Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Politics as Usual for the Professoriate

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Politics as Usual for the Professoriate

Article excerpt

Career scholars are routinely tapped for high-level policymaking jobs in government.

As a child, Harold Koh paid rapt attention to his father's dual career as a diplomat and professor. Koh's father thrived as an ambassador and embassy official but also in teaching young minds.

"He feit this was an exciting combination," says the former Yale University law dean, who now serves as the State Department's legal adviser. "Because of his experiences in government, he could apply bigger ideas to academia. So I went into my career with this in mind."

President Barack Obama's administration has liberally appointed career scholars like Koh for high-level policymaking jobs, but for many, their appointments are not their government debut but a stop among various stepping stones. That service often features core work at the lower echelons of government that taps into the scholars' fields of expertise.

"An individual who puts in time in academia and also in government or the corporate sector often has the well-rounded depth of experiences" to effectively shape and influence public policy, says Dr. Thomas Hopkins, a Rochester Institute of Technology economics professor who held senior management positions in two White House agencies during the administrations of former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Hopkins estimates professors comprise at least half the people he hired into what was formerly the Council on Wage and Price Stability and then later the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Having spent five years as a Bowdoin College faculty member and another two as a private firm's economic adviser, Hopkins moved to Washington, D.C. in 1975 in response to a former Yale classmate's intriguing job offer: become a staff economist for the council.

"Like many professions, it was all about networking, and that's what led to my job offer in D.C.," Hopkins says. "And that's how Ì pulled in scholars. I met them at conferences or through Bowdoin or some other academic connection."

What he discovered was that scholars-turned-policymakers tended to have a smoother transition if they could already write reports in lay language for a general authence, rather than merely write for their peers. Further, those scholars who'd already worked nonuniversity jobs had an easier time meeting rigid government deadlines as well as following supervisory directives, rather than expecting the shared governance that is inherent of academia.

A cursory look at some of the Obama administration's appointees, aside from the Education Department, shows scholars who have also climbed the Beltway career ladder, including working civil service jobs. …

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