Professor balances academia with political career

Professor Franke Wilmer is the Head of the Political Science curriculum. Photo by Jeremy Gould

Franke WIlmer: world traveler, war zone researcher, politician — and a professor at MSU.

Wilmer has taught political science at MSU for well over a decade. However, one of her most notable experiences was her time spent studying political conditions and human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia. Her book, “The Social Construction of Man, the State and War: Identity, Conflict, and Violence in Former Yugoslavia,” catalogues her time within the area, her interactions with both war criminals and victims of war crimes, and how the harsh political conditions in Yugoslavia degraded the quality of life of the area’s people.

Back home in Bozeman, Wilmer has been a representative in the Montana Legislature since 2007, and in 2009 was elected Speaker Pro Tempore with unanimous bipartisan support. This year, she also ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although she lost the Democratic nomination to Billings’ Kim Gillan, her campaign put her in a national spotlight, including an appearance on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show, “Politics Nation.”

Wilmer explained there is no conflict between her life as a teacher and her life as an elected official, saying she keeps the two “very separate.” She clarified that political science professors teach the methods and theories of politics, and that it is unfair to “assume teachers teach their politics — they don’t.”

Considering her role as a publicly elected official, Wilmer said the primary purpose of a policy maker is to “balance competing interests of competing constituents,” even though this often causes conflict and may cost an official his or her re-election. She explained that, as representative, she is in a public service position and that serving the public is her first goal.

According to Wilmer, democracy exists to prevent the overextension of government power. However, as she urged students to remember, “Democracy is hard.  Disagree respectfully and keep an open mind.” Wilmer is a member of the Democratic Party, but explained that she is “skeptical of authority” and a member of the National Rifle Association.

Despite all of her scholarly political knowledge, her experiences in Yugoslavia and her years as a public servant, Franke Wilmer remains humble; and it is this combination of passion, humbleness and knowledge that make her such a valuable asset to the MSU community.