James McAdams might be viewed as “the professor who came in from the cold.” Before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, he was one of the first American political scientists to be accepted at East Berlin’s Academy of Sciences. “As a specialist in East Germany,” he says of Communism’s collapse, “I had to deal with the unlikely fact of ‘my’ country disappearing. Some of my contacts in the East went to jail and others turned out to have been spies, people who deceived me.”
A decade later, the chair of Notre Dame’s department of government and international studies compares himself to a utility infielder. “For the last few years,” he says, “my challenge has been to keep up with three functions: teacher, scholar and administrator. I’m excited about building a strong department, but I’ve also tried to keep myself alive as a scholar and a teacher.”
He has proof of success in all three callings:
•In 1995 he won the Sheedy Award for teaching excellence in the College of Arts and Letters.
•In 1997, he won a prestigious prize from the German Academic Exchange Service and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, for “excellent analysis of Germany’s postwar division and its overcoming.”
•As an administrator, he presides over the department of government and international studies, which has more majors than some of Notre Dame’s colleges.
The Sheedy award was no fluke. “I love undergraduate teaching and interacting with students,” McAdams says. “I really enjoy helping young people decide where they’re going with their lives — and maybe pushing them to step things up a little bit.”
But he also remains active as a scholar, and he recently completed a book about how post-unification Germany, primarily the West Germans, have dealt with the crimes of East Germany’s past. The book is also, he says, “a personal account of my family’s experiences of being there and trying to make sense of it.” On his office wall he keeps a framed photograph of a street in East Berlin before the wall came down — a bleak scene of socialist drabness, with buildings still showing damage from World War II. He keeps it there as a reminder of how things used to be.