Drawing insights from politics, philosophy, religion, classics, history, literature, and the arts, Michael’s courses challenge students to grapple with fundamental moral and political questions and think critically about their values and virtues.
For excellence in teaching, Michael was awarded the George Kateb Teaching Award for Best Preceptor from Princeton’s Department of Politics in 2014, a Teaching Excellence Award from Oxford’s Humanities Division in 2016, and a Teaching Award from Wake Forest’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching in 2020.
The American Political Science Association interviewed Michael about his teaching on PoliticalScienceNow.
Teaching Experience (selected):
Wake Forest University
Commencing Character: How Should We Live?
Fall 2018, 2019, 2020, & 2021
This seminar considers fundamental questions of human existence: What is a good life? Which values and virtues are needed to flourish, and which practices enable us to cultivate these values and virtues? To explore these questions, the course pairs Aristotle’s ancient ethics with contemporary commencement speeches focused on character. By combining virtue-related commencement addresses with pedagogical exercises designed to cultivate virtue, this course aims to help us not only to “know what virtue is, but,” as Aristotle suggests, “to become good.”
Dialogues with Antiquity: How to Keep a Republic
Fall 2017 & Spring 2020
At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, when asked whether the new government of the United States was a monarchy or a republic, Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” What is a republic, and how do we keep it? How do we preserve liberty and justice for all against threats of domination? What role should checks and balances and the rule of law play in our political system? Which virtues are required for political leaders and citizens? And how can citizens hold their leaders accountable? These questions animate the tradition of civic republicanism that inspired an influential strand of Western political thought which includes Cicero, Machiavelli, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the American Founders, along with abolitionists, women’s suffragists, civil rights activists, and community organizers. This seminar seeks to understand the classical sources and key concepts of civic republicanism and explore how we can apply these ancient insights to preserve liberty, prevent domination, and hold power accountable in our own time.
Character and the Professions
Organized around a major international conference on “Character and the Professions” at Wake Forest on March 18-20, 2020, this course equipped students to develop and practice character within a variety of professions, including business, engineering and technology, law, medicine, public life, and religious leadership. Students explored what character is and why it matters, which virtues of character are most important in different professions, and which strategies might be effective for developing and sustaining good character in particular professional contexts.
Memorials, Models, and Portraits of Leadership: Exploring Character through Art
Who are our nation’s real heroes, and how do we remember them? How do artists shape our understanding of leadership and character? What can we learn about leadership through a close and critical engagement with public art? Through a partnership between Wake Forest University and the University of Pennsylvania, this course explores these questions through a deep engagement with memorials, murals, museums, portraits, and sacred sites that illuminate what we value as a nation and perhaps obscure what we long to forget.
University of Oxford
Theory of Politics
These tutorials in contemporary political theory acquaint students with ideas and concepts central to the theoretical, normative and interpretative analysis of politics. Particular themes include liberalism, justice, equality, liberty, and community.
Political Thought: Plato to Rousseau
These tutorials introduce students to canonical texts in Western political thought and to different methods of interpretation, with the aim of enhancing their ability to read texts closely and appreciate their philosophical significance within their own historical context and contemporary political thought.
Augustine’s Political Thought
These lectures introduce students to Augustine’s political thought by situating his ideas within their historical context and considering how they inform contemporary politics. Topics include Augustine’s reception in the history of political thought; his use of rhetoric for pedagogical and political purposes; the relationship between religion and politics; and the role of government in the secular age.
Ethics and Public Policy
Head Preceptor for Prof. Stephen Macedo – Fall 2012 and Fall 2013
This course examines basic moral controversies in public life: What are the responsibilities of public officials, soldiers, and citizens in times of war? Is torture ever justified? Do people have a right to the money they earn and inherit, or should government redistribute wealth to secure justice? Do we have obligations to people on distant continents, and if so, what are they? Should states open their borders or restrict immigration to promote justice at home? What justifies marriage as a civil institution? Through lectures and precepts, the course relates philosophical ideas to specific cases in public policy, teaching students to think, speak, and write clearly about ethics in public life.
Justice, Equality, and Liberty
Co-Instructor with Prof. Daniel Cullen – Spring 2007
This seminar explores rival visions of distributive justice and their relation to contested conceptions of equality and liberty. Engaging a variety of contemporary philosophers, the course teaches students to think critically about the moral and institutional foundations of political life and apply ethical theories to practical issues such as poverty, property, taxation, immigration, and global justice.
Search for Values: Politics Track
Co-Instructor with Prof. Daniel Cullen – Fall 2006
Part of a two-year humanities sequence, this interdisciplinary seminar surveys classic texts from medieval and modern political thought, with an emphasis on moral and political questions: What is the good life? Are different visions of the good compatible? What are the sources of our values? By canvassing texts from Aquinas, Dante, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Luther, Calvin, Milton, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, and others, the course challenges students to read critically, write effectively, and think deeply about their own pursuit of the good life.
Advising, Mentoring, and Ethical Programming:
University of Oxford
McDonald-Templeton Postdoctoral Fellow, Oxford Character Project
The Oxford Character Project’s Global Leadership Initiative helps graduate students from various disciplines reflect on ethical leadership through a series of readings and group discussions, dinners with guest speakers, and mentor meetings with Character Project staff and selected experts in their fields. As a post-doctoral fellow associated with the project, Michael is pursuing research on virtue, leadership, and moral education; developing a curriculum for character development; facilitating discussions of ethical leadership; and co-organizing a conference on “Cultivating Virtue in the University.”
Dean of Leadership, Service, and Character Development, The Rhodes Trust
Michael helped to develop the Rhodes Character, Service, and Leadership Programme, which included designing and moderating three-day retreats, organizing skills workshops, mentoring students, and developing a holistic program for the personal and professional development of Rhodes Scholars.
Co-Organizer, Ethics through Fiction and Film Reading Group – Fall 2014-Summer 2016
Consisting of Oxford faculty and graduate students, this group met regularly to discuss novels and films that raise ethical questions and explore how different creative genres engage our moral imagination in ways that abstract analysis cannot. Novels and film adaptations discussed include Ian McEwen’s Atonement, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.
Postgraduate Fellowship Advising – Fall 2011-Spring 2014
Working with Princeton’s Fellowships Advisor, Michael helped to advise students applying for the Rhodes, Marshall, Gates, and Truman Scholarships.
Resident Graduate Student at Butler College– Fall 2011-Spring 2014
For three years, Michael served as a Resident Graduate Student at one of Princeton’s residential colleges. In addition to living in the residence halls, participating in college events, and mentoring undergraduates, he planned programs to encourage civic engagement and ethical reflection, including a three-part “Politics Film Series”; a series of presidential debate and election events; an “Inside Politics” discussion of his experiences as chief of staff on political campaigns; a screening and discussion of the award-winning documentary, Philosopher-Kings; and a “Values and Vocations” event in coordination with the University Center for Human Values.
Experiential Education Consultant – Fall 2006-Spring 2007
At the request of the Rhodes College President, Dean of Curriculum, and Educational Programming Committee, Michael analyzed the state of experiential education and service-learning at the College in light of a new experiential learning requirement in the curriculum. After conducting interviews and focus groups with faculty and staff across departments, he submitted a report with recommendations on how the College might increase its experiential education offerings and facilitate additional collaboration with community organizations in Memphis.