Stanley Kelley Jr.

Stanley Kelley Jr., professor emeritus of politics, passed away on Jan. 17, 2010


He was my Uncle Stan and so very impressive. Thanks to all who knew him, loved him and admired his work.

Well, this is very indirect......

My dad knew Stanley at Kansas University!!

Some people possess such special qualities that their names become magnified in their community. Their names and stories reverberate respectfully among their friends, and eventually even among those not personally acquainted with them. Their reputations and contributions transcend their immediate circles, and become part of the general conversation.

Almost from the time I arrived on the Princeton campus, I heard Professor Stanley Kelley’s name often as part of that general conversation. Early in my Princeton experience, a junior whom I respected advised me to make a point of getting to know him. Professor Kelley became my senior thesis adviser, and got the best out of me without my even knowing it. He wanted research done rigorously, but also in a practical, efficient fashion. Any student interested in public affairs, whether or not in the politics department, would benefit from his knowledge and friendship.

Stanley Kelley came from a time before the field of political science went so heavily quantitative. It was already heading that way, and Professor Kelley did his share of quantitative analysis, but there was still plenty of room for him to lecture about the Hudson County Democratic machine or the need for public financing of political campaigns. His post-election analyses were something of an event among campus politicos.

He also came from a time before the values of the consumer marketplace saturated higher education. Reserved but approachable, modest, genuine, and scholarly, Professor Kelley was what I expected a Princeton professor to be. I could run into him, as I often did, at Stevenson Hall or the student center, and my anxiety level wouldn’t go up.

After graduation I worked for a year, then returned to graduate school for futher study of politics. Although I finally decided not to pursue an academic career (a decision I sometimes regret), it wasn’t for want of Professor Kelley’s influence. When applying to graduate schools I rediscovered the great respect his peers held for him. I remember a conversation with a professor at a good graduate school that I considered but did not attend. “I hope you come here, but I wouldn’t surprised if you don’t,” he said. “We have a number of good people here, but it won’t be like having Stan Kelley down the hall.”

Ben Engel ’77

I first met Stanley Kelley during the second semester of my first year of graduate studies at Princeton in the 1971-72 academic year. He was the main reason I decided to stay and go on to complete my Ph.D. For a number of reasons I was very unhappy that first year and seriously thought of leaving Princeton to study elsewhere. In part my unhappiness was due to bad experiences in the courses I took the first semester, in part it was a result of the fact that the political theory program I was in wasn't what it was described as, and in part it was due to a sense of political and ideological isolation.

The late 60s and early 70s was a tumultuous time on college campuses and Princeton was no exception. The Vietnam War was ablaze and campus radicalism was at its peak. The graduate student organization in the Politics Department where I was enrolled was dominated by Marxists -- a particularly loud, strident, angry kind of leftist radicals with whom I had virtually nothing in common. The professors, although only one or two of them were on the far left, were mostly center-left liberals of a New Deal or Great Society persuasion. There was a virtual civil war going on between the far left elements among the grad students and the center-left professors. How, I asked myself, is someone like myself -- a National Review and Commentary reading Reagan-Goldwater conservative -- ever going to survive this?

The professors and grad students at that time used to get their campus mail in the same place (the Mail Room), so one could see what publications were generally being read. The Nation magazine, Ramparts, The New Republic, the New York Review of Books (which at that time was radical-chic pop-Maoist -- it has since become much more sane and sensible)were among the publications most heavily subscribed by both grad students and profs. I was the ONLY recipient of any conservative or right-of-center publication. My sense of political and ideological isolation was intensified after learning that there was only one professor in the entire Politics Department and Woodrow Wilson School who voted Republican, and in conversation, that professor was quick to explain to me that he was an Eastern Republican, not a Reagan-Goldwater conservative.

Political conservatives at that time were generally understood by most of those on the left and left-center as both stupid and evil. Their conversation was not solicited or welcomed, and it was almost considered bad manners on many college campuses to question the assumptions of the left. Stanley Kelly's class, however, was very different and proved a lifesaver for me. Although an FDR man from his earliest political awakening, Stanley respected me for the depth and sincerity of my conservative political views and for my ability to defend them with intelligence and knowledge. I think I even got him to come around to one of my ideas during his classes, when I complained in a short paper that in using the term "rational" in the value-neutral sense that many economists and behavioral social scientists use it,one doesn't thereby strip the word of the normative connotations it has in every day usage. And in describing as "rational" immoral actions -- e.g. the actions of " a rational back robber" or "rational serial killer" -- one contributes to the breakdown of our human moral sentiment and refined moral judgments.

Stanley was to me and almost everyone else I ever saw him with a model of gentleness, kindness, and unforced humility. He was also a great person to discuss ideas with, and over the many years of our succeeding friendship Stanley and I had many conversations on the political issues and candidates of the day with each of us feeling a sense that we could express our conflicting views with total openness and eagerness to respond to each other's challenges. I think he liked the ideological sparring I always gave him (and he often gave me in return)since it surely wasn't something he was likely to get on most of the Princeton campus.

Stanley and I didn't disagree politically on everything. Though I could never quite understand his visceral hatred for Richard Nixon, he actually had a kind word or two to say for Ronald Reagan. And I certainly agreed with his high assessment of Martin Luther King Jr. as an orator -- Stanley thought he was the greatest American orator of the 20th century, greater even than his presidential favorite Franklin Roosevelt. Even on the right-to-life issue -- one on which I am fanatical -- he seemed to have some sympathy for the right-to-lifers' position, even though he was never one of us.

Stanley was not a religious man. On one or two occassions he described himself to me as "a fourth generation agnostic." His father, a Kansas farmer, apparently had no religious faith either. His mother, however, who lived into her late 90s,was a church-going Christian, and I don't know if her example had an effect on him. To me Stanley Kelley epitomized many of the key virtues preached by the Christian religion better than 95% of Christians I have known.

I remember one particular bit of advice he gave me that well illustrates the true humility of the man. When precepting his undergraduate Party Politics class he asked me to make sure I got to his office early enough so that we could always arrive in class before the actual time class was to begin. Being late in a situation like a meeting or class presentation where others are dependent on you, Stanley said, was a way of asserting that your own time is more important than the time of others. It is a form of insult, he said, and I have never forgotten Stanley's admonition here (though I cannot say I have always heeded it).

It is with the greatest sadness that I reflect on the passing of this gentle man who meant so much to me and to almost everyone I knew who had the privilege of knowing him.

Sometime during their formal education, most people, I suspect, had one teacher who ranked as really special, someone who helped excite them about learning or who pointed them down a path or who served as a model of professional and human behavior. For me, that person was Stanley Kelley, Jr.
As a teacher he was best known to undergraduates for his class in Party Politics, a must-take course for all interested in the American electoral system. His classes, whether on John Tyler, the president without a party, or on the potential of debates to improve presidential campaigns, were well constructed, thoughtful, polished. One could not have had a better adviser for independent work. In commenting on drafts, he was a "master of both microscope and telescope"; drafts came back quickly but full of helpful comments, ranging from word choice, to methodology, to central themes (or lack thereof).
As a scholar, he was also a teacher. His work addressed central issues in political behavior –the purpose of political campaigns and how to construct them so they better helped voters make rational choices, why people voted and what institutions depressed voting, how people voted, how to interpret electoral outcomes, among other topics. His writings used data to probe important ideas and central premises. He subjected his own work to such intense and honest assessment (and reassessment) that by the time it appeared it was certain to help lead others towards truths.
He was the model institutional citizen. He loved Princeton, he loved the ideal of a university, and he embraced the responsibilities of community citizenship. His formal service to the university included historic contributions—chairing the Committee on the Structure of the University and the presidential search committee which recommended the choice of William G. Bowen. In some ways, his even more remarkable service was his engagement, on a daily basis, in the life and problems of the university and its various components. A range of people—administrators, colleagues, leaders of student organizations—regularly came to him to discuss issues and to solve problems, and he responded in a wise and generous and patient manner.
Stanley Kelley, the teacher, scholar and citizen was a reflection of the uniquely wise and caring and thoughtful and decent human being he was, a person who loved humor and whose teasing taught rather than hurt, a person inclined to help others without them knowing of his efforts on their behalf. He was surely one of Princeton’s greatest gifts to me, and I suspect to many, many others.

Stanley Kelley had many memorable qualities. Perhaps, most impressive of all, was his extraordinary parliamentary skill in public debate. Stanley possessed an uncanny capacity to express the values and mood of the Princeton community, which lent an aura of invincibility to his gifts of persuasion. In playing such a prominent role during a tumultuous time at the university Stanley earned the affection and respect of virtually every Princetonian. Part of Stanley's contribution was to be a force for principled reconciliation that helped to sustain civility amid a welter of tensions. My own closest moment of collaboration with Stanley involved crafting a faculty resolution at a time of some campus tension that expressed opposition to the Vietnam War, but recognized that such opposition was a matter of individual conscience, and not appropriately voiced as a matter of institutional commitment. I learned much from watching Stanley in action over the years, and recognize that part of his legacy is to leave a void that can never be filled. In this sense, Stanley was a vivid and realized personality that presented students and colleagues with a inimitable role model of scholarly life and university citizenship. As a result, he was cherished as well as admired, and never welcomed as an adversary.

Offered in loving memory of my Uncle Stanley

Throughout my life, I have felt a sense of appreciation for the character and accomplishments of the members of my mother Shirley’s side of our family. Her mother and father, and her brothers are all included in that regard.

Uncle Stanley occupied a special status, however. I think that goes all the way back to the time he was introduced into my life. I believe I was five years old when he first came to town. Mother had prepped me by explaining how intelligent her brother Stanley was, but this had little meaning to me. I just knew there was something special about him.

He would have been in his late twenties at that time. His first act in relationship-building was to introduce me to pinball. I believe my brother Marshall and I were both recipients of his tutelage. The idea here was that he found something that would be new and exciting for us, and still be an activity around which we could all three relate on the same level. Later on, this extended to many monopoly games, in which he would get down on the floor with my brothers and me, and be with us as if we were all buddies. Later still, it would extend to lengthy political discussions in which he never failed to introduce an idea or concept of which I was ignorant, or had failed to consider, without causing me to feel inadequate.

That was key to an appreciation of Uncle Stanley. He was always unpretentious. Given his lofty status within the academic community, this complete absence of pretense took on an air of graciousness. I, for one, always noted and appreciated this. And, although our meetings and exchanges over the years were numerous in total, they were generally separated by lengthy intervals. He didn’t communicate often, but when he did, he somehow managed to inject a great deal of meaning and significance to the contact.

And finally, I am grateful that my daughter Laura had the chance to meet and spend quality time with him in Princeton. He spun his magic with her, too. His words of encouragement as she was about enter the University of Kansas, a bond the two of them could share, were inspiring. She cherishes her special encounters with him.

I truly believe that Uncle Stanley was one of the most special people on the face of the Earth, and I will always regard him in that way. He will be greatly missed, and at the same time, he will always be present in my heart and mind.

Stanley Kelley was the reason that I was admitted to graduate school at Princeton. I owe him my career and, in many respects, a life that I enjoy greatly.

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