Underclassmen looking to take “International Relations” with professor Keir Lieber this semester may have been confused after searching his last name on MyAccess and finding mainly courses above the 300 level.
That’s because “Lieber” returns search results for both Keir and his father, Robert Lieber, who is also a professor at Georgetown.
The son, professor Keir Lieber, joined Georgetown as a faculty member in the School of Foreign Service’s security studies program in 2009. His father, professor Robert Lieber, has served as a professor in the department of government since 1982. They both have secondary appointments in each other’s respective departments.
However, Robert Lieber said that the two do not interact with each other on a daily basis, and the Liebers have to make time to see one another outside of monthly departmental meetings by getting together for coffee or lunch.
“Our offices are in different places. He’s over in the Mortara Center and I’m a 10-minute walk away in the ICC. … The fact that we each have a different base, different budgets [and] are not involved in anything having to do with supervising each other’s work is important,” Robert Lieber said.
Although Keir Lieber never set out to follow in his father’s footsteps, his father’s influence on his career is unmistakable. Through Robert Lieber’s travels on sabbatical as a professor at the University of California at Davis, Keir Lieber was exposed to many foreign countries growing up.
“My father’s influence on my path was primarily indirect — by way of example. I was aware of what he did for a living; he seemed to love his job. I came to share his interest in history, international politics and U.S. foreign policy, and, of course, I gained plenty of useful experience arguing with him at the dinner table,” Keir Lieber said.
The Liebers have avoided perceived nepotism or conflation of their opinions and beliefs.
“It helps that I spent the first eight years as a professor elsewhere — at the University of Notre Dame … [as it] has helped head off any serious perceptions of improper influence,” Keir Lieber said.
Robert Lieber actively avoided anything involving Keir Lieber’s appointment to the position.
“I stayed a thousand miles away from it,” he said. “I didn’t go to any of the job talks, and I studiously avoided talking to any of my colleagues about him. … Whether he got the position or not was dependent entirely on what he demonstrated.”
In fact, Robert Lieber said that when his son selected an undergraduate institution, he specifically chose not to enroll at Georgetown in the SFS, as they both believed that the school was too small for the two of them. Both professors completed their undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin.
However, since joining the same institution, both Liebers have only seen advantages to working in the same environment.
“There are great benefits to being at the same university as my father. … I can always go to him with questions about past university policies and practices, [and] he is also always willing to review and comment on an article or proposal draft, as I do for him,” Keir Lieber said.
When reviewing one of his son’s articles, Robert Lieber recalled his reaction to the work from a purely professional standpoint.
“It was a eureka moment. … I was stunned by the importance of it, by the quality of it, and it made me think of the best work in the field,” Robert Lieber said.
Luckily though, the two have yet to have conflict while working together at Georgetown.
“If anything, I’d look forward to a future clash of views with my father; he is a master of department politics, and I’d relish the opportunity to play Luke Skywalker to his Darth Vader. But so far we’ve tended to see eye to eye on most substantive matters,” Keir Lieber said.
However, his father was clear to point out that they each have their own outlooks that are not always the same as the other’s stance.
“We don’t necessarily agree on every issue. We agree on plenty of things but we disagree on some policy questions. … The disagreements are high level, and what you would want among colleagues,” Robert Lieber said.
Colleagues of the pair noticed their ability to work cohesively as a team.
“The Liebers are the power forwards of the Georgetown faculty: They are excellent teachers who evince a deep commitment to this university and its students. As scholars, they both seek out the most important questions and are unafraid to offer controversial and unpopular answers if they feel that is what the evidence demands,” professor Daniel Byman wrote in an email.
According to professor David Edelstein, who attended graduate school with Keir Lieber at the University of Chicago, and considers Robert Lieber a mentor, the duo is well-appreciated on campus.
“Having a father and his son in the same department at the same university is unusual in academia, but Georgetown is fortunate to have the Liebers. … While they both have their own strong identities and personalities, the apple did not fall far from the tree in some important ways. They are both creative scholars, dedicated teachers and trustworthy colleagues,” Edelstein wrote in an email.
The close father-son relationship has only been strengthened both as academics and as relatives by working together at Georgetown.
“My father has taught me a lot — again, mainly by his own example. … Whether in the classroom or in print … he is a model academic citizen,” Keir Lieber said. “I admire and try to emulate his deep commitment to the academic enterprise and Georgetown University. … Most importantly, I just feel lucky to see my father doing what he does best and in his prime.”