Theodore Mitau

Theodore Mitau was born in Berlin in 1920 to a well-established Jewish family. By the age of fourteen, he had to adorn the Star of David to the clothes he wore to school, and soon thereafter realized that further educational possibilities would be severely constrained by Nazi policies toward the Jews. During the mid-1930s, German Jews primarily feared increased discrimination and exclusion; no one had yet thought of genocide. Accordingly, he left for the United States, where he completed his undergraduate studies at Macalester College, and earned a doctorate in Political Science at the University of Minnesota. No other member of his family survived the Holocaust. Despite all efforts to get his mother to safety in the United States, Rosel Mitau eventually perished in the Theresienstadt concentration camp near Prague.

Though he buried within himself much of this personal tragedy, even from his wife and children, his daughter Andrea Mitau Kircher notes “ It made him that much more determined to accomplish something, to try to make the world a better place.” No doubt, the energy and passion with which he threw himself into his teaching and research stemmed from this intensely personal sense of mission. One can see it captured in photographs of Mitau the teacher; one can sense it in the anecdotes alumni recount of this small, wiry man with boundless enthusiasm who, in a probing but joyful Socratic manner, invariably managed to elicit from them the best, individually and collectively. Under Theodore Mitau’ s leadership, Macalester’ s new Political Science Department flowered into one of the most preeminent at the College, and soon generated both state and national attention, given its association with Hubert Humphrey, Mitau’ s colleague, and Walter Mondale, a student of both.

Unlike older German academic expatriates who were formed in a tradition at once culturally brilliant but politically and pedagogically autocratic, Mitau fully embraced American democratic institutions and values. His scholarly interests largely centered on U.S. Politics, primarily the areas of state and local government, and the Supreme Court. His major books include: Politics in Minnesota (1960); Proximate Solutions: Case Studies in State and Local Government (1964); State and Local Government: Politics and Processes (1966); and Decade of Decision: The Supreme Court and the Constitutional Revolution (1967). He addressed similar topics in numerous articles published in professional journals of law and the social sciences. Mitau’ s intense commitment to democratic institutions was also reflected in an active public life quite unusual for otherwise busy and engaged academics. He was a consultant to governmental agencies, commissions, and committees, as well as to public service associations (U.S. Civil Service Commission; U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare; U.S. Senate Committee on Constitutional Revision; Minnesota Legislative Commission on Election Laws; and the Minnesota Historical Society). In March 1968, he left Macalester to become Chancellor of the Minnesota State University System where he instituted innovative methods of teaching and reached out to a broad spectrum of non-traditional students. In 1976, he was appointed a Distinguished Service Professor by the Board of Trustees of the state system, recognizing his manifold contributions as well as his desire to pursue his teaching and research interests. That same year, he returned to Macalester College as an adjunct professor of Political Science. At the time of his untimely death in 1979, Mitau was working on a new volume entitled Constitutional Frontiers in Personal Privacy.

2023 Mitau Lecture

Adom Getachew

“The Universal Race: Garveyism and the Practices of Pan Americanism.”


2022 Mitau Lecture

John Ikenberry

“Does the Liberal Order Have a Future?”


2021 Mitau Lecture

William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen
“From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century”
Tiffany Willoughby-Herard
“I’m Really Sorry about What Happened to You but, You’re Not One of Us, You’re a Foreigner’: A History of Afrophobia in Contemporary South Africa”

Previous Mitau Lecturers

  • 2020
    Patrick J. Deneen
    The Case for Illiberal Democracy
  • 2019
    Cathy Cohen
    Race, Race, and Vulnerability: The Politics of millennials in the Era of Trump
  • 2018
    Jill Locke
    The Trump Presidency and the Death of Shame
  • 2017
    Jennifer L. Hochschild
    Here They Treat Us Like a Different Race: Political Implications of Class-in-Race Inequality
  • 2016 
    Ian F. Haney López
    Trumpeting Racism: Race, Politics, and Economic Jeopardy for All
  • 2015
    Adolph Reed
    How The Left Redefined Social Justice: Capitalist Class Power and Inequality from FDR to Obama
  • 2014
    Alfie Kohn
    Many Children Left Behind: “School Reform” and Corporate-Style Education Policy
  • 2013
    Harold Hongju Koh
    International Law As Smart Power
  • 2012
    Lani Guinier
    Rethinking Race and Class
  • 2011
    Rogers Smith
    Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
  • 2010
    Paul Light
    Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service, NYU Wagner
  • 2009
    Wendy Brown
    Professor of Political Science At University of California, Berkeley
  • 2008
    Alexander Wendt
    Mershon Professor of International Security At The Ohio State University
  • 2007
    Derrick Bell
    Visiting Professor of Law At New York University School of Law
  • 2006
    Ann-Marie Slaughter
    Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs At Princeton University
  • 2005
    Kathryn Sikkink
    Arleen Carlson Professor of Political Science At the University of Minnesota
  • 2004
    Orlando Patterson
    John Cowles Professor of Sociology At Harvard University
  • 2003
    Michael Ignatieff
    Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy At Harvard University
  • 2002
    Jeffrey Rosen
    Associate Professor at the George Washington University Law School
  • 2001
    Michael Walzer
    UPS Foundations Professor and Executive Officer of the School of Social Science, Institute for Advance Study, At Princeton University
  • 2000
    Martha C. Nussbaum
    Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at The University of Chicago
  • 1999
    Michael J. Sandel
    Professor of Government at Harvard University
  • 1998
    Randall Kennedy
    Professor at the Harvard Law School
  • 1997
    Jean Bethke Elshtain
  • Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago
  • 1996
    Theodore J. Lowi
    John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, Cornell University
  • 1994
    Nancy Fraser
    Professor or Philosophy, Northwestern University
  • 1993
    Andrew Ross
    Professor of American Studies, Princeton University
  • 1992
    Richard Mohr
    Professor of Philosophy, University of Illinois
  • 1991
    Sylvia A. Law
    Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law, Medicine, and Psychiatry, New York University Law School
  • 1990
    Benjamin R. Barber
    Professor and Walt Whitman Chair of Political Science, Rutgers University
  • 1989
    Robert Ellis Smith
    Editor, The Privacy Journal
  • 1988
    Frances Olsen,
    Professor or Law, UCLA and
    Patricia Williams
    Professor of Law, City University of New York at Queens
  • 1986
    Philip B. Kurland
    Professor of Law, New York University
  • 1985
    Howard Zinn,
    Professor of Political Science, Boston University
  • 1984
    Ruth Macklin
    Professor of Bioethics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • 1983
    Fred W. Friendly
    CBS Broadcast Journalist
  • 1982
    Alan F. Westin
    Professor of Law and Government, Harvard University
  • 1981
    Arthur R. Miller
    Professor of Law, Harvard University
  • 1980
    Stephen K. Bailey
    Professor of Public Policy and Education, Harvard University
  • 1979
    The Honorable Walter F. Mondale