St. Vincent College political science professor chosen for fellowship at Stanford's Hoover Institution

Kari Andren
| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

St. Vincent College professor Bradley Watson has earned five academic degrees in four fields in three different countries.

This fall he'll embark on his second prestigious fellowship when he travels to Stanford University for a yearlong stint with the Hoover Institution.

Watson, 52, of Latrobe was named a W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellow at the conservative think tank founded by former President Herbert Hoover in 1959.

Watson will take a yearlong sabbatical from St. Vincent during the fellowship. The post will enable him to focus on a variety of publications without the demands of a regular teaching course load.

Watson said he'll primarily work on a book examining the evolution of progressive political thought from the early 20th century to the present, including how scholars not only documented the movement but also participated in it.

Watson said key traits of progressive thought are having “a hostility to the Founders' Constitution,” a focus on things that can be directly measured and a belief in the power of government to improve the human condition.

“I've always been interested in the history of ideas instead of the more empirical sides of political science,” Watson said.

He said he sees President Obama as a “logical outgrowth” of progressive thinking in part because of the federal contraceptive mandates on religious entities enacted in the Affordable Care Act.

The original birth-control policy under the health care law would have required most employers to cover a full range of birth control methods in employee health plans, but an uproar from Catholics and others who oppose contraceptives caused the White House to soften its mandate.

Under a compromise announced in late June, insurance companies will directly cover contraceptives for employees of religiously affiliated hospitals and universities without those employers paying for or facilitating the coverage. Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate.

The mandates try to solve a perceived social or economic problem, but they don't take into account the costs to religious freedom and the realm of conscience, Watson said.

“We've heard a lot about controversies over federal mandates on religious institutions and whether constitutional rights to conscience are being respected,” Watson said. “In my view, those rights aren't being respected in those mandates.”

A Canadian native who grew up north of Toronto, Watson earned his bachelor's and law degrees in Canada. He went on to earn a master's in philosophy at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and a master's degree and doctorate from Claremont Graduate University, just east of Los Angeles.

In 1999, when a tenure-track position opened at St. Vincent, Watson applied. He said he had no connections to Western Pennsylvania at the time.

“Like a lot of academics, you sort of go where the jobs are,” he said.

Now Watson chairs the politics department and co-directs the school's Center for Political and Economic Thought with Gary Quinlivan, dean of the McKenna School and an economics professor.

“He's a great individual, a wonderful intellectual and he's great in the classroom,” Quinlivan said.

Watson recently put together a conference with more than 1,000 attendees and presenters from around the world. And Watson's books have garnered high praise nationally from judges for his analysis and opinions on constitutional law, Quinlivan said.

“It's truly an honor for us” that Watson will spend a year at the Hoover Institution, Quinlivan said. “The sabbatical he did before this was at Princeton. Now he's going to Stanford. Not bad — two of the biggest and best (schools) in the country.”

Watson said he and his wife, Barbara, and three children, ages 11 to 17, have found an apartment in the heart of Silicon Valley, not far from Stanford's campus.

He said he's looking forward to spending time on the West Coast again, soaking up sunshine and exploring the San Francisco Bay area.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or

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