25 Years of High-Level Discourse on Politics and Policy

Dr. Matthew Wilson specializes in the politics and voting behavior of religious voters, as well as public opinion, elections, religion and politics, and political psychology. In addition to his teaching and research, Dr. Wilson frequently gives public lectures on various aspects of American politics, and routinely serves as a commentator on political affairs for local, national, and international media outlets. He is also a regular contributor to The Dallas Morning News‘s “Texas Faith” blog on religion in public life.

We sat down with Dr. Wilson to learn more about his time at the Center and the value it brings to students and the community.

What is your role with the Tower Center and how did you come to be involved with the center?

I am currently a Fellow in the Tower Center and a member of the Center’s Faculty Advisory Board. I have been involved with the Tower Center in some capacity since my arrival at SMU twenty years ago, and the programs and resources of the Tower Center were an important element in attracting me to SMU in the first place. Tower Center grants have helped support several of my research projects, and some years ago the Tower Center sponsored a workshop that I convened at SMU of scholars working on religion and politics–a project that ultimately resulted in a book publication. In recent years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to moderate discussions with interesting and important public figures at Tower Forum events.

How have you seen the Tower Center grow and evolve during your time at SMU?

The Tower Center has grown tremendously during my time at SMU. When I arrived, the Center was basically a two-person operation run by the Director (at the time Cal Jillson) and the legendary Noelle McAlpine. Since then, the Center’s staff has expanded significantly to manage an impressive range of new programs and initiatives, including the Tower Scholars Program, the Tower Forum, and the Sun and Star Program. Over the last couple of decades, the Tower Center has greatly increased its profile, on campus and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as in the national and international scholarly and policy communities.

What value does the Tower Center bring to students and the community?

The Tower Center brings tremendous value to SMU students. The Tower Scholars program is a really unique opportunity for bright, motivated students to engage in serious, sustained study of public policy, with mentorship from both academic scholars and practical policy-makers. Having participated in the selection process for the last several years, I have seen first-hand the amazing range of top-quality applicants who are eager to take part in the program. Even for students who are not Tower Scholars, however, the Center’s various student research grant and fellowship programs support a really valuable range of enriching opportunities, from internships in Washington to research presentations at major academic conferences.

For the community more broadly, the Tower Center plays an important role in facilitating high-level discourse on politics and policy, bringing major world leaders, scholars, and decision-makers to Dallas and generally opening those events to the public. The value of this is attested by the consistently high community attendance at Tower Center events.

Matthew Wilson lectures at an SMU Tower Center event.

What are some memorable moments/programming/engagements stand out for you?

The Tower Center has sponsored some amazing events and programs over the years, so it’s hard to focus in on just a few highlights. One in particular that stands out, however, was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to SMU in conjunction with the Tower Center’s Medal of Freedom event. Another incredible–and much more intimate–experience was a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard; I remember being amazed that I had an opportunity for informal foreign policy discussion in the Tower Board Room with a major world leader, along with only about ten other faculty members! On a personal note, I have been very pleased to be able to moderate conversations at recent Tower Center events with former Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss and New York Times columnist David Leonhardt; both were, I think, very good discussions that I enjoyed greatly and that seemed to engage the audience.

Where would you like to see the center in the next 25 years?

Over the next 25 years, I hope to see the Tower Center continue to expand its outreach to students and to enhance its scholarly footprint. The Tower Scholars program has been a great innovation; I would like to see it further expand and institutionalize, and to have it become a key element in the recruitment of bright students interested in politics and policy to SMU (even more so than it already has). I also hope to see the Tower Center play a significant role in SMU’s growing research prominence, supporting studies that make a significant contribution to the scholarly discourse in political science, history, economics, and other fields.

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