Dr. Phillip Howe: The Smartest Man in the Room

Dr. Philip Howe, Adrian College Political Science Department Chair, has mastered the art of politics. He has spent his life conducting research in comparative politics, traveling Central and Eastern Europe, and formulating a name for himself in the political science world. However, the road to finding his passion was less than smooth. 

Howe says his father dreamt of him becoming a doctor, so naturally he went into his undergraduate with the same intentions. He attended Oberlin College, a small liberal arts school similar to Adrian. At the time of entering his freshman year he was a biology and philosophy double major. By the end of that year, he switched to a double major of Physics and English. Not too long after, in the fall of his sophomore year, he once again switched. This time to computer science. Finally at the end of his sophomore year Howe felt pressure to commit to an area of study. Howe says he then had one of the “wisest” thoughts he ever had as an undergraduate.

“I’m thinking about politics all the time anyway, why don’t I just do course work in it,” Howe said. 

Although politics wasn’t always the plan for Howe, being a professor was. The key for him was just figuring out a professor of what.

“I wanted to be that person at the front of the room who knew everything,” said Howe. “Or at least seems to know everything.”

Howe, along with most professors, tackles work, research and travel. Becoming an expert on any subject requires a high-level of self-motivation. However, Howe says he would put the work of professors in a special category, calling each one a little obsessive in their own way. 

“Every professor is someone who would work on what they do constantly, regardless,” Howe said. “The job is just a way to facilitate that.”

With aspirations to become the man at the front of the room, graduate school was on his mind. He ended up at UC San Diego, where he was faced with the challenge of finding a specialty. Although not familiar with the world yet, Howe says he knew he wanted to learn by traveling. That is when Howe was drawn to comparative politics, more specifically Eastern Europe. Howe earned his undergraduate degree in the 90s, just as the Cold War was ending. Eastern Europe was a new world for many people, and he wanted to explore it.

Although Howe took interest in all of Central and Eastern Europe, his passion was truly in Austria. Howe described his first ever sabbatical in Vienna, Austria as life changing. He spent his time surrounded by economists, journalists, philosophers, art historians and more. 

“It was this rich environment,” Howe said. “It was all people who were intellectually active, wrote a lot, published a lot, but were also in really close with politicians.”

His second sabbatical was funded through a prestigious grant program called Fulbright, a program he now advises at Adrian College. This time he was in Budapest, Hungary. There he presented at around 12 conferences, including some in Sarajevo, Zagreb, Zürich, Madrid and more. Howe says his work really resonates with Austrians, Germans and Eastern Europeans in a way it doesn’t in the US. 

Howe says his biggest accomplishment is his article that just came out, titled “Nationalism, Class, and Status: How Nationalists Use Policy Offers and Group Appeals to Attract a New Electorate”. This is a project he started seven years ago with two research partners, which was the start of his journey to demonstrate a new model of how election campaigns work. However, his work will not stop there. Howe is currently co-writing a book with two historians, which is combining historical literature written in English, German, Slovak, Czech and Hungarian. This project is part of Howe’s attempts to increase political scientists’ interest in historical cases. The book is set to be released in the Central European University Press sometime this year. Although impressive, these recent projects only scratch the surface of work done by Howe, all while maintaining his role as the Political Science Department Chair at Adrian College. 

Howe has been a professor at Adrian since 2005, which was his first full time professor job, other than his year as a fill-in at Lewis and Clark College. Ending up at a liberal arts college came as no surprise to Howe. He says his family has always gravitated towards the same traditions. 

“The joke I always tell is that my family is very religious and believes in the trinity,” Howe said. “That trinity is private liberal arts education, foriegn travel, and German composers.”

It is no surprise that Howe has left lasting impressions on his students at Adrian. Michael Howard, senior political science major, has had over 10 classes with him. Howard says he planned on transferring to a new school his first semester at Adrian, that is until he met Howe. The opportunity to learn political science from Howe was enough to make him stay. 

“He is brilliant more than people know or get a chance to see,” Howard said. “I can definitely say he’s the best teacher I’ve had in my life and ultimately the reason I attend Adrian College.”

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