When Mel Hailey was in the seventh grade in Sherman, Texas, his class held a mock election for the U.S. presidency one day in Texas history. Although he knew nothing about politics at the time, Mel decided to vote for Richard Nixon. Dr. Mel Hailey of Abilene Christian University has been named the pre-law advisor of the year for 2015 among all U.S. colleges and universities.Learn moreThat night when he talked about the day's events to his father, he got a crash course in politics, government and family history, as his father explained his involvement in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression and his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.When Dr. Hailey thinks back on his father's words that night, one theme comes to mind. It's one that has brought him to where he is today."There are things that government can do that are good," he said. "Government can be a positive influence in society - sometimes we tend to forget that."
As a professor of political theory and an advocate of student involvement in the political process, Dr. Hailey can see the benefits of working in and studying the political process."In politics, we learn that compromise is not a bad word. In a fallen world, sometimes the best we can do is learn to reduce conflict," he said.
That emphasis on tying together religious and political themes has been one of Dr. Hailey's passions for many years. When he began working on his dissertation in the 1980s, he knew that his area of interest would somehow involve the intersection of faith and politics. As a graduate of ACU’s government and history departments and Texas Tech's political science graduate program, he was keenly aware of the subtle but close relationship between these two seemingly disparate areas of study."Religion and politics has always been my first love when it comes to research," he said, noting that until the 16th century, theology and government were closely tied together in Western societies.His dissertation involved a study of the political and social attitudes of Church of Christ ministers, building on previous work done among Southern Baptist ministers. Dr. Hailey sent out a national survey, as well as two follow-up surveys. Since then, he's conducted another national survey of Church of Christ ministers along with fellow academics Dr. Doug Foster and Dr. Tom Winters. He's also conducted a survey sponsored by the Calvin Institute that involved a comparative study of multiple denominations and faith groups."It's an interesting area to study," he said. "Those who study America have always noticed the religiosity of the people."
Dr. Hailey's interest in religious expression ties into his long-term involvement with ACU, which is both his alma mater and the beneficiary of his 37 years of teaching experience. For him, ACU is familiar territory that's continually enlivened with new students who need guidance and encouragement."ACU is a good place to be - a good place to explore ideas within a Christian worldview," he said.One of Dr. Hailey's primary goals is to prepare his students for graduate school, both academically and spiritually. He finds achieving that goal much easier through the presence of professors at ACU who challenge students in ways that enhance faith without destroying it."Faith can be challenged in graduate school," he said.Dr. Hailey serves as ACU's pre-law advisor and is also the current chairman of the Pre-Law Advisors' National Council. This position helps ACU network with law schools across the country and gives students an opportunity to meet representatives from some of the best law schools in the nation.In addition to advising pre-law students, Dr. Hailey is the faculty sponsor for ACU's on-campus chapter of the International Justice Mission, an organization dedicated to promoting justice and eradicating slavery around the world. His involvement began in 1999, when he went to a conference where former Department of Justice attorney Gary Haugen was speaking. Haugen's call to action spurred Dr. Hailey to ask students if they were interested in forming a chapter, and the first campus chapter of IJM was born."It was a transformational experience," he said.
Another transformational experience in which Dr. Hailey and his wife, Jan, often take part is ACU's Study Abroad program. He's lost track of how many times he and Jan have served as visiting faculty for Study Abroad trips, he confesses, but every time is a wonderful adventure."Any time we get the chance to travel with ACU students, our lives have been enriched," he said. "We all learn together on those trips."And he and Jan are not the only ones who benefit from the experience, he's quick to point out."Students leave a little frightened, and they come home brimming with confidence and have a new worldview," he said. "In a microcosm, Study Abroad is just like politics - you learn how to reduce conflict, how to work together."Working together is the theme of his department, he notes. As much as he loves working with students, Dr. Hailey is also grateful for the opportunity to spend time around his fellow political science faculty and staff."I have great colleagues; they're my brothers and sisters in Christ," he said. "We respect each other, we like each other, and we learn from each other."But the real draw for him is the students - a fact that he'll freely admit. Although research, national conventions and excellent co-workers are wonderful parts of the professorial package, for Mel Hailey the classroom is an incredible place where something new can happen every day."No two days are the same in the classroom," he said. And it doesn't stop there. "Seeing students move on and progress in their lives is an indescribable joy."Plaques may tarnish and grow dusty. Journal articles and research may be forgotten. But Dr. Hailey is confident that his true legacy - the one that will outlast lifetimes - is his students."How many occupations can say that?" he wondered.