5/13/2008 Eric Schoeniger

Agents of Change

How the Government Department has transformed students? lives?and the course of American politics
It?s an election year, and the politicos have dusted off the familiar phrases. This time around they?re all about change.

Barack Obama declares, ?We want change in America!? Hillary Clinton talks of ?change? [and] the strength and experience to make it happen.? Even John McCain, who after 26 years in Congress could be seen as a stalwart of the status quo, notes that ?Americans have never feared change.?

But how do you effect meaningful change in the rough-and-tumble world of American politics? John Vanderzell knows. So did his Government- faculty colleagues, Sid Wise and Dick Schier.

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The answer? One student at a time.

It?s an approach that has been embraced throughout the Government Department?a department that students past and present inevitably describe as “legendary.”

?That?s mainly because of the ethos and standards set by Sid Wise, Dick Schier and John Vanderzell,? says Robert Gray, the Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government. ?They were special, because they each had a combination of intelligence, practical experience and personal commitment to students.?
The Big Three
Franklin & Marshall boasted a Political Science Department as early as 1928. But even 20 years later it was graduating only one or two students a year.

Then, during a brief period in the early 1950s, Wise, Vanderzell and Schier joined the faculty, renamed the department Government and began laying the foundation for one of the College?s most enduring legacies.

Although The Big Three, as they came to be known, were the only Government faculty throughout the next decade, their influence was felt across campus and beyond. In part that?s because they infused political science theory with real-world insights gained from their own involvement in local, state and federal government. Wise and Schier were both legislative assistants to U.S. Senator Joseph Clark. Vanderzell was active in both state and local government.

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?They all had experience in practical politics,? Gray notes, ?and students connect with that. It enables them to place the study of political science in the context of real work. It also enhances the prospects for students interested in obtaining jobs in government.?

Wise in particular was instrumental in helping graduates launch their careers. In fact, in 1994 the New York Times credited him with creating ?one of the biggest old-boy networks on Capitol Hill??a network that expanded to include women when F&M went co-ed in 1969.

?In the 1980s, Sidney?s office was across the hall from mine,? Gray recalls. ?He spent an enormous amount of time on the phone talking with former students who were working on Capitol Hill or in the executive branch.?

One of those students was William H. Gray III ?63, former U.S. Representative and president of the United Negro College Fund. ?Sid Wise changed my life,? Gray told the New York Times in 1987.

Bill Gray wasn?t even a Government major when Wise suggested he apply for an internship with a politician, recognizing in him ?the kind of qualities that are needed in public life.? Gray took the internship? and 15 years later defeated the man for whom he interned, Representative Robert N.C. Nix. After the election, Wise sent Gray a three-word telegram: ?Don?t take interns.?

Wise passed away in 1994 and Schier in 1997. Vanderzell is professor emeritus and still has an office on College Avenue. When asked about his former colleagues, he clearly remembers them with great fondness. ?Dick Schier?s knowledge of politics and politicians was encyclopedic,? Vanderzell recalls. ?He was a raconteur of enormous dimensions. Sidney was just a grand person. To know Sidney was to love him.?
Extending the Legacy
Although the Big Three emphasized human relation-ships, they knew that politics would increasingly be driven by numbers. And so they instituted a required course in research methods and statistics.

?This was an unusual requirement for political science departments in the 1960s,? Professor Gray points out. ?And we are still among a minority of undergraduate departments with such a requirement.?

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To teach the course?then Government 80, now Government 250?the department brought on Stanley Michalak. ?I was not good at math,? admits Michalak, who is now the Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government Emeritus.

?But that made me well-suited to teaching it to people who were mathematically challenged.?

He also taught international politics, which quickly became a ?must-take? course among Government majors. As a teacher, he gained great pedagogical insights from legendary colleagues such as Wise.

For example, in the 1960s, the College offered a program in which students worked in the state capital. One of Wise?s students was an intern in the Pennsylvania legislature, which was considering the fluoridation of public water. The student wrote a paper that examined the pros and cons of the issue and concluded that fluoridation was desirable.

?Sid asked her whether the bill had passed, and she said no,? Michalak recalls. ?Sid then explained that her job as a political scientist wasn?t to say why fluoridation was a good idea, but to explain why such a wonderful idea didn?t get through the legislature. He immediately recognized the teachable moment.?

Wise, Schier and Vanderzell also recognized that if they wanted to extend their legacy, they would have to attract the best and brightest faculty. In short order in the early 1970s they brought on Grier Stephenson, Joe Karlesky and Bob Gray. All three immediately began influencing a new crop of Government majors.

?Their love for the subject matter was evident every time they stood in front of class,? says Christa Fornarotto ?00, legislative director for U.S. Representative Jerry Costello. ?And you could never tell whether they were Republicans or Democrats.

They always kept an open mind, and they taught us to do the same.?

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?There was a tremendous level of openness with students,? recalls Daniel J. Siegel ?81, a lawyer in Havertown, Pa. ?When I talk to people about what makes F&M different, I tell them it?s that the professors are so accessible. I graduated 27 years ago, and I?m still in touch with my former Government professors.?

It?s a sentiment echoed by many alums, including Susan Ringler ?77, senior counsel for international compliance at ITT Corp. ?Sid Wise, John Vanderzell and Grier Stephenson had the biggest influence on me,? she says. ?Their knowledge, tutelage and encouragement gave me the confidence to believe that I could achieve anything. F&M is unique in that the professors remain so interested in their students, even after you are sent out into the world. They always want to know what you are doing.?

Concludes Ringler: ?What they did for us has an incredible enduring quality.?

It is enduring because the program?s graduates go out into the world and effect real change. Ringler, for example, was a federal prosecutor in Maryland for 13 years. After leaving the U.S. Attorneys Office, she worked in Russia on an American Bar Association-Department of Justice initiative to assist the Russians with the reform of their criminal justice system. Later, she served as general counsel to the independent inquiry into the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program.

Other graduates have worked in government think tanks, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, businesses, and key positions on Capitol Hill. They have been Fulbright scholars, college deans and professors, corporate executives, partners in law firms, judges, diplomats and senior managers in the executive branch of the federal government.

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Generation Next
?When I first came to F&M, I realized it was the place I wanted to be,? says Susan Dicklitch, associate professor of Government and the department?s first tenured woman. ?Everyone says that teaching is important. But F&M means it. You can?t be successful at F&M unless you are both a scholar and an excellent teacher.?

Dicklitch and her colleagues all talk about their wanting to maintain their department?s tradition of scholarship and mentoring that stretches back half a century to the Big Three. ?Their picture is at the entrance of Goethean Hall, so you see them every day when you come into your office, which is a little intimidating,? she says.

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One way she works to live up to and extend the department?s reputation is by teaching a senior seminar called Human Rights, Human Wrongs, in which students work with immigrants seeking political asylum. Asylum seekers who lack the necessary documentation may be detained in facilities such as nearby York County Prison, one of the largest holding facilities for Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detainees in the country. They aren?t assigned a public defender, so if they can?t afford a lawyer, they must represent themselves before the immigration judge.

In the seminar, students work in pairs, each of which is assigned a case. They meet with the asylum seeker at the prison and help write an affidavit documenting their need for asylum. They also document the human-rights situation in the individual?s country of origin and prepare a legal memo that looks at relevant case law.

In the past six years F&M students have helped win 13 cases. One of those cases, handled by Kristen Stephen ?08, was appealed by the government, which meant the asylum seeker would have to remain in custody.

Stephen?s family?which includes dad Gary Stephen ?73 and brother Scott Stephen ?06?convinced the Department of Homeland Security to allow the individual to live with them while the case is being appealed.

It?s a level of engagement that reflects the department?s core values?and that makes the program as distinctive today as it was 50 years ago. ?I like the idea of scholarship, but I also want to be a teacher,? Dicklitch says. ?I want to be a mentor.?

Vanderzell understands that sentiment. ?Not only the Government Department, but the College as a whole has been successful because it has focused on the right things,? he says. ?We have staffed with the right people, and we have been solicitous of students? welfare in terms of both teaching and placement.?

In fact, Vanderzell believes the current faculty is the strongest the department has ever fielded. ?Just look at them,? he says with pride. ?Have you ever seen a finer department than the people who are there now??

Such a renowned faculty deserves a space of equal distinction at the heart of campus. To that end the College has launched the Campaign for Business, Government & Public Policy. The $25 million fund-raising effort will renovate Fackenthal Laboratories into a state-of-the-art learning environment and fund endowed chairs, scholarships, internships and study-abroad opportunities.
?Their love for the subject matter was evident every time they stood in front of class?They always kept an open mind, and they taught us to do the same.? Christa Fornarotto ?00
The new Fackenthal will house the Government Department and the Business, Organizations, and Society Department along with the Floyd Institute for Public Policy.

?We moved into our present building in 1976,? Gray points out. ?As the department and its activities expanded, we outgrew the building. But we?ll soon have some wonderful new spaces in which to teach and to interact with students.?
Lessons for the Ages
Interaction is as integral to representative democracy as it is to education. That fact was recently borne out by the first three Franklin & Marshall Forums on Presidential Politics. A series of panel discussions held in Washington, Philadelphia and New York, the forums were unqualified successes, drawing news coverage and unexpectedly large audiences of alumni, parents and students.

The panel comprised a veritable Who?s Who of Government Department alumni: In addition to former Congressman Gray, it included Ken Duberstein ?65, former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan; Stan Brand ?70, former counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives and current partner at Brand Law Group; and Ken Mehlman ?88, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and manager of George W. Bush?s re-election campaign.

In his remarks at the Philadelphia event, Duberstein waxed eloquent about his early mentors. ?There is at F&M in the Government Department,? he said, ?a legacy of great teaching and great mentoring: Sid Wise, John Vanderzell, Richard Schier and more recently Stan Michalak, Bob Gray and others. They were not ivory-tower professors but hands-on pragmatists who understood that politics is about people and about achieving the art of the possible.? It?s a message he could just as well have been delivering to son Andy Duberstein ?09.

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Perhaps the presidential candidates are right. Perhaps, in this election cycle more than in others in recent memory, there is a yearning for change, for the ability to make a difference.

It?s a force that Dicklitch certainly feels on campus. ?I believe that students today are more hopeful about change and about how they can effect change,? she says. ?And it doesn?t have to be on a large scale. I see that in my classes, where students are empowered to make a difference in one person?s life, and then so many other lives are affected by that. And that?s a powerful lesson.?
Timeline
  • 1853: First free-standing course related to politics offered
  • 1915: Degree in politics offered, with one faculty member
  • 1928: Dept. of Political Science created
  • 1950: Program graduates seven students
  • 1952: Sid Wise, John Vanderzell join faculty
  • 1953: Dick Schier joins faculty
  • 1955: Dept. renamed Government
  • 1966: Stan Michalak joins faculty
  • 1969: Program graduates 57 students
  • 1970: Grier Stephenson, Joe Karlesky join faculty
  • 1972: Bob Gray joins faculty
  • 1976: Bob Friedrich joins faculty; dept. moves from Old Main to Goethean Hall
  • 1980: Program graduates 78 students
  • 1983: Kerry Whiteside joins faculty
  • 1993: Matt Schousen joins faculty
  • 1994: Dean Hammer joins faculty
  • 1997: Susan Dicklitch joins faculty
  • 2002: Stephen Medvic joins faculty
  • 2004: Jennifer Kibbe joins faculty
  • 2005: Program graduates 93 students
  • 2009: Dept. slated to move to renovated Fackenthal Labs
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