The Graduate School of Political Management is unlike most graduate programs at GW, or even in the country. It offers master’s programs that provide real-world training as much as they do theoretical skills. GSPM students are less often seeking a degree in order to begin a life in academia – after graduation they pursue careers in campaigns, consulting and local and national politics.
To earn the skills required of a successful graduate of the GSPM, degree seekers learn from pioneers in their respective fields. A former George W. Bush press secretary even taught a course last fall. And the truth of the matter is, that while these professors are what make the GSPM such a successful school, not every great politician or leader holds a doctorate.
So to say that having a Ph.D .is the ultimate factor in determining whether or not someone is worthy of leading the GSPM is disingenuous to the merits of the program.
The allure of serving in the highest spot in the GSPM has drawn competitive candidates, including a former congressman. But he was flatly turned down because College of Professional Studies Dean Kathleen Burke has required that candidates seeking to lead the school must hold a Ph.D. or law degree. In addition to applying this degree requirement to prospective directors, GSPM faculty members complain that Burke has excluded them from the hiring process and did not honor their suggestions.
Ultimately, the standards of the process and selection of the new executive director are up to Burke. Thus far, she has made many missteps with this search. Before finalizing the decision, Burke should make several changes in the hiring process.
By keeping the process closed, requirement-heavy and unwelcoming to faculty involvement, Burke has excluded potentially great GSPM executive directors from even seeking the position. From the start, anyone should have been able to apply for the position, regardless of his or her highest degree.
One apt parallel to the GSPM is already on campus. The School of Media and Public Affairs has seen tremendous growth under SMPA Director Frank Sesno, who served as CNN’s chief White House correspondent, continues to interview some of politics’ biggest names. His bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College would make him ineligible to run GSPM. Burke has restricted candidates who potentially have similar resumes from heading up the GSPM by enforcing the degree requirement. Rather than allowing a candidate’s merits and political management experience to determine whether or not he or she should be executive director, holding a doctoral degree will.
Keeping faculty – the lifeblood of the school – away from the hiring process is also a cause for concern. Deciding a school’s director concerns every member of the school, and Burke should solicit suggestions from graduate students and faculty alike.
GSPM is the kind of school that needs a dynamic leader who will ensure that professors equip their students with real world skills and not just theoretical concepts. And at this period of transition for GSPM leadership, Burke should not arrive at her selection autocratically – too many arbitrary requirements and too little transparency might keep the best possible candidate away.
This article was updated on Feb. 10, 2010 to reflect the following:
An early version was originally uploaded to the website. The Hatchet apologizes for this error.