Profiles of Trinity: An Interview With George Will ’62

6 min read

Jack P. Carroll ’24

News Editor

This interview is the first in a series of articles in the Tripod’s “Profiles of Trinity” by News Editor Jack P. Carroll ’24. The “Profiles of Trinity” series documents the legacies of Trinity’s alumni and their time at Trinity. 

As a nationally syndicated columnist, bestselling author, and the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, George F. Will ’62 has received many accolades throughout the course of his career. Will’s success serves as a testament to the true value of a liberal arts education.

Before writing for the Washington Post and Newsweek; working as a political contributor to MSNBC, NBC News, and Fox News; teaching at Michigan State, Harvard, and the University of Toronto; and pursuing graduate studies at Oxford and Princeton, George Will was a member of the Class of 1962 at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

A Tripod article from Feb. 27, 1961 announcing Will’s appointment to lead the Tripod. Photo courtesy of The Trinity Tripod.

The Tripod spoke with Will in February seeking his commentary with regards to his time at Trinity; the development of his political beliefs; and the current state of higher education, journalism, and national affairs.

When reflecting on his decision to attend Trinity, Will informed the Tripod that he was “interested in traveling east” for college after having grown up in Central Illinois. Also, Will said that he was able to attend Trinity through a “scholarship program for young boys from Illinois.”

Upon arriving in Hartford, Will indicated that he was impressed by the campus as Trinity has “some of the finest collegiate Gothic architecture in the country.” Despite having grown up near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where his father taught philosophy, Will noted that he had not previously encountered the “classic collegiate Gothic style” that “defines Trinity.”

As a student, Will was a frequent contributor to the Tripod and served as its Editor-in-Chief during his junior and senior years of college in 1961. Prior to assuming the role of Editor-in-Chief, Will was a Sports Editor and a member of the Tripod’s News Staff.

When speaking about his time writing for the Tripod, Will recalled conflicts between the Q.E.D. and Delta Phi fraternities over what Will termed “exclusionary policies.” During the fall of 1960, the Tripod reported that Will initiated the creation of the Q.E.D. and its disaffiliation with Trinity’s Delta Phi chapter in protest against a national policy which prohibited Delta Phi from granting membership to Jewish and African-American students. In the same article, the Q.E.D formally announced their disaffiliation with Delta Phi when writing the following:

Our organization is comprised of 13 students who last year disaffiliated themselves from the national fraternity of Delta Phi. This action was taken because we strongly object to a policy of ethnic and credal discrimination which was being imposed upon us by the national fraternity. For several years prior to our schism we undertook a policy devoted to seeking desirable change within Delta Phi itself. It became increasingly evident to us that such a change would be a practical impossibility.

In addition to being a member of the Tripod and the Q.E.D. fraternity, Will was also the co-chairman of the Students for Kennedy club as reported in an archived Tripod article. When asked about the evolution of his political beliefs, Will attributed his shift to a more conservative viewpoint to his time as a student at the University of Oxford. Will specifically told the Tripod that the three following events contributed towards this shift: “seeing the Berlin Wall,” witnessing Britain become “suffocated by statism and socialism,” as well as his contact with “classical liberal thought” through the works of various economists such as “Milton Friedman” and [Friedrich] “Hayek.”

The conversation then shifted to Will’s thoughts on the current state of higher education in America. In his response, Will indicated that the quality of the college and university experience for students has declined (in terms of curricula, freedom of speech, and teaching) since his time in college. Referring to a number of studies, Will stated that there is a lack of academic rigor in college curricula and that present-day students “write less, read less, and study less than they used to.” Also, Will indicated that the study of world literature has been negatively influenced by “politicized literature faculty” who read all literature as “reflections of the power struggles and the power relations of the era in which a particular work was written.”

In addition, Will attributed the declining state of college institutions to the “therapeutic ethic” on college and university campuses that “students must be coddled” and their “sensitivities must be attended to.” Will further stated that the increase in the number of administrators whose duty it is to “massage the social life of the students” has resulted in free speech becoming “imbalanced away” on college and university campuses. In order to facilitate civil discourse and prevent the spread of biases throughout higher education, Will recommends that colleges and universities endorse a “Chicago Statement” which is an established set of principles that commits an institution to maintaining an “intellectually-open society.”

Will participating in an interview with John Lautner, the head of “Operation Abolition,” in May 1961. Photo courtesy of The Trinity Tripod.

In response to questions about contemporary journalism, Will stated that “within the last ten years” journalism has become “infected with a kind of advocacy that leaps off the opinion pages and into the news columns.” Also, Will expects hard copies of newspapers to become a product of the past as journalism becomes further digitized. To students who are interested in pursuing a career in journalism, Will advised: “Don’t study journalism.” Will then went on to state that “[Y]ou’ll learn journalism practicing it.” Instead, Will instructed students to “read history, read constantly, read very good writers.”

When asked about his hopes for our country in the next four years, Will acknowledged that he voted for Biden and that he hopes the current administration understands that “the country doesn’t want a revolution, it wants restoration.” Also, Will hopes that the Biden administration understands that the “country is not angry, it is exhausted and embarrassed after the last four years,” and that it wants a “calm and competent administration.”

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