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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Political science professor helps students ask the ‘better question’

After almost four decades, political science professor John Winkle is still exhilarated by teaching.

“I love classroom interaction, whether it is an enrollment of 70 in my constitutional law sequence or 15 in an honors class or a graduate seminar,” Winkle said. “It is the exchange of ideas. It is the moment that a student’s eyes flash with first-time understanding of a concept or its application. I have longed believed that the essence of learning lies in the ability to ask the better question. I want to make a difference in students’ lives by helping them to ask the better question. Nothing is more exciting than to see them do just that.”

The Georgia native received a B.A. from Mercer University, with a major in history and minors in literature and religion before spending a life-changing year in Washington, D.C., working for a U.S. senator followed by both M.A. and Ph.D. in political science with an emphasis in law and courts from Duke University.

Winkle began teaching at UM in 1974. He currently teaches an undergraduate constitutional law sequence, which he has offered each year since he arrived on campus. He has taught the introductory course in American government and politics as well as upper-level classes in judicial process, court administration, international law and federalism. Additionally, he has taught graduate-level courses in constitutional law, judicial politics and intergovernmental relations.

Winkle makes a strong impact on his students by introducing them to new ideas and concepts.

“Dr. Winkle influenced me to go to law school,” said Shad White,  a law student at Harvard University. “He is very intellectual and very demanding, and he asks a lot from his students. He has a gift for explaining complex ideas.”

UM has been an enjoyable experience for Winkle.

“I enjoy both the freedom and the opportunity to pursue intellectual passions,” he said. “I have taught my choice of courses and pursued my research preferences in the field of law and politics.”

“Dr. John Winkle represents one of the stellar teachers of our honors students,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the Honors College. “He leads with his passion and intellect in a demanding way, and the students rise to the challenge. He awakens the philosophical soul of his students and calls on them to be citizen and scholar in today’s complex and conflict-ridden world. He never sugarcoats the depths of the philosophical differences, but his demeanor evokes possibility, an optimism that each student can make a difference in the debates and with the problems [they] confront. I wish that I had 10 more just like him.”

It’s a challenge for Winkle to select a favorite moment from his years of teaching because there are so many.

“My mind flashes to a memorable comment years ago. On a course evaluation form, a student wrote: ‘I am only a C student, but you never made me feel stupid.’”