People who know William J. Bennett say he has opinions about nearly everything and he takes strong stands on the positions he believes in.
“He’s like Reagan: he can be very charming but he doesn’t change his mind on anything,” says Kathleen M. Berns, an investigator for the House subcommittee that examined allegations of discriminatory hiring practices at the National Endowment of the Humanities under Mr. Bennett’s leadership.
He admits to being stubborn and attributes it to his early childhood in a working-class section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and his training under Jesuit priests at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Bennett has spent much of his life in academe, continuing his academic training at Williams College (B.A., 1965), the University of Texas (Ph.D., 1967), and the Harvard University Law School (J.D., 1975). He has never practiced law.
The first paid position he listed in background information for his neh confirmation hearing was “garbage collector, National Park Service, Yosemite, Calif.” He has taught at the secondary level and at the University of Southern Mississippi, Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and Boston University, where he also served as personal assistant to President John R. Silber from 1971-75.
(Mr. Silber, whom the Secretary-designate has described as a mentor, was also said to be a leading contender for the federal education post.)
“Bill Bennett’s interests range all over the place,” says Peter Greer, superintendent of schools in Portland, Me., and a close friend. “In one minute, he’ll be talking about his favorite movie [“High Noon’’] and the next he’ll be talking about rock and roll.”
Much as he admires the man, Mr. Greer notes that Mr. Bennett is not perfect: “He thinks he’s a good singer. But he’s not.”