May 10, 2006: Features

Photographs by Ricardo Barros

A changing view
As attitudes toward government and public service evolve, so does the Woodrow Wilson School

By Mark F. Bernstein ’83

Photographs by Ricardo Barros

(Photographs by Ricardo Barros, The Visible Earth/NASA. Digital photo illustration by Ricardo Barros)

Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80

Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 and President Tilghman in February at a press conference announcing the Scholars in the Nation’s Service program. (Sameer A. Khan, courtesy the Woodrow Wilson School)

With a home boasting 59 quartz-surfaced columns, a reflecting pool, and a cavernous atrium, the Woodrow Wilson School was never meant to be an ivory tower that fit comfortably on the campus across Washington Road. That suits Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 just fine. Since arriving at Princeton in 2002, Slaughter increasingly has engaged the school in real-world policy debates — and employed real-world means to get ordinary citizens thinking about the hefty issues Princeton students debate in their classrooms.

So while many academics stick to writing books and papers to be read by their colleagues, Slaughter writes for both scholarly and nonacademic audiences. Both her reforms at the school and her outreach to a wider audience illustrate a desire to blend the theoretical with the gritty, often intractable problems of real-world governance.

Her latest book, a study of the new, interconnected world of governments called A New World Order, has been praised by reviewers ranging from Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria to former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin. She blogs, posting her thoughts on topics like “Righting Our Human Rights Policy,” “Another Perspective on Iran,” and “The Absolute Presidency?” on the Web site TPM Café ( “Plenty of people are willing to say things that I don’t generally hear in my day job,” Slaughter says. The school itself issues policy briefs on current issues and recently launched the University Channel, which makes available audio and video of important public-policy events at Princeton and around the world that can be downloaded and accessed on personal computers, iPods, and other devices.

Slaughter’s message — that government is a crucial endeavor in constant need of citizen involvement — is aimed at both the students she hopes will one day make policy, and the general public. But she may be fighting an uphill battle. Recent surveys by the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution suggest that trust in government and approval of government performance have been falling steadily since the early 1960s, though there was a short-lived spike in these ratings immediately after September 11. According to several surveys, federal employees have grown less satisfied with their jobs, and fewer recent college graduates are interested in working for the government. Meanwhile, the federal government is on the verge of a brain drain, with six in 10 federal workers becoming eligible for retirement within the next eight years, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based organization that encourages government careers. “For many years, public officials and other leaders have expressed concern that government service does not compete successfully when our very best students nationwide are making career plans,” Slaughter says.

As a new dean, Slaughter had the added challenge of being named to the job after a period of administrative turmoil at the school and just two months before a lawsuit was filed by the family of the late Charles Robertson ’26 and his wife, Marie, who donated $35 million in 1961 to expand the school’s graduate program. The lawsuit alleged that Princeton has failed to use the gift as it was intended; in court filings and public statements, the University has denied the allegations. Slaughter, who came to Princeton from Harvard, where she was a professor of international, foreign, and comparative law, insists that changes made at the Wilson School during her tenure have not been made with an eye toward the litigation.

Many of the changes have been aimed at addressing specific areas of weakness in the school’s curriculum, as well as areas of growing national importance. At the same time, the changes are based on an awareness that the nature of government employment — and of public service in general — has changed, as graduates are more likely to move among the public, nonprofit, and private sectors during their careers.

Before Slaughter’s arrival, the school’s curriculum and approach had been criticized by some high-profile alumni, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker ’49, who 10 years ago described the school’s graduate program as “frankly something of an intellectual hodgepodge despite all the resources committed, without clear focus or professional mission.” Volcker has since spoken favorably about the school’s program and Slaughter’s direction.

One of Slaughter’s most visible initiatives has been to strengthen the school’s faculty. A former president of the American Society of International Law, she sought others with expertise in international affairs: Asia specialist Thomas Christensen, who recently was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs (he will take a leave of absence from the school); international relations theorist John Ikenberry; Helen Milner, an expert in trade and globalization; Nannerl Keohane, former Duke University president and a noted political philosopher; and Robert Keohane, a well-known scholar of international relations. Policymakers joined the school as visiting lecturers in both international and domestic affairs, including Mickey Edwards, a former Oklahoma congressman; Anthony Shorris *79, a former finance commissioner for New York City and deputy director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to both Egypt and Israel. Edmund Hull ’71, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, was named the school’s first diplomat-in-residence, and he and Kurtzer teach courses on international relations and advise students who might seek State Department careers.

Over the last several years, the Wilson School has tried to bridge the gap between academia and the halls of power with a series of programs meant, as the school puts it, “to translate ... research activities into actual policy initiatives.” As part of a series of policy briefings on Capitol Hill, for example, Robert Hutchings, another of the Wilson School’s diplomats-in-residence and a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, recently briefed more than 50 congressional staffers and at least one member of Congress on intelligence matters. A Washington seminar series allows faculty and alumni to debate affairs with those in government, while a New York networking group connects alumni working in policy and politics. A new teaching and research partnership with the Brookings Institution has led to the joint publication of The Future of Children, a journal on policies affecting children; graduate students work as reviewers and editors.

A major initiative is the Princeton Project on National Security Strategy, begun in 2004 with a grant from the Ford Foundation and a large private gift to “craft a sustainable U.S. national security strategy that will appeal to a bipartisan audience,” says Elizabeth Colagiuri *99, the project’s executive director. Honorary co-chairmen George Shultz ’42 and Anthony Lake *74, as well as another former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, have participated in several closed, not-for-attribution talks with panel participants, most recently in a discussion in March on the use of preemptive force. (Executive summaries of panel discussions are posted on the project’s Web site, More than 200 people, including policy-makers and academics from the Wilson School and other institutions, have produced working-group papers on topics like anti-Americanism, reconstruction and development, and threat assessment, which were presented at a closed conference last fall.

It’s unclear what influence the effort will have — the final report is scheduled to be presented to policy-makers and the public in the fall — but it has made an impression on the graduate students who participate as researchers and note-takers. “It is really a marriage of the best of what the academic world has to offer, in terms of theory, with the realities of the policy-making world,” says Fatema Gunja, a second-year M.P.A. student who has conducted research for the project.

“I’m excited to see the energy and expertise that Anne-Marie Slaughter has. She’s really turned the school outward again,” says Laurel McFarland ’84, executive director of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.

But, as Brookings has found, efforts to improve training in public service don’t necessarily translate to a greater number of students joining government. Although the Wilson School provides figures from 1973 through 2005 showing that 22 percent of its graduates took their first post-graduation job with some branch of the federal government, that number is lower than those who took jobs in the private sector (23 percent) and nongovernmental and international organizations (24 percent). While the school says its placement rate compares favorably to other public-policy schools, the plaintiffs in the Robertson suit have described it as a failure. (Other public-policy schools seem to be facing similar challenges: In its report on the career plans of its 2005 master’s graduates, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that students increasingly are heading into positions in the nonprofit, private, and local government sectors, where median salaries are higher than in federal government. One-quarter of 2005 Kennedy School graduates with the master-in-public-policy degree entered the federal government, while another quarter entered the nonprofit world and 33 percent took private-sector jobs. Among students in the master-in-public-administration program, who generally had some professional experience before beginning coursework, 23 percent entered the federal government while more than half entered the private sector.)

Slaughter believes that the move away from careers in government service is related to both the current “culture of bashing government” and the rise of nonprofit and other organizations dedicated to public service. She points to organizations such as Africare, a private charitable organization providing aid to Africa. Julius E. Coles *66, a Wilson School graduate and the organization’s director, says Africare now does much of the work formerly done by governmental programs such as the United States Agency for International Development, where he worked for 28 years. “In the old days,” Coles says, “AID would be working at the grassroots level. A lot of this responsibility has now gone to NGOs [nongovernmental organizations],” which can do the same work more effectively and efficiently.

Joseph S. Nye Jr. ’58, a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School who has served as an expert witness for the University in the Robertson suit, argues that the trend toward public service outside government dates back to the Vietnam War. It’s fueled, he says, by the lower pay and perceived inflexibility of government service and a more general skepticism about the efficacy of government programs. Says McFarland: “The idea that government is a vehicle for all change is a very ’60s idea. Straight-up government service is only one avenue. In a 30-year career, people will go back and forth” between public service inside government and outside it.

Eric Biel *85 is an example of a Wilson School alumnus who has moved among the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. After earning graduate degrees from the Wilson School and Yale Law School, Biel spent almost five years working for Washington law firms before joining the Senate finance committee in 1990 as a trade counsel. In 1995 the committee’s chairman, the late New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, steered Biel toward a job as staff director for the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy; after the commission completed its work, Biel spent two more years on Moynihan’s staff before taking a political post in the Clinton administration, eventually becoming deputy undersecretary for trade policy.

Six months before the 2000 election, unsure what the political future held, Biel left government to become general counsel for a private consulting firm, working on trade policy and matters of corporate social responsibility. He was there for almost three years before being offered a job helping to run the Washington office of the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee on Human Rights (now known as Human Rights First). The reality of policy-focused work in Washington, Biel says, “is that there will be periodic career changes in and out of government, to NGOs and to think-tanks.”

As dean, Slaughter has tried both to encourage students to enter government and to make it easier for them to get through the door. She helped persuade the federal Presidential Management Fellows program — a prestigious program for students fresh out of graduate school — to drop a rule limiting the number of nominees to 10 percent of a school’s graduating class, and more WWS students have applied. In February, the school and University announced a new program, Scholars in the Nation’s Service, to encourage undergraduate and graduate students to pursue government careers. Students who are accepted into the program as undergraduates will receive summer internships in the federal government, placement in government positions for two years after completion of their undergraduate degrees, and then study for a master’s degree in public affairs from the Wilson School.

Will it work?

In a 2003 report, Brookings found that the Presidential Management Internship program, which preceded the Presidential Management Fellows, failed to keep top students in government service for long. Brookings concluded that rather than trying to convince service-minded students and employees to make lifetime commitments to Uncle Sam, government should make it easier for them to join, even for limited amounts of time.

“The solution does not seem to be in trying to commit the ‘new public service’ to a long career limited to the federal government,” the report concluded. “Rather, the government should streamline the hiring of mid- and senior-level managers from the private sector, nonprofits, and other levels of government, or, if necessary, introduce specialized programs to facilitate the hiring of experienced leaders working outside the federal service.”

Such an approach seems to resonate with current Wilson School students who will be tomorrow’s policy-makers.

Daniel Harris, who will be a Presidential Management Fellow after graduation this year, hopes to find a position in the departments of state, defense, or treasury. He previously worked for a nonprofit organization providing humanitarian aid to refugees; he believes his next job, in government, will be one step on a winding career path. “I’d like to put in a couple of years [in government],” he says, “and then I’d like to do something socially entrepreneurial.”

Fatema Gunja, who also will graduate this June, hopes to find a job with the state department working on “post-9/11 foreign policy” issues. But having worked for the ACLU before attending the Wilson School, and as an intern on the state department’s Afghanistan desk last summer while pursuing her master’s, she anticipates that her career will also be varied.

“Like a lot of people of my generation,” she says, “I see myself moving fluidly back and forth between government and the nonprofit sector.” end of article

Mark F. Bernstein ’83 is PAW’s senior writer.


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