Maynard O. Smith P'76
Professor of Political Science
October 7, 1995
Maynard O. Smith was born and raised in Mazomanie, Wisconsin in 1919, and attended the University of Wisconsin where he earned a B.A. in philosophy in 1940 and master’s in philosophy in 1946. He served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force in World War II, and after the war he attended the New School for Social Research and was a lecturer at Hunter College in New York City from 1947-50. He later completed his Ph.D. at the New School in 1953 where he graduated magna cum laude, was valedictorian of his class, and won the “outstanding dissertation award.”
He started teaching at Hobart and William Smith in 1950 as a lecturer, became an assistant professor in 1953, an associate professor in 1954, and a full professor in 1959. He won a Rockefeller Fellowship in Political and Legal Philosophy in 1956-57. In the summer of 1960, as a visiting professor at the University of Nebraska, he was offered a regular appointment to their faculty. He chose, instead, to stay at Hobart and William Smith where he continued teaching until his retirement in 1990.
Dr. Smith taught classical, medieval, and modern political philosophy; American political theory, philosophy of social science, and the American political system. He served on many committees and panels nationally, regionally, and at the Colleges. He served on a panel which developed a college proficiency examination in American government for New York State. This examination was eventually adopted by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ. He was a frequent contributor to journals of political science and a regular member and contributor to conferences and seminars. He also served as chairman of the political science department at the Colleges for a number of years.
In addition to all of his academic credentials, Maynard Smith was a wonderful teacher. He encouraged his students to challenge every assumption and develop their own political philosophy, drawing from the great thinkers of the past, and understanding the ebb and flow of events which have shaped decisions over the ages. He brought to the study of politics his vast store of knowledge, a great deal of patience, and some strong convictions. He actively engaged students, challenging them to support their arguments with facts, anecdotes, and historical references. He was always soft spoken and dignified, even as he laid bare the arguments of unprepared students. He also brought dignity and rationality to the emotionally-charged debate about the war in Vietnam, and helped many students sort out their convictions from their fears.
Dr. Smith served as honors advisors to a host of students over his 40 years at the Colleges, and their praise of him could fill a book. He was a gentleman of honor and principle, and a quiet inspiration to generations of Hobart and William Smith students.