THE JOHN F. KENNEDY School of Government's selection of former Texas Gov. John B. Connally as this year's Gustav Pollak lecturer is deplorable. In inviting Connally to deliver this prestigious address, the Kennedy School conferred an honor on a man who in his political career has been distinguished primarily for his reactionary political ideology, his shady campaign practices and his opportunism.
While philosophically defensible on the grounds of academic freedom, the Kennedy School's selection of an advocate of a conservative, big-business approach to public policy is disappointing. America does not need more public servants who espouse such positions. One might hope that in the future the Kennedy School will be inspired to seek speakers who are not merely defenders of the status quo, or worse, advocates of a return to a mythical, laissez-faire past, but men and women who can present new and stimulating ideas as to how government may work creatively to promote a more humane, economically and socially just society.
But Connally's unsuitability as the Pollak lecturer stems less from his retrograde ideology than from his questionable conduct in public life. Connally is perhaps the only politician in history ever to have been acquitted of receiving a bribe that another man--dairy lobbyist Jake Jacobsen--was convicted of having given him. It seems more than a little ironic that only half a decade after the breaking of the Watergate scandal one of Richard Nixon's closest associates should be lecturing aspiring public servants on the "uses and abuses" of government.
Perhaps the most upsetting thing about the Kennedy School's selection of Connally is that it evidences a willful disregard on the selection committee's part of the realities of American politics. Connally has spent the past year traveling around the country, making speeches in an attempt to revive the ailing Republican Party and, not incidentally, to establish himself as a presidential candidate in 1980. The Pollak honorarium, coming only a year after Connally's appointment as a visiting fellow of the Institute of Politics, will only serve to strengthen his ties to Harvard, and thus enhance his national stature. It is hard to understand why the Kennedy School's selection committee did not feel serious qualms about acting effectively to advance the career of this particular politician. They can do better, and next year they should.