Edie Goldenberg on action, the academy, and the 10th anniversary of Michigan in Washington

April 27, 2015

“There’s a part of me that loves making things happen,” says Edie Goldenberg, “but then I miss the quieter, more contemplative life of the academy. And when I’m on campus, as much as I love teaching students and having time to think, I miss the action.”

Goldenberg’s roster of achievements—leadership positions both within and outside the University, visionary academic initiatives, influential research and publications, and her key role in the federal government’s civil service reform of the 1980s—shows she does more than move between those worlds, or even bridge them. She infuses one with the other, and her teaching with both.

During Goldenberg’s late 1980s tenure as director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies (IPPS), she helped set in motion the forces that led to its evolution into the Ford School. Her departure to begin a nine-year tenure as dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts was bittersweet.

“I’m very glad that I became dean of LSA,” she says, “but one of my biggest regrets of doing it then is that I didn’t get to continue here as the director, because I love the students here. They are committed to making the world a better place, and I like to help young people do that and do that well.”

Michigan in Washington

BA students Katie Koziara and Craig Kaplan, who participated in Michigan in Washington, point to their hometowns on public art map in Washington, DC. Photo of Katie Koziara and Craig Kaplan

All these themes coalesced in the Michigan in Washington (MIW) program, which Goldenberg helped to launch. Based on a plan originally conceived by former IPPS director Jack Walker in the 1970s, MIW admits 45–50 U-M undergrads per year to spend a semester in Washington, DC. Goldenberg has directed the program since its inception, and will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a gala at the National Press Club this October.

Michigan in Washington is open to all U-M students, and has been particularly popular with public policy undergrads. More than three-dozen of the Ford School’s bachelor’s students have participated in the program to date.

Michigan in Washington students not only take courses while in DC, but also write a research paper and complete an internship in their area of interest. “We do a preparation class for the students, but they have to find their own internships, which is a very important professionalizing experience,” Goldenberg says. “They are working, studying, taking a full set of credits, cooking their own meals, managing their life away from campus, all at once.”

Not surprisingly, “We see tremendous growth in the students,” she adds. “They come back transformed. Many of them say they’ve rethought their futures, they have new interests, which I consider a wonderful success.”

Transformational experiences

Two public policy alumni who experienced just such transformations are Leah Ouellet (BA ’13) and Andrew Beilein (BA ’12).

Ouellet was already a veteran volunteer in correctional institutions when she began her internship at the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute in January 2012. Doing research related to criminal justice “gave me a really great window into what my life would look like if I pursued the think tank route,” she says, “but I wanted to use my talents more on the grass-roots level.”

She now works in Detroit for buildOn. Although the nonprofit’s primary mission is building schools in developing countries, it also works to empower high school students in six U.S. cities, including Detroit.

Beilein had his own epiphany after interning with the National Defense University in 2011. “I had been interested in national security and took a lot of classes surrounding geopolitics,” he says, “but after I got back, I realized that government relations was where I wanted to be.”

He soon landed a job that met his criteria, manager of advocacy programs for the Business Roundtable, and he credits Edie Goldenberg and MIW for a leg up.

“The real experience was understanding how to operate in a workplace,” he says. “It’s not something that you learn in college. There are interns on Capitol Hill who open mail or answer the phone all day, but people in MIW have put themselves in a position where they really have to produce.”

An analytic eye

In addition to leading MIW and teaching a course on research methods, Goldenberg turns an analytic eye to the higher education enterprise itself, including co-authoring Off-Track Profs, a book examining the increasing portion of teaching being done by faculty who are not on the standard tenure track. She admits she takes that personally.

“I’m looking at several developments in higher education that threaten the values I hold near and dear,” she says. “One is this growth of non-tenure-track faculty, which is pulling apart the notion of the scholar-educator. Another is the out-of-control growth of intercollegiate athletics and the pressures that lucrative TV contracts put on athletic directors, coaches, and student-athletes. The third aspect has to do with the scale of universities as they expand internationally, oftentimes into areas where there is little respect for academic freedom. There are many more.

“The reasons I have found life as an academic so appealing and gratifying are threatened today in our research universities, and I care about that,” she adds. “I’ve had a good career here at Michigan. I’m very grateful for it, but I feel it’s going to be much harder for the next wave of young faculty to have as satisfying and gratifying a career as I have had.”

Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Spring 2015 State & Hill here.