David Brat’s economics students are easily identifiable on the small campus of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. They’re the ones in business-casual at 9 a.m. on Friday. Even for his morning classes, Brat requires his students to adhere to a formal dress code, which former students say he outlines on the syllabus: no jeans, no flip-flops, and certainly no hats.
Lydia Baumbach, who took Brat’s course in intermediate microeconomic theory last semester, recalls people asking her why she was so dressed up as she headed to class. “I enjoyed it,” she said. “I liked having people know I was going to Dr. Brat’s class.”
Not everyone was quite as gung-ho about trading in their sweats for business-wear. “A lot of students resisted,” admitted Baumbach. “They would be like, ‘Can Fridays be casual?’” The answer was no.
“It was important to him to make sure that we were business-ready,” said Caroline Spivack, who matriculated at Randolph-Macon in 2012 and got to know Brat through her efforts trying to get a Young Republicans group off the ground.
Brat himself favored bow ties and sports jackets.
“All the girls on campus have a crush on him,” said Spivack. “He’s a good-looking professor, and he dresses very nicely.”
“My boyfriend used to tease me, because everyone knew I adored his class so much,” said Baumbach.
His charms weren’t lost on his male students, either. Jonathan Kogel, who just graduated as Valedictorian, called him “suave.”
There’s no doubt students appreciated his personal appearance—but what about his classes?
By most accounts, he was a popular teacher. “He had a lot of energy each morning,” said Julianne Harrington, who took his microeconomics class last spring.
“He never threw tricks,” said Baumbach. “If he said he was gonna put something on the test, it was on there. He was always straight-up about what he needed.” His 2004 syllabus can also offer some clues into the kind of teacher Brat was. The required reading for his course on economic justice includes authors like Plato, Aristotle and John Locke, but also himself (for his Economics, Logical Positivism and Ethics), and God (author: The Bible).
Brat’s political activities on campus contributed to his prominence at the college. Bennie Ashton, Treasurer of Randolph-Macon’s Young Democrats, said that bringing conservative speakers to campus was “his biggest claim to fame.” Brat is also listed as Faculty Advisor to the Young Republicans, but in spite of his support, the group doesn’t have much of a presence on campus. “Nobody showed much interest,” said Spivack, who served as president of the Young Republicans in spring 2013 is listed as co-president on the Young Republicans’ website.“I would send out emails, and no one would respond.”
Spivack, who has been off-campus for months due to health reasons, said she doesn't know the current status of the group. Even though the student body leans conservative—according to John Rackey, the president of the Young Democrats Club, the Republican candidate usually wins when students hold mock elections—the Young Republicans group appears to be defunct. “I’ve been asking people all day, and nobody knows who the president is,” said Rackey.