Professor Walter Williams passed away last night. He was an extraordinary man who I had the pleasure to learn from through his articles, videos, and his lectures at George Mason University.
Many others have shared their Williams stories today, and I’ll share one of mine that I still think about often.
He was clearly a master of the subject, which I greatly admired. Whenever I meet a person who I regard as a master, I feel most almost compelled to question their arguments, just to hear how they defended their position. With Williams, I made it a point to try to ask at least one question per lecture, and pushed back the most in his class on interest rates.
At the end of the semester, Professor Williams invited the whole class to restaurant where he treated us to a buffet-style dinner. Late in the evening, I got up to thank him for the great semester, and told him about a paper I was writing for Chris Coyne‘s class. He smiled and mentioned how he had taught Coyne (and a few other notable professors) years ago in a class which he called “dynamite”, since they were all trying to prove him wrong.
He then leaned in closer to me (he was probably an inch taller, with excellent posture) and quietly said, “In my younger days when I had more confidence, I used to tell my students that I haven’t been wrong in 30 years; so they would try to challenge me because they think because they’re young, they know more than the professor—like you and interest rates.”
I liked how he remembered that I challenged him on interest rates, but I thought it was really heavy that he admitted that he’s losing confidence in himself in his old age. It was also very surprising since he was, by far, the most confident professor I’ve ever had. He greatly influenced my own teaching style.
When I taught my first university class at the beginning of the year, of course I tried to emulate his confident style. I also cited his research in lectures, and even used his question bank as my own final exam. I regret that I didn’t reach out to him to let him know of his influence on me.
Rest in peace, Professor Williams. You taught me (and many others around the world) a lot about the power of supply and demand in explaining and understanding human behavior.