Graduate program applauds new leader

Students and faculty in the Graduate School of Political Management did not agree on much during the 18-month search for a new director. But now they’ve come to a consensus: The struggle was worth it.

The original search restarted after yielding no results. The school shuffled through two acting directors. Those surrounding the program claimed they were shoved out of a poorly run process.

But many are now saying the applied politics program will emerge stronger from the strife after former Minnesota congressman Mark Kennedy officially takes the helm Monday. Faculty, students and other stakeholders credit the hunt with raising the profile of the school both within the eyes of GW’s top administrators and within the political realm – an upward trend they hope to continue with their new leader.

The school, which sits under the College of Professional Studies, was the first of its kind when it formed in 1987. Since then, it has struggled to maintain its reputation and beat out competitors in attracting high-quality students and faculty.

Chris Arterton, who was the founding dean of the school and served as head for 23 years, said GW’s heightened focus on the program’s directorship could bode well for acquiring the institutional resources it needs to grow – including money for more full-time faculty and tuition assistance.

“I think that it’s fair to say that throughout this process the visibility of the school to the higher authority of the University has become clearer and that GSPM is a much-needed discipline in a university located four blocks from the White House at the center of global politics,” he said.

After Arterton stepped down, the program embarked on two search processes to select a new leader, refining rules along the way for candidate eligibility and community involvement in response to an outcry, primarily from faculty and the program’s advisory board members, that they were excluded from the process.

The school’s new leadership is matched by a dean change in the College of Professional Studies, whose former head Kathleen Burke left her post at the end of December in light of allegations that she mishandled the political program and its search. Burke did not return a request for comment.

Provost Steven Lerman, who oversaw the search as GW’s top academic official, credited the eventual openness of the process as a springboard for the school’s growth.

“The process of extensive consultation with faculty, staff, students and alumni that is part of an effective and transparent search for a new leader for an academic unit helps bring the community together and raises the visibility of that unit,” he said.

With the “tumultuous period” over, Council on American Politics member David Rehr said he looks forward to the newfound attention placed on the program. As a long-time friend of Kennedy with shared roots in Minnesota, Rehr expressed confidence in his work ethic and dedication to making the school even stronger.

“You look at members of Congress and you think, ‘What really about these people is lasting?’, and you look at him, and all I think about is inclusive, hard work. No one out works him,” he said.

Beyond Kennedy’s business savvy and international vision, his track record of reaching across the aisle was lauded as a crucial broadening of the school’s political leanings.

“We talked about GSPM as a bipartisan school but that has not always been the reputation,” Larry Parnell, a strategic public relations professor who sat on the search committee, said. “With Mark’s hiring, we have another point of view and credibility when we say we’re bipartisan.”

Demographic diversity was a concern during the first search, but senior administrators maintain that the addition of a headhunter helped attract a wider pool of initial candidates, even though three out of four in the final set were still white males.

As the program develops, students hope that the renewed spirits of the school will foster a stronger sense of community in a program that was previously criticized for a lack of passion.

GSPM Student Assembly President Stephen Fitzmaurice praised Kennedy’s drawing power for high-profile speakers as a way to help bring together students spread across campuses in D.C. and Virginia.

“By getting students from Alexandria and the Hill onto Foggy Bottom, then we get to talk,” Fitzmaurice said. “[Kennedy] said that he’d like to see the campuses shift and move to a more centralized location, rather than being strewn.”

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