A Political Science professor who embodied the ideals of our alma mater passed yesterday, January 25, 2024. Kurt Tauber was 101.
Born in Vienna in 1922, he fled just after the Nazi Anschluß. Tauber joined the Political Science Department in 1960, later becoming Department Chair. He was a Gaudino Scholar, chair of the Gaudino Committee, gourmet chef, chocolate lover, and a Marxist. Despite his passionate political convictions -- and regular left-wing activism -- Kurt Tauber was beloved by conservative intellectuals on campus. Indeed, Kurt Tauber was beloved by all those who knew him and who valued ideas and open debate. One of his closest friends on the faculty was one of the few conservatives on the faculty, French Professor Georges Pistorius, like him a refugee from Central Europe. Pistorius left Prague after the Communist coup in 1948
Kurt Tauber didn't judge students on their political conclusions, but on the quality of our arguments. He loved to engage with us. And he hated sloppy thinking. He often wrote caustic comments on hastily written papers even when the student had a viewpoint similar to his own.
And he was a great champion of free speech and civil discourse. When Phyllis Schlafly was invited to campus in 1983, he welcomed the conservative anti-feminist activist with open arms. Under his leadership, the Political Science Department co-sponsored the talk, even paying for the reception in the Stetson Faculty lounge.
He saw the event as a great success because it got people talking, arguing, and debating--and in a very civil manner. There were so many conversations across political differences for a full week --and then some -- after her speech.
And that is why a Marxist so loved a talk by a conservative anti-feminist: it got students thinking, talking seriously about ideas and the events of the days.
With his beard neatly oiled and trimmed and wearing lederhosen and a green loden jacket, often with a pipe in his mouth, Professor Tauber was a regular fixture at campus events from lectures and debates to concerts and student dinners. He loved to engage with students. And he loved it when students who disagreed with him engaged with him. He was a mentor to many and could often be found leaning back in his chair in his office in the rabbit warren of offices in Stetson, talking to a students, a warm smile on his face, a happy sparkle in his eye, pipe smoke wafting all around.
Kurt Tauber represented the best of Williams College, a true and worthy heir of Mark Hopkins.