, legislators, academics, and even one future U.S. President.
“He wasn’t an easy professor, but that’s what made his class so great,” remembered Steve Sullivan (SFS’68), a former student of Giles. “He challenged students to think for themselves. That was one of his most enduring gifts to me.”
President Bill Clinton (SFS’68), in his memoir My Life, would call Giles’ class on U.S. Constitution and Government his “most memorable class.” Clinton remembered Giles as a “redheaded, crew-cut confirmed bachelor whose life was filled by his students, his love for the Constitution and social justice, and his passion for the Washington Redskins, win or lose.”
“I think [Professor Giles] took an interest in me partly because I was from a state that bordered his own, though he liked to kid me about it,” Clinton wrote. “I sat in the front row of Giles’s big lecture class, a perfect foil for his biting wit. One day as I was napping, he noted loudly that a certain Supreme Court ruling was so crystal clear anyone could understand it, ‘unless, of course, you’re from some hick town in Arkansas.’ I awoke with a start to peals of laughter from my classmates and never fell asleep on him again.”
Aside from the countless hours he spent teaching and mentoring his students, perhaps the most important contribution Giles made to the School of Foreign Service was his role in restoring its core faculty.
Fr. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., who had run the School as its Regent since its founding in 1919, died in 1956. Walsh had suffered strokes starting in 1952, forcing him into retirement. In the following decade, the School suffered a very real deterioration—even as it was named for Walsh in 1958.
From 1955 to 1970, SFS had no faculty of its own. Before 1955, with Walsh at the helm, SFS had its own departments of English, History, Economics, Philosophy, and Political Science, among others. Walsh would hire his own faculty with the primary qualification that they be great instructors—and they each had the same rank: lecturer. With the departure of Fr. Walsh in 1952, the School quickly lost first its budgetary autonomy, and then its own faculty, library, registrar, admissions office, and curriculum control.
Dean Peter F. Krogh, who would not arrive at Georgetown until 1970, later reflected on this time of crisis for SFS. “The School began to unravel,” Krogh wrote. These developments led the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in its 1960 decennial review of the University to wonder, “if anything remained of the School of Foreign Service except its name.”
The Middle States team wrote in its April 1961 report, “the School of Foreign Service has no faculty of its own, no library of its own, no admissions policy of its own, not even a building or a reading room exclusively its own. It has very little budgeting discretion. It has a dean with the rank of assistant professor.”
Fr. Frank Fadner, S.J., the School’s Regent following Fr. Walsh, would comment in 1959 that when it came to the curriculum, “we find it much better to give good stiff courses in government, history and geography. If you do this well, you don’t need the razzle-dazzle.”
But as the 1960s unfolded—now with far fewer natural proponents of the School in place to make decisions—staving off the “razzle-dazzle” proved difficult. Courses in Foreign Service disciplines that had once been staples of the School were increasingly replaced by electives and seminars to accommodate the interests of the now-unified University faculty departments.
Successive deans of the School through the 1960s would encounter great difficulty remedying these organizational and pedagogical challenges. Dean William E. Moran, Jr. resigned in 1966 and suffered a fatal heart attack shortly thereafter.
In a noteworthy issue of The Hoya in April 1968—the same one in which Professor Carroll Quigley asked “Is Georgetown Committing ‘Suicide’?”—Giles detailed the damage that the school had suffered without having had its own core faculty or departments, under the headline “SFS Losing Identity.” “The consequences of that situation have been disastrous in the functioning of the School,” Giles wrote.
“In such crucial matters as course offerings, size of classes, quality of instruction, educational and administrative services rendered to students, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the School of Foreign Service has so often been the stepchild of the integrated departments, and the integrated University,” Giles added.
Then amid student protests over the perceived declining stature of the School and the formation of a “Save Our School Committee,” SFS Dean Fr. Joseph S. Sebes, S.J., resigned after only two years in office, and Giles, along with Dr. Carroll Quigley, was soon leading a movement of students, faculty, and alumni to revitalize the School through the creation of an SFS “core faculty.”
Responding to the unrest among students and various faculty like Giles and Quigley, Acting University President Rev. Edwin A. Quain, S.J., set up a new SFS curriculum committee along with a search committee for the new Dean of the School. The search committee first secured an interim dean, Dr. Jesse A. Mann, in 1968. (Mann, who was at that time in Georgetown’s Philosophy Department, had been in the late 1940s and early 1950s a member of SFS’s own philosophy faculty.) Ultimately by 1970, the search had yielded Peter F. Krogh, who became the School’s permanent dean.
Meanwhile Giles and others pushed for the University to restore for SFS a “core faculty” of its own. They believed this would help preserve the identity and character of the School. With Giles, and other likeminded colleagues and students now on board, a newly formed executive committee for the School resolved to create a core faculty. In the spring of 1970, the University, under new President Fr. Robert J. Henle, S.J., granted it.
Thanks to the work of Giles and his fellow advocates for the School, the road was paved for the School to find its identity anew and to provide an opportunity for the new dean, Peter Krogh, arriving just months later, to lead the School to greater heights.