So D.C. Mayor Marion Barry may or may not become a visiting professor at several local universities. For about two decades, Barry has personified the District. When he is at his best, it seems the city’s future is starting to look rosy again. When he is down and out, so is Washington.
Yet some argue Barry would make a horrible professor, and that the mere possibility our beloved school would consider such a dastardly deed is like a stake being driven through our collective hearts.
Puhleeze! Getting Barry out of the halls of government and into lecture halls is one of the best deals this city can get. And it’s not even paying for this bargain!
Consider this: Since 1979, Barry has been mayor of Washington for 15-and-a-half of 20 years. The only interruption in his tenure was after his 1990 arrest on drug charges, which led to a six-month stay in prison. After his release, he was elected to the D.C. Council, ran for mayor again in the middle of his term and won. Yeah he might be a punchline to jokes, but this guy knows how to work politics like few others.
Then there is the argument that Barry’s employment in some of academia’ s hallowed institutions would be an insult to professors. Why? Most professors have high degrees from highly-respected institutions of higher learning. They can tell you all about the theories, models and paradigms that explain why voters and politicians do what they do. Mind you, these models do not always work, but that’s why there’s lots of Ph.Ds around coming up with more models.
Yet instead of having Barry stand in front of a lecture hall telling his students about what things might work to ensure political success, he can tell you what things do work. That is a major difference.
Students go to universities to learn from people who fully understand their fields of study. In many of my own experiences, I have been taught by people who have done lots of research and written many articles in scholarly journals, but have little, if any, experience working in their fields. How many of our professors can say that they ran a major city? Or how many can say they were caught on video smoking crack, resigned in disgrace and yet were re-elected a few years later? Not a whole lot, I bet.
GW prides itself, and repeatedly tells anyone with hearing capabilities, that it has professors with real-world experience. Having Barry as a visiting professor would be one more thing to put in those nifty, high-gloss brochures it sends to most Americans with addresses.
The deal also would be a great one for the city. When Barry asked Congress for help in getting the District out of financial ruin, Congress responded by creating the Financial Control Board to oversee all the District’s funds and budgets. No member of Congress is going to be out in front of the cameras telling the American people, as well as his home constituency, that D.C. deserves more money when the nominal head of the city is Marion Barry. By getting rid of Barry, D.C. residents also get rid of one of the biggest stumbling blocks to increased levels of federal money.
I’ll admit that the thing that bothers me most about this deal is how the money to pay for a Barry professorship seems to be able to have been found without too much arm-twisting. Why isn’t that money so easy to come by when other professors need to be found or programs funded?
However, this is not something that will keep me up late at night, mainly because if Barry is stuck in a classroom, he can do no more damage to this city. Can anyone seriously argue that the future leaders of America could be harmed intellectually by the mayor’s teaching? Barry can’t possibly do any more damage to our young and impressionable minds than some of the lower-notch professors here, who receive extremely low grades in the Student Association’s Academic Update each semester, and yet return each semester to the classroom.
Turning Mayor Barry into Professor Barry is the best outcome for which D.C. residents could wish. The man greatly responsible for much of the District’s mess would be able to leave City Hall without losing face, universities that help split the cost of his paycheck have a high-profile addition to their faculty and the District gets a chance to make a new start. Though there may be some anger and outcry in the short-term, if this deal were to go forward, in the long-run, it would be the best deal for all involved.
-The writer is editorial page editor of The GW Hatchet.
This article appeared in the April 13, 1998 issue of the Hatchet.