K-School Seeks a Few Good Losers
After Democrat Hubert "Skip" Humphrey lost the Minnesota Governor's race to Jesse "The Body" Ventura, his next stop was Harvard, where he joined the Institute of Politics (IOP) as a Fellow last spring.
Although the IOP attracts Fellows from a variety of fields, Humphrey wasn't the first prominent election loser to come to the Kennedy School of Government (KSG).
Former Mass. Governor Michael Dukakis took a professorship at the KSG after he lost to George Bush in 1988. Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984, came as an IOP fellow in 1988, four years after her election loss.
Some IOP and KSG officials say these prominent cases have given them a reputation as a place where electoral non-winners can land softly.
Catherine A. McLaughlin, Deputy Director of KSG says the KSG does seek fellows and faculty among politicians whose careers are in flux.
"We don't take people at the end of their careers," McLaughlin says, "but instead those who are in transition. The goal is to find a diverse group of people."
Still, McLaughlin says, most of the recruitment comes from other available groups of politicians--those who have just retired or are prevented from running for their post again because of term limits.
The main qualifications sought in a new fellow or faculty member, according to McLaughlin, are their expertise on particular issues and their ability to inspire and educate students.
"It's a challenge," says IOP fellows coordinator Jennifer Phillips. "You need to go to a lot of different sources. We like to ask our network of former fellows, because they know about the experience."
Instead of picking election losers' names from the headlines, McLaughlin says, the KSG is far more likely to turn to this network of former fellows in order to find new and capable people.
Fact or Fiction
"We need people who have been personally highly involved in politics, and are available," Phillips says. "Sometimes the way they become available is that they lost."
Edith M. Holway, Administrator for Programs Fellows for the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the KSG says that though their selection process is slightly different from that of the IOP, the rules are essentially the same.
"The Kennedy School attracts and looks for people who are dedicated to public service," she says.
Debbie Weinberg, director of the Malcom Weiner Center for Social Policy, says the KSG's reputation for attracting famous losers is unfounded.
"We have the reputation, but I think it's a little hard to find the data," she says. "I think it is undeserved."
Phillips says that the most significant factor in recruitment is the person's public service record and dedication.
"The best thing about the IOP is that we bring people who want to be here and who know that our mission is to inspire students to lives of public office," she says. "We are looking for people who are going to continue to be factors in the political scene but are in transition."
The roots of the KSG's false reputation, officials say, lie in those few cases in which famous election losers met the school's needs for Fellows or faculty.
"When some people run for office, especially a national office, people recognize the name and it will stick in their mind that they saw the election and the person lost," Phillips said. "We look beyond the election and what just happened to them. They have to be really committed."
McLaughlin also said that one or two names, especially in the political realm, can create an irreversible mark on an institution.
"When people see one or two high profile names, that is what they remember," she said. "When you think about the people who have lost, that doesn't mean they have nothing to offer. They are here because they believe in public service."
Dedication to students, Phillips said, is the most important factor.
"No matter how big the name is, if the fellow is not committed to the students, we won't take them," she said.
The Real Deal
The complex network of former IOP fellows is what really drives their recruitment.
"Former fellows contact other people suggesting that this is something that they may want to do," McLaughlin says. "There is a whole network of former fellows. People know about this program in advance, and we reach out to a diverse group of people. We want as high profile as we can get."
Phillips says the KSG relys on alums to float trial balloons with potential candidates for fellowships.
"For [important politicians], we would ask them if they would be interested in coming to the IOP," she said. "But we rely on former fellows to tell them what a wonderful experience it is. [former fellows]then recommend people who they think would be interested."
The IOP looks for people who are not only politically active, but who are passionate about a certain issue, officials say. This trait is important because Fellow usually run small study groups at the IOP.
"We look at people who have been associated with certain issues for their whole life," Phillips said. "The sense that if they lose and we go and grab them is unfair. We are looking for people who have made a significant contribution to public service."
The most important thing, IOP Director Alan K. Simpson says, is to find people who are truly dedicated to inspiring undergraduates to enter the realm of public service and political life.
Simpson, who had retired as a Republican Senator from Wyoming when he came to the KSG, says that unless IOP Fellows and those like them inspire today's Harvard students, the students will be "eating grit with the chickens in 65 years" instead of leading the country.