The Institute of Politics Has Lots to Offer, But Few Takers
The Institute of Politics is one of those unique institutions at Harvard: it has a lot of money to spend, many programs to offer and little student awareness of the scope of its activities. To most undergraduates, the Institute is an obscure yellow building nestled on Mount Auburn Street which makes a big entrance every fall when it introduces its extravagant seminar program dotted with famous names. After this initial splash, it is never heard-from again.
The student seminar program, although the most visible to students, is only a small part of the Institute's activities, receiving $30,000 a year out of the total budget of about $500,000 a year. The Institute began in 1966 when the Kennedy Library Inc.--the same foundation which is building the multi-million dollar Kennedy center on Memorial Drive--issued a $10 million dollar endowment for its foundation.
Originally the Institute was planned as the memorial for John F. Kennedy '40 at Harvard, but after talks between President emeritus Nathan M. Pusey '28 and Senator Robert Kennedy '47, it was decided to convert the old Graduate School of Public Administration, of which President Kennedy had been an overseer, into the memorial. Harvard agreed to pay for the JFK School of Government with its own money while the Institute of Politics, a subdivision of the School, would be funded separately with the $10 million endowment.
Last year Ernest R. May replaced Richard E. Neustadt as the Director of the Institute. May had been slated earlier for the position but chose instead to become Dean of Harvard College, a not particularly pleasant office during the student protests of 1969 and 1970. Undoubtedly May, who is at heart an academic, finds himself more at home in the Institute setting where he can concentrate on writing his new book about foreign policy and dreaming up new Institute programs.
So far May has not taken an innovative stance in his position as director. "My goal is to keep doing what we've been doing but to do it better," he said last week. "The principal thing that I have done in one year is to recruit new people, for example Doris Kearns whom I put in charge of the fellows program."
Perhaps this appointment of a lively new professor is the extra impetus necessary to revitalize the stodgy fellowship program which consumes about $100,000 of the budget. Last year most of the eight resident fellows were disappointing since they participated so little in the Institute's activities. Only a few gave student seminars. In the Institute fellow program there are no written prerequisites to being a fellow other than that the fellow live in Cambridge. In other words, a fellow can receive a stipend of as much as $1250 a month without being required to participate at all in the Institute's programs. May explained the situation, "We can't pose conditions on our fellowships for tax reasons. The most we can do is ask them to stay in Cambridge."
Another problem with the fellowship programs has been a persistent lack of variety in the people chosen. Most of the fellows are white, male, and of the same liberal persuasion. In the past there have been only one female and a handful of black fellows.
May recognizes the need to "extend the net" to include new kinds of fellows in the program. Last spring he took a trip to the Southwest where he recruited two women running for Congress and tried fruitlessly to get a Chicano fellow. In another effort to involve a larger constituency in its programs, the Institute last spring sponsored the Black Caucus and facilitated the Chicano-Boricua conference.
The third and by far the most abstract of the Institute's activities is the Faculty Studies program, which receives approximately $50,000 for an annual budget. Created to bring faculty members from Harvard and other universities together with outside experts, this program is divided into short and long term projects. The short term seminars, focusing on such issues as health care and public education, are the most undefined and nebulous part of the Institute since nothing--not even a paper--is required from the discussions to justify the existence of the seminar or the funds it uses. Only the minutes of the meetings vouch for their existence.
A more substantial part of the Faculty study program is the Research Seminar on Bureaucracy, Politics and Policy begun by May himself six years ago. The program is a striking example of the vast resources the Institute has for studying political problems. Not only does it receive part of that $50,000 from the Institute, but it has managed to obtain about $200,000 more from the Ford Foundation. These seminars, studying automotive air pollution and the model cities program, are designed to produce a book for each topic.
One of the Institute's main accomplishments in the field of education has been the exclusive public policy program which it initiated and pays for. Only about 20 people a year are admitted to the two year masters program which gives a joint degree in public policy and law or medicine. The ratio of applications to admissions is about 7 to 1. The Institute committed itself to funding the public policy program on the condition that each year after its founding in 1969 the amount of money it would initially provide would dwindle; presently Richard Neustadt and Don K. Price, dean of the Kennedy School, are looking for different sources of funding.
May, pleased with the success of the Public Policy program, is thinking of introducing undergraduates to public policy. "The principal thing I want to work on in the next few years is the undergraduate public policy program," he elaborated. "It would probably have to start out as a General Education course with fellows as guest lecturers."
Perhaps the greatest problem the Institute faces is the elitist aura which surrounds it in the eyes of the student body. Outside of the well attended seminars, few students are ever invited to the cocktall parties, the dinners, or ever get a chance to meet the fellows. The same small Institute clique of students attends all the events.
When applications for the Student Advisory Council (SAC) poured in last spring only 14 of the approximately 80 applicants were accepted. Student interest in the Institute exists, but has nowhere to turn. To rectify this, the SAC is trying to expand student participation by bringing fellows to the houses, by enlarging the dinner programs to include more people, and by allowing interested people to take part in the SAC activities.
Surprisingly enough, the Institute has not appealed to the women in the University. Although the undergraduate ratio is 4-1, less than 10 per cent of the seminar students were women. There are also only three women on the SAC despite an active effort to recruit more.
The Institute is an amusing place to hang around. Academics try to play practical politics and politicians try to play academic. The result is a mixture of very interesting people playing strange roles and taking advantage of a lot money with few restrictions.
Typical of the Institute is the Institute Advisory Committee which meets once or twice a year to see what is going on. The Committee consists of such luminaries as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 (D-Mass), Jacqueline Onassis, Averill Harriman (D-N.Y.), Sen. John Cooper (R-Ken.), Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), Lord Harlech, Vernon Jordon of the Urban League. The Advisory Committee has little to do with the operations of the Institute and rarely criticizes its activities. The rationale for its existence seems obscure, but as May explained, "They're awise people."