D. Matthew Baugh, S.J. On Spring Hill, Sweet Tea, and Coming “Home”

Wed, 10/23/2013 - 9:15am
image upload by lreese

The Deep South has always been home for Dr. Matthew Baugh, Spring Hill’s newest assistant professor of political science and law. Baugh, who grew up in Casa, Arkansas (population: 179) is thrilled to be back in the United States after living and studying for the past few years in England, Canada, Central America, and China. He confesses, however, that his enthusiasm for his relocation to Mobile, Ala. may be overshadowed by the delight of his 85-year old “Mamaw,” who has always been worried that he’s not eating well enough (overseas) without greens, cornbread, and sweet tea. 

Dr. Baugh, who graduated from Duke, Oxford, Yale Law School, and the University of Toronto, is currently teaching POL 340: Constitutional Law and POL 341 Judicial Process. In the spring, he will offer LIS 501: The Medieval World, POL 151: Comparative Government, POL 342: Civil Rights and Liberties, and the team-taught interdisciplinary course Globalizing Water.

He recently took a few moments from his busy schedule to talk about Spring Hill, the importance of service to others, and connecting with his students.

 

SHC:  How did you find Spring Hill...or did Spring Hill find you?

MB: I made my annual eight-day retreat on campus in early June 2012 with about 40 of my Jesuit brothers.  It was a wonderful retreat in which I felt the nearness of the Lord very intensely.  The graces of those encounters are forever associated in my memory with the places where they took place: the Sodality chapel, St. Joseph’s, the Grotto, Rydex Commons, even the room in New Hall where I was staying. Well before I joined the Spring Hill faculty, the campus already had an unforgettable spiritual geography for me.

One of the men making his retreat at the same time was my superior, Fr Mark Lewis, an SHC alumnus and former professor in the history department. Fr Lewis told me that Spring Hill was in need of a professor in the political science department and asked me to discern whether the Lord was perhaps calling me there for regency (the middle period of Jesuit formation in which scholastics typically teach in one of our schools). The response I discerned in the remainder of my retreat was a clear and resounding ‘yes.’ 

SHC:  How do you intend to contribute to SHC and its mission of forming leaders in service to others?

MB: In the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the retreatant asks God to show him all that God has done for him.  He sees all that God has given him, reflects on how God is present in all that he has created, and realizes (likely for the first time) that God conducts himself as one who labors tirelessly on behalf of us, his beloved. The responses that inevitably well up within us are a profound sense of awe, a desire to cooperate with God, and imitate him in serving. For Ignatius, the impetus for our own service always flows from love and gratitude for this God who takes the initiative in serving us.

Without this profound spiritual perspective, our acts of service are at risk of becoming projects of self-creation.  We see this clearly in the world of politics, where the word “service” is bandied about a lot. (No one wants to be known as a politician, but rather a “public servant.”)

This is also true in the humble and ordinary circumstances of everyday life.  If our service is to be genuine and not turned in on itself, it must flow from an experience of God’s astounding act of self-gift. The best way we can help our students to have this experience is to witness to it in our own lives and to enable them to make some of the spiritual exercises themselves.

SHC:  How is SHC’s small classroom size both a strength and a challenge?

MB: The intimate size of our campus and classes are unmitigated advantages. Education is about dialogue above all. I came to appreciate that fact as a student at Oxford, where the tutorial system has been in place since the university’s foundation in the 13th century. In that system, a student and a professor sit down for an hour for one-on-one conversation about some material. The experience can be intimidating: there is nowhere to hide!  But it is also the most gratifying experience of engaging material at a very deep and personal level. 

I try to replicate this experience in office hours when students come to see me one-on-one. But because of the small class size, we can also imitate it to some extent in the classroom. I try diligently to call upon each of my students and to listen to them in order to gauge what they have understood and where they are still struggling. Whether they realize it or not, I am also learning a great deal from them: both from their insights into the texts and from questions of theirs that have not occurred to me.

SHC:  Why is SHC a good fit for you?

MB: There is a very good spirit of cooperation and mutual affection between the faculty, staff, and students.  It is immediately obvious when one steps on campus that this is a place where people like to be and where people genuinely know each other. Having spent most of my time in higher education at big universities with many thousands of students, this is something I appreciate very much. Because of our size, we really can be a single community and have the opportunity to connect with each other at a deep level.

SHC:  Talk about moving back “home” to the Deep South. 

Mobile epitomizes all that is best about the South, especially the incredible warmth and generosity of the people. Experiencing this again after being away for so long has been a great gift and makes me want to live up to my upbringing.

 

In his spare time, Dr. Baugh (pronounced like ‘law’) enjoys travel, following tennis (Vamos Rafa!) and Duke Blue Devils basketball, as well as listening to music. His favorite books include Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.

If you’d like to welcome Dr. Baugh to Spring Hill, stop by, share a glass of sweet tea, and say hello­­—or ¡hola!,bonjour, bonjou (Haitian Creole), or nǐ hǎo (Mandarin Chinese). His office is located in Quinlan Hall, Room 315.