Becky Blank shares Ford School stories and lessons learned during her time in public service in conversation with associate dean Luke Shaefer.
NOTE: There was an issue with the recording of the event, the first few sentences of Dean Watkins-Hayes's remarks were cut out. The full remarks can be read online.
0:00:00.9 Celeste: Welcome, Becky, thank you so much for being here. Becky Blank, as we all know, is an internationally known labor economist and a leader in academia and public policy. She recently stepped down after a long and successful tenure as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Before that, Becky was in Washington DC, she served as President Obama's acting Commerce secretary, and she led the 2010 US Census as under Secretary for Economic Affairs. Before that, from 1999 to 2007, she was our dean and a great one at that. Becky's deanship was a time of tremendous growth for the Ford School. She led the way for our naming for President Gerald Ford, for the construction of this beautiful building for the growth, in our faculty and for the launch of important programs that made us for the first time a full-service school offering undergraduate and doctoral degrees in addition to our flagship master's degrees.
0:01:04.4 Celeste: Becky Blank put the Ford School on the map, literally. We, all of us who learn and teach and work here, and our alumni, too, are there making communities better. We are the house that Becky built. Becky's entire career has been a model of principled servant leadership, of deep commitment to social justice and of the power of good public policy. And so I will close with a proclamation, "In grateful tribute to Becky's leadership and her legacy, it is my honor as the interim dean of the Ford School to officially proclaim that Weill Hall's central gathering space, just outside those doors, will from this moment be named the Rebecca M. Blank Great Hall."
0:02:06.4 Speaker 2: Okay. Are we back? Great.
0:02:08.8 Rebecca Blank: We're back.
0:02:09.8 Speaker 2: Alright. Congratulations and welcome back to the Ford School, Dean, Secretary, Chancellor and President Rebecca Blank. I bought one of my copies of your award-winning book, "It Takes a Nation", in 1998 when I was an undergraduate student first interested in poverty and social welfare policy. I also love the Ford School dearly and work here in Weill Hall, known by many, as Celeste said, the house that Becky built. And I'm thrilled that so much of our community life is gonna happen from now on in the Rebecca M Blank Great Hall, which I think we're gonna call The Becky for short.
0:02:51.7 RB: It beats Blank Hall, don't call it that.
0:02:55.4 Speaker 2: We've got... I saw at least one member of Congress here. We've got some of your old friends in the room. We've got many of our new faculty, alumni and some really energized students that are just so thrilled to talk to you. And I'm so thrilled to talk to you. You've impacted my own career, the career of thousands of Ford School students and the trajectory of this place in so many fundamental ways. So welcome.
0:03:24.7 RB: Thank you.
0:03:26.7 S2: So in 1999, you were banging around Northwestern University. You'd just been in the Clinton administration, I think. A leading scholar of poverty and social welfare policy in the United States. I wonder what first attracted you here to the University of Michigan and what had just gone from a program to the newly created School of Public Policy?
0:03:49.9 RB: Yeah, it's a great question. Let me start by just saying thank you to everyone. This has been such an honor and I'm sorry I can't be there in person, but I'm hoping in mid-December I'm gonna be able to stop by. So thanks to all of you. I'm overwhelmed by all of this. So the search committee called me and said, "We've identified you as a possible candidate." And I was in the Clinton administration. I was a member of the Council of Economic Advisors. I was on leave from Northwestern where I'd been running this big research center and I had a small child and I said, "I'm busy, I'm not interested." And Sheldon Danziger, who was part of that research committee, called me back and said, "Becky, do me a favor."
0:04:37.9 RB: And I owed Sheldon many favors and said, "Come out for a day and talk to the search committee, and that's all I ask." So I did that favor, came out for the day, had a great conversation with the search committee and decided I still wasn't interested, [laughter] but I would do a favor to the school because I thought the University of Michigan had not been serious about creating the school. They hadn't moved any tenure in, they didn't have any plans for anything beyond this being a program of 40 to 50 students a year in a small master's program. That was a superb program, but that's not a professional school in and of itself. So I wrote a letter to the then Provost, Nancy Cantor, and I said, "Look, the University of Michigan needs a policy school, but they've gotta be serious about it, because you are the University of Michigan, and you've got some great public professional schools, and this needs to be on the same level, and here are 10 things you need to do to make that happen." And I sent that off and I said, "Fine, I'm done with this."
0:05:52.1 S2: You've done your part.
0:05:52.7 RB: And Nancy Cantor calls me back and says, "I wanna see you in my office." And I said, "I'm working for the president. I'm really busy. You know I... Can we just talk by phone?" And I had every expectation of what that conversation would be. She'd say, "Great ideas, I want you to come to do this. We don't have any money, but we'll fundraise for you." And Nancy, as some of you know, could be very persuasive. So I came out for the day and expecting to say, "Okay, I'll do this one more day and say no again." And I walk into Nancy's office and I really learned something from this and it has affected how I've hired people ever since. So Nancy pulls out my letter, lays it on the table, slaps your hand on it, says, "You're absolutely right. We've costed out everything in this letter. It comes to, I think it was like three and a half million. We're putting it into your budget and we want you here by the 1st of August." [laughter]
0:06:57.9 RB: And, I'm sitting there saying, "Shit, I'm gonna have to take this job." [laughter] And it really taught me that if you want someone, you don't nickel and dine them and you don't negotiate them for little details, you decide what they need to do the job well and you give it to them and that brought me to Ford School. And there was so many opportunities laying on the ground it was just exciting that until the university made that commitment. I wasn't willing to cut Ms. Dean but once they made the commitment, it was a great job and I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
0:07:39.6 S2: That was a really great answer, I have to say. I thought that was like the slow, question we were gonna have. So you get here, it's the School of Public Policy in a fairly short amount of time. It comes to be named after President Gerald R Ford, U of M alum. Tell us that story. How did that happen?
0:08:00.7 RB: Yeah. Well that was not my idea. That had been in the air for a number of years, and then President Lee Bollinger wanted to make that happen. I know a lot of the faculty thought that was right. And in my opinion, I wanted the school to be on the same level as the Kennedy School and then Woodrow Wilson School. And that meant, being named for a president and a major political figure. And there was really only one, and President Ford was still alive. So we had to negotiate that we needed his approval. And there was really no disagreement among anyone that this was a good idea.
0:08:39.8 RB: The disagreements, the political negotiations came over the fundraising because of course we wanted access to some of President Ford's Associates. Given we were a new school, we didn't have a lot of alums with much capacity as the development office says, so we had to negotiate particularly with the Gerald R Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, because of course they were fundraising from exactly that same group. And that was somewhat delicate at times. President Bollinger was helpful on that one. And we finally came to a clear agreement and everyone, we had a wonderful event, at the President's House hosted by President and Mrs. Bollinger that Mr. And Mrs. Ford came to and the rest is history. President Ford came quite regularly in those first few years and that really helped, that really made this the Ford School.
0:09:49.2 S2: So you met President Ford on a number of occasions and I think traveled to his home. So most of us in the room, we know him from History books and the Statue and Portrait in the Rebecca M Blank Great Hall, known as The Becky. So tell us about him as a person and what was it like to get to know him?
0:10:08.9 RB: So I'd spent some time in DC. I knew what a lot of DC high flyers were like, and Gerald Ford was not like that. He had never quite drunk the Kool-Aid from the corridors of power. He stayed some way really a person from Grand Rapids and always looked to DC with a certain eye of these people are a little strange at times. [laughter] But I found him... He was just a delightful person. And in some ways his signature action was the pardon of Richard Nixon. Something I vehemently disagreed with what had happened when I was in college and came over time as I think I became more sophisticated to realize it was the only way to bring the country together and to move forward. And Gerald Ford was the sort of person who if that was what he needed to do, and that was gonna cost him his next election that was what he did.
0:11:14.3 RB: And I wish we had a few more politicians like that right now around Washington DC. I remember on the naming event, we had a press conference and Lee Bollinger opened it up and then said, "Questions." And there was complete silence. And I had just come from the White House and President Ford had obviously spent a good amount of years there. He leaned over to me and he said, "It's not the White House Press corp, is it?" [laughter] But that's the type of guy he was. It was always a pleasure to interact with him. And Mrs. Ford was equally gracious and lovely. It's one of the things that I don't think anyone will ever not be proud of the Ford School name. It's far better than being named for a donor, to be blunt. You never know what's gonna come out of someone's background. President Ford's background was pretty much a public book. And there's not gonna be any embarrassments coming that way. It's a name to be proud of.
0:12:30.5 S2: We have John Chamberlain in the audience, an old friend and colleague I think. And...
0:12:36.8 RB: Hey, John.
0:12:38.5 S2: The BA program that you two worked on to launch has now graduated 14 classes. So I was gonna invite John just to talk a little bit about what it was like to start a new program and then invite you to add additional comments as well.
0:12:55.0 RB: Sounds good.
0:12:55.6 S2: John?
0:12:56.3 John Chamberlain: Okay. It's interesting to be where we are in this great building with a BA program and all the rest and thinking back over, when did those ideas start? And I remember not long after Gerald Ford lost the election, Jack Walker, who was then director of the Institute of Public Policy Studies, thought we can get some money outta Congress to name this place after Gerald Ford. At the time we were a pretty small program without any real clout and it didn't go anywhere. But we thought about it at the time and not long after that, some of us were, who'd been teaching in the MPP program had thought you could do a great undergraduate version of this. And that also didn't go anywhere because we didn't have any money we weren't big enough. We couldn't appoint our own faculty, we had no classrooms, but those seeds got planted and eventually when Becky got here, both of them bloomed like crazy.
0:13:58.6 JC: So we're now in this building, it was not long, I think probably after the turn of the century when Becky, I think raised something about an undergraduate program. "Other people have those, why don't, could we do it?" And lots of us thought that was a really good idea. Some of the faculty thought, they weren't sure they needed to teach undergraduates. They had doctoral students and master students. But a small group of us got together and sort of studied what others did and came up with a proposal that got reworked probably over a three or four year period, the last period of that being how are we gonna make the money side of this workout? But it really enabled us to think about what is it that the MPP program does that could be done at the undergraduate level without it becoming so specialized or a total professional degree or something like that?
0:15:01.7 JC: And we realized that our co-curriculum, which how to think politically, how to think like an economist, how to do some data all of that could be done at the undergraduate level. Where the idea was we would teach it with public policy and social issues, important issues at the core of it. How did you think politically about a problem? How do you think like an economist about the problem? What data do we have and what could we do with it? And as that got together, we've figured out the other thing we would do is to make sure that students see this as this is how you think about public policy, not how you get half a degree in each of several social sciences. And we did an undergraduate program, Public Policy 201, which we continued to do, which Paul started.
0:16:01.5 JC: And it involved Paul as the ring leader and then inviting faculty in some from the Ford School, some from public health, some from elsewhere, talking about a particular problem. And what are the institutions that matter? How do you think about them? What are the politics of that? What keeps policy proposals from moving forward that everybody has developed? And that course attracted a good crowd. It continues to attract a good crowd. Faculty have rotated through it over time and I think it provided a way to say, this is what the curriculum in the BA program will do is that you will take some economics, some political science, some statistics. You will also take courses that focus on particular policy areas. So we had policy seminars and students could pick a focus area if they cared about the environment, they could specialize in that. And eventually we got it going. It was working fine. I remember after the first year having a bit of a discussion at faculty meeting and since Sheldon's name has come up once before, I remember Sheldon raving about the experience he had had in a policy seminar he taught and that got more people to line up outside your door saying, "That sounds like fun."
0:17:21.7 S2: Yeah.
0:17:22.1 JC: And since then most people have...
0:17:23.7 S2: Paul's a good ring leader.
0:17:26.1 JC: Yeah.
0:17:26.7 S2: It's a general overall. Becky, anything you wanna add about the undergraduate program before I ask you about the building?
0:17:34.5 RB: You know this is a program when people ask me about leadership, I use it as an example of the importance of persistence when you have something that you think is really needs to get done. It took eight years to do this. The program opened the year after I left and I worked on it for that entire set of seven years. And I kept being told no by a variety of people in the administration. LS&A, not to many people's surprise, was opposed to us opening an undergraduate program and we were proposing this selected junior senior program.
0:18:09.2 S2: Yeah.
0:18:09.6 RB: They were afraid we would scoop up their best students, which they didn't want us to do. To be blunt that was one of my objectives. [laughter] So I just quote their hesitations and I think we've actually done a pretty good job of that. I don't know if Terry McDonald is in the room or not. But several provosts told me, "Look, this isn't the right time. LS&A is too opposed. We don't have the money for it." I actually think there was someone named Paul Courant who said that to me once or twice too. But I kept pushing it and we kept tinkering and you can't be stubborn about this. You can't say, "This is how it's gonna be and this is what we want." So we kept changing our proposal in response to the criticisms and the concerns.
0:19:02.4 RB: And finally got to a point where, I don't know if people got tired of me or we got the proposal to the right place, but we got permission to move forward, I think, in my seventh year. And I just say, I have to thank John and everyone who worked on that for that entire period of time. But if you hadn't been persistent despite being told no, because it was the right thing to do, the right thing for the Ford School, given you're at a university where the biggest program is undergraduate, you wanna be part of that. And Michigan has great undergraduate students, so that was real victory. And I've been delighted to watch that program grow and thrive and provide a great education to so many students.
0:19:54.4 S2: It really has grown and thrived exactly as you described. And we have terrific students. So when you became Dean, I think where I'm sitting right now was the site of Mel Levitsky's Old Fraternity House. [laughter] Now we're in, what I think of as the best building on campus. So tell us about the construction of Lorch Hall. Are there any favorite stories? When did you realize maybe Lorch Hall wasn't cutting it anymore? Any painful stories that have become funny over the years?
0:20:31.6 RB: Well, I think it was clear that Lorch Hall wasn't ideal from the very beginning. Just we were spread out. We were in two other locations in addition to Lorch. And Lorch was too small. We didn't have classrooms, we didn't have any hangout space for students. So this was one that I have to give a big shout out to Lee Bollinger. He was the one who said, agreed with me, we need a new building and helped it move forward. And Lee was the one who selected the architect, Robert AM Stern, who gave us just a magnificent building. I also have to call out Mary Sue Coleman, who after Lee Bollinger left really helped us complete the whole project. And Paul Courant as provost put some money into it, and that was important as well, because we had not done fundraising at that level before. And of course, Sandy and Joan Weill, who helped put us over the top on this one. Yeah, the building itself, like every building, the costs went above and beyond where they should have been.
0:21:39.4 RB: And you had to value engineer. And I know I had a group of three people working with me on this, and it was Sheldon and John Chamberlain, and I don't remember who the third person was anymore. Well, you know who you are out there. And we did this value engineering and we had to make a trade off at, this was quite near the end of the whole design process. And we needed to take almost a million dollars out of the building because the cost had bloomed for a variety of reasons. And there was the group that wanted to get rid of the slate roof, which was very expensive, but would last for 100 years.
0:22:20.1 RB: And you could put on a much cheaper roof, but it was gonna be replaced in 15 years. And the architect both at Michigan and at Robert AM Stern just said, "This building needs a slate roof. It won't look right without it." The other alternative was the HVAC system where we had cost controls in every office. So everyone controlled their own... Sorry, cost controls, temperature controls, everybody controlled their own temperature. And I unilaterally, you could all blame me, faculty members, unilaterally made the decision that we were gonna put a temperature control in every third office. And I knew that would create issues for some faculty. I also knew once the building was built, no one would know they'd been an alternative. But that kept us a slate roof. And I have to say, I think that slate roof is an important part of the building. [laughter]
0:23:23.3 S2: So, speaking of Sheldon, Sheldon and Sandy are both here. And of course, my office is in the 5100 Suite at the top of the grand staircase where the Poverty Center has always been. And Sheldon likes to say that was originally gonna be the dean's suite, but that you thought the dean should be closer to the student body and the center of the community, and that he was more than happy to take the 5100 Suite. So I'm taking this opportunity for you to either confirm or refute his story.
0:23:56.2 RB: Do I confirm or deny? Yeah, I do confirm that. I thought it was really important the dean be in the middle of the school and not floating somewhere up above it, so that every time I walked out of my office, there were students, there were faculty, you were in the midst of everything that was happening. And I think it made the dean feel a lot more accessible to people around the school as well. So, yeah, we put our office in the third floor and I couldn't, I don't know how that's working, we'll have to ask Celeste, but I thought it was the right thing to do then, and it worked well for me.
0:24:37.6 S2: So you arrive here and you have to lead fundraising, like a lot of fundraising. Maybe for the first time you have to oversee a major construction project maybe for the first time. So in addressing current and future leaders in the audience, did you have all of those skills, all of that stuff figured out before you came? Or did you have to learn some of it along the way? And if so, like how did you go about doing that?
0:25:05.9 RB: Yeah, a lot of learning by doing here. I had a great mentor for the fundraising who was the university development officer. And I am blanking on her last name, Susan. Help me out. Pardon?
0:25:23.7 Speaker 5: Jerry May.
0:25:25.2 RB: Yeah, Jerry May followed her, but Susan was the first one, and one of the early things I did was drive to Grand Rapids.
0:25:34.0 S2: Susan Fralin, we're hearing.
0:25:35.8 RB: I'm sorry.
0:25:36.7 S2: Oh, no, there's some discussion about who it is. [laughter]
0:25:39.6 RB: Susan Feagin. Susan Feagin. F-E-A-G-I-N. Yeah, and Susan went with me to talk with the people at the museum in Grand Rapids about the naming of the school and about fundraising. And we spent the whole car ride three hours up and three hours back with Susan tutoring me in fundraising and particularly fundraising among individual donors. I'd done a lot of foundation and government fundraising for projects, but I'd never done individual donor fundraising, which is quite different. And it means establishing relationships and really even friendships and persuading people of your vision about what's going on. So Susan was great at helping with that. And then she was followed by Jerry May, who many of you know, because he only recently retired.
0:26:37.3 RB: And Jerry was really helpful as well. And part of this was steering some donors at the university who are interested in public policy my way, despite the fact the schools they came from were not happy about that. So someone like Randy Weaker, who many of you knew, was someone that they steered towards us because of her interests, and she was a great friend and contributed to the school. So there was a lot of learning by doing there, which I have used extensively in my most recent jobs. Same things true of building a building. I found it fascinating, the architectural process, the design process, even the value engineering process. I just hadn't gone through that before. And we had great university architects and of course a great if somewhat demanding outside architect.
0:27:36.6 RB: And that made this just a wonderful learning process. And I know a bunch of us went through it together. And again, it's one of those skills that I have used extensively in more recent work at Wisconsin. So, but like all of these things, when you become dean, your main activity is being a faculty member and you haven't done any of this before. So you have to be a fast learner and you have to be curious and you have to have a great team around you. And I had all of that, and so we got a great building.
0:28:18.3 S2: So because you didn't have enough to do the PhD program that you were a part of developing is like nothing else in the field. Combining policy training with disciplinary studies and economics, political science or sociology, it's been a huge success. Tell us about the development of that. How did that idea come to be?
0:28:41.4 RB: Well that was one of the things that I was quite adamant the school needed. It needed to be more than just the master's program and a huge shout out here to Mary Cochran because Mary put the proposal together that went through Rackham and got approved and she worked and then ran the program for the next number of years. So if Mary's in the audience...
0:29:03.3 S2: She is.
0:29:03.4 RB: She deserves a round of applause for the PhD program.
0:29:09.7 RB: 'Cause, she and I talked about it a lot, but she did all the hard work on it. The vision here, and it wasn't anything any other school is doing, is that public policy itself is not a discipline. Social science disciplines of political science and economics and sociology surround public policy and it calls upon those disciplines to analyze and think about policy issues. And so we didn't want a standalone PhD program. We wanted a integrated PhD program with the first rate social science programs that the University of Michigan already had on board. And that had to get negotiated with those departments, with LMS, with Rackham. And Mary did all of that heavy lifting as I recall. But the result was this program that as I said to a number of students many times we want students who when they go out, are gonna get a letter saying, this is as good an economist as anyone else graduating this year. But they even have more, they have all this additional training on policy issues and that gives them a leg up on everyone else. So an example I'll use, and I think he's actually on is Jordan Matsudaira, who admittedly was one of my advisees...
0:30:35.4 S2: Yeah.
0:30:35.7 RB: Joined in the economics program. And Jordan's is a tenured faculty member at Columbia, but has gone in and out of the US Department of Education. He's currently was hired to create the role of Chief Economist in education and is in that role in DC right now. And will be going back to Columbia to Teachers College and he's done some really superb research and publications as well. And being able to do both, that's a skill not everyone has, but those are the skills that we wanted to create in that PhD program. And you can look at a whole bunch of the graduates who look just like Jordan and have done this wonderful intermix of policy and research and really made contributions to the public good as a result of that. And that was the point of the program.
0:31:36.0 S2: Jordan, one of our distinguished graduates, and as you say, currently once again, serving at the highest level of Federal government. Becky, I think as you know, Paul Courant is in the audience. Another longtime faculty member who I also believe has done every administrative job at the University of Michigan. [laughter] So over the course of your tenure, the school grows by leaps and bounds. We've continued to grow based on the foundation that you and so many of the faculty here today put into place. Yet it continues to be a place with a tight-knit community. So Paul, I'm gonna invite you to just say a few words about what it means to keep that community feeling while you're also growing like gangbusters.
0:32:27.2 Paul Courant: Yeah. So, thanks Luke. Hi, Becky.
0:32:29.6 RB: Hey, Paul.
0:32:31.6 PC: I can't imagine by the way that I ever really said no with the proposal [0:32:35.2] ____. [laughter] Because I'm smart enough to know that the right answer to anything that Becky says to do is yes. [laughter]
0:32:43.4 RB: I think you said, "Not now." [laughter]
0:32:47.6 PC: That's possible. So Luke is right to put his finger on this idea that there's a way in which people are part of a tight-knit community, even though their community is so large that actually, it's not what we think of as a... It's not a small tight-knit community. It's a large one. How do you do that? And I don't know. [laughter]
0:33:15.7 S2: Thanks, Paul.
0:33:16.5 PC: But I have some thoughts. So going all the way back to the 1970s when there were 20 faculty all part-time and 40 students. And we somehow were in that world. The director then who's also was the director who had the idea many years later to push on President Ford as a prop, as a helper in making the program work. Jack Walker, he used to ask, he would go around at the faculty. He would say whenever anything came up, IPPS gives you more. So if the faculty member thought that they were gonna get a better deal at the Political Science Department, Jack would say, "How do we make it so we can get a better deal in IPPS?" IPPS was the Institute of Public Policy Studies, which is the predecessor organization. And students got to be in on this too. We were competing with the rest of the university for being a place where good applied social science could be done that would connect, we were inventing the idea that this was a way to think about policy. And Jack's view very much was, you get the best people working on it, it'll happen and you wanna make that happen. So this idea IPPS gives you more. Then after Jack, Ned Gramlich, Ned Gramlich's idea of, part of his idea about being a dean was to challenge the students to basketball games. We were a smaller group then.
0:34:52.9 S2: Oh. Okay.
0:34:53.7 PC: And you could get hurt doing that, but that's a different... [laughter] A different matter. But so we're trying to, and so there's this notion that coming to the office, coming to IPPS should be fun. And we had a tradition that built up somehow of an annual holiday party. And the holiday parties, they were actually pretty good. The students took seriously the idea that they were gonna put on a show, and the faculty did as well. And there was this sense of we are all part of something that is made up of different pieces that look somewhat different from each other.
0:35:34.5 PC: That's a very good theme for both public policy and public affairs generally. We're gonna be able, we're gonna do that. We're gonna do that everywhere you turn. And so people we used to be called IPPSters, they've now transitioned. No one's an IPPSter anymore, they're Fordies. Right. And I think that's kind of cool that everybody... And I actually sort of to think back to conversations with President Ford back when we were building the thing. He would think that was kind of cool too. I think he liked the idea of being a Fordie and our dean keeps in touch with the entire faculty and student body every week sends out a "Here's how things are going email." That's unusual in an academic program to put it wildly. And here it's real, it's natural.
0:36:26.7 PC: People expect it. What's the latest Bolton from the administrative wing going to be? And there's a sense always of amiability, right? And amiability really gets you past a lot of hurt. If you can make that work. Now, that's where I pout and say, "So how do you make that sense of amiability work?" I don't know. But the idea that it's part of the organization's mission to be a good place for the people who are in it to be. So they said, "Yeah, I'm going to the office today and we're gonna do cool stuff." And I like going there and it's better than other... That was the PhD programs, a perfect example of that. We got students to come and study Public Policy in a serious scientific way that didn't... There wasn't an econ program or a political science program in the world that would do that in the same way we could. IPPS could do... Not IPPS, the Ford School could do it. The Ford School could give you more and you get Jordan among others. So, but it is this sense we, in leadership, in management, you build places that are attractive to the people who are gonna make them work. That's the key.
0:37:43.6 S2: Bravo. Becky, anything to add?
0:37:47.3 RB: You know that culture was deeply embedded in the Institute for Public Policy Studies, and when we became the Ford School, I think everyone was concerned that that culture continue with us as we grew and changed. And it was part of the concern about the undergraduate program that if you brought in a whole bunch of undergraduates, wouldn't that changed this dynamic in some way? And we worked to try to set it up so it didn't, and from what I hear tell, I don't think it has, but... That whole culture built over the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, that benefited the Ford School from its very beginning. And it's easy to lose that type of cohesion and very hard to build it back. So, I'm always delighted when people tell me that's still there and people still feel that. And they're all Fordies now.
0:38:50.4 S2: Yeah. Fordies, I've got three final questions for you about leadership and speaking especially to our students who are going on to careers. So, my first one is that you left the Ford School to serve in the Obama administration eventually becoming acting Secretary of Commerce. And I wonder if you could just tell us about the experience a number of times of transitioning from the academy to government, from government to the academy. In particular, what is it like to be in roles that require both technical expertise and political savvy?
0:39:29.1 RB: Yeah. Well, I've three times left the academia for temporary government jobs and then come back. You know given my interests, which are very policy-oriented. Going to DC was invaluable to understanding that process, and particularly given there were times I wanted to advocate for certain things. Having been in the DC process helped me know how to do that. I always thought my time in DC enriched my research. It gave me a sense of what some key questions were that no one else was thinking about, because they weren't in those conversations. They were off in their academic seminars.
0:40:10.6 RB: So I wrote some of my best papers after leaving the Clinton administration and coming to the Ford School because I had a couple of ideas that other people didn't have. So that going in and out, if you have an interest, a serious interest in policy as well as in research and academic thought, intellectual inquiry is a fascinating way to build a career. And I'm not the only one who is fortunate to be able to do that. But, it's been a lot of fun. And learning how to politically navigate DC is not unhelpful when you're running a university, much less running a small unit in a university. Everything at some point comes down to a certain amount of political negotiation. And you learn that well in DC if you're doing your job right.
0:41:14.7 S2: I wonder if there's any lessons in leadership as Dean, in government as Chancellor at Wisconsin, that you've learned the hard way or mistakes that you made and had to deal with. Anything you could offer for students who are early in their careers?
0:41:33.9 RB: Well, I can certainly give you some lessons on leadership that I think I've learned and haven't always followed but try to. One is, when you're leading an organization, you gotta have a vision about the opportunities where it can move forward, what it can be. Both realize about... Realistic about what it is and what its shortcomings are, and realistic about what are the opportunities sitting on the ground that you should pick up and run with? The vision is number one. Number two is having a team because as Chancellor at Wisconsin, I'm not the one who did the work, right? Others had to do the work. And I needed a team around me who were really good, who agreed with the vision, who could implement, who could move things forward. And the ability to build good teams, I think is one of the best signs of whether someone is really an effective leader. And the third thing I would say which I've mentioned already, is persistence. When you have an idea you think is right, and you want your organization to work on it, you've gotta be realistic. Some ideas... You can't be stubborn, and some ideas aren't good, and what you gotta realize is that you gotta drop 'em. But if it's a good idea, it rarely gets done fast. So you've gotta really...
0:43:00.9 S2: Stay with it.
0:43:01.0 RB: Plot it out, and stick with it. And don't get discouraged by the resistance. Persuade people one by one, build the team who can do it, and get it ready to launch. But those... You got those three attributes of vision, teamwork, and persistence you'll get a lot done.
0:43:24.1 S2: So, did you ever sleep and [laughter] did you ever get tired through all these roles? Or is that not in your constitution?
0:43:36.0 RB: I've always been a high energy person, and you take on jobs because they excite you, right? One of the things I loved about being Dean and I loved even more at Wisconsin is, it was a different job every day. Things have come at me at Wisconsin that I'd never thought about before, like how do you even make it in the university in the midst of a pandemic? And that's what makes these jobs fun. In my... I get bored easily. And you know, these are not jobs you get bored on. There's always something new to think about, always a new challenge. Sometimes they're easy, sometimes they're incredibly difficult. But always interesting to work on.
0:44:24.2 S2: I think we might have a question from a student in the audience. So while that... Oh, here we go. Maybe introduce yourself quickly and...
0:44:35.7 Gabriel: Hi there. My name is Gabriel Sullivan and I'm a wiser Diplomacy Center fellow. So I know that the Ford School is very strong when it comes to social policy, but in recent decades, the school has increased its focus on international policy, international relations and international affairs in general. I was just wondering, how are you involved in bringing more depth to international policy, and why was it important for you.
0:45:03.4 RB: Yeah. The school when I came was primarily known for domestic policy and social policy, and it was very, very good at that. And it had a small strong, but small group of really first rate foreign policy people. If you're gonna be a full school of public policy competing at the international stage with an international and certainly a national reputation, you have to be strong in both areas. And we hired some great people, both faculty and non-tenured faculty. Mel Levitsky and Susan Waltz for instance is two examples who really brought international knowledge of different types and foreign policy knowledge to the school. And I know the school has continued to build back. You just, one of the aspects of this is increasingly domestic and international policy are intertwined. And you can see that in the newspaper every day. You can't do one without doing the other. And you need knowledge of both. So, it's great to see the Ford School grow in the international area and build its reputation as well.
0:46:20.9 S2: Becky, my last question as you have gone from different jobs and different amazing challenges, I just wonder did you have a sense when it was time to go from one thing to the next? Or did opportunities present themselves and you evaluated as you went along?
0:46:41.1 RB: Yeah, it's a little of both. I explicitly made a decision after seven years at the Ford School. I had done everything on the list I sent to Nancy and a little more. And it was very clear I needed to create a new vision for the next seven to eight years, or I should move on and let someone else take over in leadership. And I admit I was ready for something else and so I resigned without something else in hand. It's probably the only time I've done that, went to the Brookings Institute as a visiting fellow and then ended up in the Obama administration. In other cases, things have come along and it felt at that time like, it is time for a change and this is a really exciting opportunity. So, I spent nine years at Wisconsin and took another job which I ended up not being able to go to but... And again, it felt like this is the next opportunity. This is a great opportunity. It fits my skills. And after nine years at Wisconsin, it's probably time for new leadership there too. So, it's a mix of both, who's offering you a great new job and where are you in your pattern? It is important to stay at an institution long enough to make a difference.
0:48:05.1 RB: And that's at least five years and in many cases, six, seven years. And too many people job hop in these leadership positions. It's not good for the institution. They don't make enough... You can't change anything in two years around a big bureaucracy like a university. So long term tenures really matter for getting things done. And it's one thing I feel good about both at the Ford School and at Wisconsin that I stayed long enough at each place to make a difference, to get things done. So, but then there are also... There's the time to leave and picking that time is an important skill too.
0:48:50.5 S2: Becky, I've so enjoyed this. I know the audience has just been enraptured by everything you had to say. I've learned. I'm gonna go write down some notes from things I've learned for my various roles and I think you mentioned that perhaps a visit at some point? We adore you and are so grateful for everything you've done and we'd love to see you at any point. And we'll be out now in the hall in the Becky with cupcakes that I think will have a logo on them if my notes don't deceive me and coffee. So I wanted to give you just one second if you had anything, any other things that you wanted to share.
0:49:40.3 RB: Well, I just wanted to say thank you. It is so good to see all of your faces, even if at a distance and in a very large screen. And I do hope to see you in person in mid-December. I'm just deeply honored by this. It came out of the blue, I wasn't expecting it. And it means a lot coming from people who were such close colleagues and in many, many cases, continue to be close friends. So thank you for this honor, and I hope the cupcakes are good.