With a combined 90 years of teaching experience, Charles Bullock and Loch Johnson are University of Georgia institutions. Both named Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching professors, Bullock, a professor of political science, and Johnson, a professor of international affairs, have formed a close bond—both academic and personal—during their years teaching at UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs. The pair have done everything from running marathons to writing books together. Describing their relationship as being “almost like brothers,” Johnson will certainly be missed by both Bullock and his many former and current students when he retires at the end of the spring semester.
In honor of their combined long commitment to UGA, Georgia Magazine sat down with the distinguished professors to discuss their time at the university.
GM: You’ve been at UGA for more than 50 years. What’s kept you here?
Bullock: I grew up in Georgia, and I’ve always liked the state. Three years into my position here, I took a year’s leave to work on Bill Stuckey’s (who served in the House of Representatives from 1967-1977) staff in D.C., then came back and said, “Geez, you just keep coming back to Georgia. Might as well stay here.” I like Georgia. I think it’s a great place to live.
GM: Do you have a favorite class to teach?
Bullock: Southern Politics. I tell the students at the beginning of the semester, “You’re going to hear some things you’re not going to believe, but everything I tell you is true. I’m not making any of this stuff up. There are some characters who have been important in southern politics who have done things that you just really aren’t going to believe.”
Take the Three Governors controversy, for example. In 1947, there were three individuals who simultaneously claimed that he should be governor of Georgia. The governor-elect died a couple weeks before he was sworn in. The lieutenant governor-elect says, “Well, had he been sworn in, then I would take over. So, I should be the governor.”
Unbeknownst to the dead governor-elect, there had been a write-in campaign mounted during the general election, and several hundred people had written in the name of his son. One of the political Machiavellis of the state interpreted part of the constitution as indicating that if the governor-elect died, the legislature could choose the governor from among the top two finishers, one of whom was the governor-elect’s son. At that point, you could only serve one term as governor, but the sitting governor wanted to do another term and tried to get the constitution changed to allow him to be governor. It was pretty extraordinary.
GM: You’re quoted in various media outlets pretty frequently. Why is it important to you to share your research in this way?
Bullock: In the course of a year, I will teach 200 students. If I say something that gets picked up in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it will be read by thousands. Something that gets picked up by TheNew York Times or TheWashington Post, it may reach tens of thousands. So, I view the work that I do with the media as being a continuation of the education process but one that reaches far more individuals. I try not to be partisan. What I’m trying to provide is information that a person can take and look at and say, “Okay, yeah. I agree,” or “I disagree,” or “Alright, that explains what’s happening here.” That’s why I think it’s important that researchers do that, that we share that kind of information. Because, think about it, if you’re college educated, you probably took an American government class somewhere but maybe just one. If you’re not college educated, you probably took something maybe in high school.
GM: And you may or may not remember that.
GM: What really stands out to you after being an instructor for so many years?
Bullock: There are people who you haven’t seen in decades who drop you an email. You sometimes remember them; other times, it’s someone you vaguely remember. Yet they write you and say, “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that you had an impact on my life.”
GM: What do the next five to 10 years look like for you?
Bullock: Well, I don’t have any plans to retire. At some point, that’ll happen. But I really enjoy what I do, so I hope to continue it for as long as I can.
GM: What’s kept you at UGA for 40 years?
Johnson: I remained here because the administration was always so good to me and helpful with my research and always encouraged my teaching. In that sense, it was such a wonderful place to be because people were so friendly. I’ve always had good colleagues here, and then the town itself is a lovely place to live. It’s just about the right size.
I did have other offers and went out and took a look at them, but I always felt the tug to come back here. I’ve learned more recently, however, that there’s an even greater tug than the joys of UGA, and that’s grandchildren. So I’m retiring in May and going up with my wife to live near our grandchildren in New York.
GM: How has your approach to teaching changed over time?
Johnson: I remember when I first came to class, I was what I would call the “Oxford Don.” They’re infamous for getting behind a podium and reading their lectures for about an hour and a half. It’s just deadly. It’s quite comprehensive in detail, but I got away from that fairly soon. These days, my classes are more of a Q&A than anything, so there’s interaction in the classroom and an opportunity to find out what the students think. I’ve also found out that the students really love to hear one another, and they learn from one another. (See page 16)
GM: What is one of the biggest issues facing the field of intelligence?
Johnson: I think one of the big issues is ethics. What should be the boundaries for the nation’s intelligence agencies? Of course, we can disagree; people have different views. I think the greatest strength of the United States, though, is its reputation around the world, a reputation based on fair play, free and open elections, a very strong and independent press, and a judicial system that’s by and large highly regarded. When we throw that aside by engaging in assassinations of foreign leaders or torture or rendition or we’re spying on American citizens even though there are laws to prevent that, then we’ve really gone in the wrong direction. Another aspect that’s important is knowing how good we are at understanding events and conditions around the world. It’s rather dismaying to realize that we failed to predict the 9/11 attacks. There are things, in retrospect, we could’ve done to prevent those attacks.
At the same time, these agencies have had many successes, some large and some small. I remember a U.S. ambassador in an African country who, after two years, was about to go home the next day. One of the representatives of a national security agency came to him and said, “Mr. Ambassador, we’ve intercepted a terrorist communication, and they’re planning to ambush your car tomorrow with your wife and your three children and murder all of you as you proceed to the airport.” That may not be as big as knowing what the Soviet Union is up to during the Cold War (and we did know a great deal), but it’s big in the life of that family. So they took a different direction, and they were saved. There are a lot of little stories like that and they are extremely important to the individuals involved.
You have a balance here of a few really horrible intelligence mistakes and then many really valuable successes (such as helping guide President John F. Kennedy through the missile crisis of 1962 by providing accurate intelligence about Soviet activities in Cuba). Of course we want strong, effective intelligence agencies but not ones that are dangerous to our own liberties.
GM: If students only take one thing away from one of your classes, what would you want it to be?
Johnson: I think really two things. One would be a sense that they’re needed. We need young Americans to get involved in public service. It doesn’t have to be in foreign policy in Washington, D.C. It might be at the state capitol or even more likely in their local communities. A democracy can only survive to the extent that its citizens are actively informed and involved. So what I try to do—and with this generation it’s not that hard because they are already quite motivated in this direction—is light fires under them to think of public service. And, of course, I’d love some of them to become ambassadors and Cabinet members, as well as lawmakers, judges, and perhaps even president of the United States.
The other goal I like them to ponder is what our foreign policy should be. There’s a distinction here between hard power and soft power. Hard power means relying on military and economic pressure to get one’s way in the world, and, unfortunately (from my point-of-view), that tends to be the American approach—to a fault. Naturally, we will always seek to maintain a strong defense against our adversaries, and we will always pursue economic prosperity, but we often tilt too much toward militarism. For example, does the United States really need 12 aircraft carriers? China only has two, one of which is a leaky bucket of bolts. Russia has none. If you look at the Defense Department budget in the United States compared to the State Department budget, you’ll know what I mean. The ratio is about 20-to-1. The soft power I refer to is much more concerned with setting a good example for the rest of the world, reaching out and trying to help. What if, for some of these countries, instead of sending in special forces, we send in teams of physicians, nurses, and people who know how to construct roads and provide clean water? That’s what would really win us friends around the world.
GM: You’ll be speaking at the graduate spring Commencement ceremony. It’s quite an honor to be chosen. What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind when you retire in May?
Johnson: Yes, I view it as quite an honor, and, yes, it is a capstone to my enjoyable career at the University of Georgia. I hope my legacy in the university community will be to have left a sense that I was dedicated to helping UGA rise through the ranks of public universities, on its way (and now near to) the top tier. I have tried to contribute toward this goal by emphasizing deep research related to national security issues, by stressing the importance of teaching at research-oriented universities, and by leading the establishment of the School of Public and International Affairs (an effort that took from 1997 to 2001). We’ve helped build a sense of history on campus with the establishment of the Service Memorial adjacent to the Miller Learning Center and the tribute to Abraham Baldwin on the North Quad. I’ve served (on leave from the university) in the federal government, on a presidential commission, and in other capacities. And I’ve engaged in civic affairs in Athens over the years of my residence here, spearheading the new Cedar Shoals High School construction initiative, serving on the Athens Regional Hospital Board, campaigning for various local reform political candidates, and serving as president of my neighborhood association.
These are the kinds of activities all citizens in a democracy should happily pursue, and they are ones I hope have made a genuine contribution to the advancement of our great university.