John Tishman: A Dear Friend and Mentor

John Tishman is well recognized as a master builder and genius in real estate. But at heart, he was a teacher and mentor.

My tutelage began in his office at 666 Fifth Avenue just after my appointment as President of The New School. He taught me about New York, taking me to its neighborhoods, introducing me to its leaders like Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. He educated me about the challenges of Manhattan real estate in the 1980s, counseling me to buy, not build, to take advantage of the market to expand The New School’s footprint in the Village. So we did: 26 East 14th Street, 55 West 13th Street, 72 Fifth Avenue at bargain prices—no rush to build. He knew we could construct a signature building on this site someday, a facility that would be a campus center with housing and classrooms and studios for all the scattered divisions of The New School. We gather today in the Tishman Auditorium, but we live and work together on the Tishman campus.

History will recognize John as a giant in The New School’s history, a trustee for 35 years, with a vision of its destiny worthy of Alvin Johnson, our founding president.

Most trustees came to The New School board through interests in one of its divisions, the graduate faculty, Parsons, Mannes, Eugene Lang College, Management and Urban Policy. But not John. He cared about the whole institution and grasped the potential of integrating its disparate parts into a university where art and design, urban and environmental policy, social sciences and more invigorated each other. The Tishman Environment and Design Center is emblematic of that vision. Indeed, it was John who led the movement to change our name from The New School for Social Research to The New School University.

And it was John who grasped the importance of technology, pushing for reforms in the Parsons curriculum to advance computer-assisted design, supporting the creation of The New School’s pioneering distance-learning programs, helping design ways to bring all our students together with advanced equipment.

In 1990, I was pleased to confer upon him The New School’s Distinguished Service Award, not for his work in university real estate, but for chairing the Board’s Educational Policy Committee. On that occasion, I said that John “brings passion and excitement to our work, always asking the big questions, always bringing a fresh and original perspective to issues before us. His far-reaching interests and talents have made him a central participant in virtually every important policy matter that this board has faced. John fuses a penetrating analytical power with creative flair, mental toughness with uncommon good judgment, an innate decency with a deeply rooted sense of fairness, bedrock integrity with steadfast loyalty to people and institutions in which he believes.”

John was a trusted mentor and a friend. He taught me about leading a large organization, respecting unions, defending free speech, campus and financial planning but also the art of taking calculated risks. I recall his steady leadership as Chair of the Board when we faced a challenging spring of faculty and student activism in 1997, and his pitch-perfect advice about restraint in the face of protests and sit-ins as well as his laser insight about when the moment came to engage with the dissidents. We emerged from that spring a stronger, more unified New School, reconnected to our founding values of respect for diversity and commitment to community, determined to protect freedom of expression and passionate about working together in the quest for a more just, humane and peaceful world.

More than a mentor, John was a close personal friend. Cynthia and I enjoyed our regular dinners in the country in Bedford and at our house in Fairfield. As I speak, I can visualize our last encounter, walking him up the front steps, his dog TJ greeting him, a smile on his face as I locked eyes with him before entering my car. I felt a sense of peace that reminded me of a reflection by Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, which I read at my father’s funeral: “The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life. Lead a good one, full of curiosity, generosity, and compassion, and there’s no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light. We can go gentle into that good night.”

John lived a good life and now has gone gently into the good night.

Acceptance of Honorary Degree from Hunter College

On November 19, 2014, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters to Jonathan F. Fanton. His remarks upon receiving the honor follow.

It is wonderful for me and Cynthia to be home again at Roosevelt House with so many friends from the Hunter family and other dear friends that reach back to our time at The New School.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this honor—and even more for the opportunity to make common cause with you and the Hunter faculty in building the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. You are one of the best university presidents of this generation, and Hunter benefits immensely from your vision, energy, determination, and courage. You challenge us all to do our best, to stretch our capacities, and to set high goals and exceed them. It has been a pleasure to work with you and learn from you.

We share a belief that universities have a role to play in strengthening our democracy, educating students to be engaged citizens, and producing research that improves public policy to embody the values upon which our country was founded.

Franklin Roosevelt understood the importance of higher education to the future of the nation then enduring the pain of the Great Depression. He gave the commencement address at Temple University, where he received an honorary degree, on February 22, 1936—Washington’s birthday. Hear his words:

“Suffice it to say this: What President Washington pointed out on many occasions and in many practical ways was that a broad and cosmopolitan education in every stratum of society is a necessary factor in any free Nation governed through a democratic system.”

Roosevelt elaborated on that theme in a message for American Education Week in September 1938:

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest.”

I think Franklin and Eleanor would be pleased with what happens every day in their home. Hunter students from every background and from all over the world study human rights and public policy—how to make the world more just humane and peaceful. And students, Hunter faculty, policy-makers, and the general public—all of us—come together to discuss and debate the critical issues of our time through candid, spirited, deep conversations informed by evidence, not ideology.

I leave Hunter full of hope and faith in the future. I loved my years at Hunter, one of my happiest times of my life. What a privilege to work with its extraordinary faculty, leaders in their disciplines, caring teachers, and wonderful colleagues, all optimistic that research can inform public policy and strengthen our democracy.

We were a great team in creating this new institution, only five years old but already recognized as a leading public policy center. Professor Jon Rosenberg led our strategic planning process. John Wallach and Manu Bhagavan chair the Human Rights Faculty Committee. Joe Viteritti and Pam Stone gave leadership to our public policy committee. Lawrence Moss and Shyama Venkateswar proved to be strong choices to direct our undergraduate programs. And I owe a special debt to Judith Friedlander, who proposed to Jennifer that I become the first Franklin Roosevelt Visiting Fellow and who was later my wise and generous mentor in learning the culture of Hunter and helping me to connect with its faculty and students. And thank you to Vita Rabinowitz for her steadfast support. You are all great colleagues who have become dear friends.

But we could not have turned our dreams for Roosevelt House into reality without Fay Rosenfeld and her talented team. Our partnership means a great deal to me. How fortunate we are to have one of the most able, hard-working, decent, caring, and politically savvy people I know as the real leader of Roosevelt House. Fay not only supports other people’s good ideas but she is also the source of some of our most creative and effective programs, reaching high to ensure a continuous flow of interesting people through our institute. And what a team to make it all happen: Sindy, Dylan, Amyrose, and so many others.

We could not have built Roosevelt House so quickly without the support—both substantive and financial—of our Board, chaired by my friend Mike Gellert, whose steady flow of good advice and flexible resources were my bedrock. Romano and Ada Peluso provided the critical financial and moral support for every facet of Roosevelt House. Joe Califano made our landmark LBJ conference happen, Bob Katzmann educated us about justice for immigrants, Rita Hauser lifted our sites for the human rights program she generously supported, Ira Katznelson is helping us explore “The Anxieties of Democracy,” and Stan Litow introduced us to IBM’s Watson and P-Tech. David Rockefeller, Elbrun Kimmelman, Adam Wolfensohn, and Richard Menschel were sources of great ideas for Roosevelt House programs. We are grateful to Richard and his family for providing support for those thought-provoking public events. And Bill Vanden Heuvel was my indispensable teacher in all things Roosevelt.

So I accept this honor on behalf of all of you who have made common cause to create an institution of which Franklin and Eleanor would be proud. A passage in our strategic plans says it well:

“Roosevelt House has developed a personality in its early years. Rather than becoming an independent academic center, it seeks to serve the faculty and students of Hunter, supporting their interests and research. When a request is made of Roosevelt House the disposition is to say ‘yes, we will help.’ Words that describe the character of this new institution are nimble, flexible, nonpartisan, creative, connected, and modern. Its undergraduate and public programs are high-quality, interesting, and innovative. All points of view are welcome in the search for objective evidence to inform public policy. Roosevelt House is a meeting place for faculty and students from all across Hunter wishing to transcend disciplinary boundaries and to focus on serious challenges and opportunities that face New York, the U.S., and the wider world.”

I am honored to remain on the Roosevelt House Board, I am pleased with how Jack Rosenthal is moving forward on our plans, and I look forward to doing a few more of my conversations next year. Indeed, I hope the American Academy might partner with Roosevelt House in the future.

You can count on my steadfast commitment to Roosevelt House in the years ahead. You are friends for a lifetime.

Presentation of Nigerian Higher Education Foundation’s Integrity Award

On September 30, 2015, Jonathan Fanton attended the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) Awards Gala, where he awarded the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega. Professor Jega is the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria. He received the NHEF Integrity Award for his role in preserving the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic process.

 I am delighted to be here with you today as we celebrate the past and future accomplishments of NHEF and recognize its generous supporters who have contributed to the progress of Nigeria. It is indeed a special honor and pleasure this evening to present the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC).

Fifteen years ago, as President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I chose Nigeria as the country to focus on as part of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. It was an initiative by the MacArthur Foundation in partnership with three other foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie—based on the fact that we all believed that education was critical for Africa’s renaissance.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development. Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities? The reverse is also true, as we know all too well. Authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades. It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day. There are many building blocks, but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education. This seems to be undeniable. For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

MacArthur selected four Nigerian universities upon which to focus our work: Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Ahmadu Bello, and Bayero University. We stayed with these universities based on three qualities of their Vice-Chancellors: vison, leadership, and integrity. Our awardee tonight, Professor Attahiru Jega, was the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University. I got to know him and work closely with him during his tenure. He demonstrated all three qualities then and, subsequently, in his role as the overseer of Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections.

Two years ago when NHEF was kind enough to honor me, I said in my acceptance speech:

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over. Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage. A Nigeria who fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

Let me say here how proud I am of my friend, Vice Chancellor Jega of Bayero, who has taken on the challenge of leading the Independent National Election Commission. Next year’s elections are critical to Nigeria’s future: they must be—and be seen to be—fair and clean. Ordinary citizens will engage more vigorously in building their country if they have faith that the government is of, by, and for the people.

As all of you in the audience know, Nigeria went through a remarkable democratic transition earlier this year, with the election of President Buhari and the peaceful transition of power from President Jonathan. The underpinning of this transition was a robust and transparent electoral process, one that was widely accepted as open and fair.

The key architect of this electoral process is today’s awardee, Professor Attahiru Jega. In his role as Chairman of INEC, Professor Jega laid out the roadmap for the elections as early as 2010, put in place an enormous infrastructure of biometric and polling stations, and oversaw vote counting and tallying. Professor Jega showed outstanding integrity in the face of tremendous political pressure to make sure there was no interference in the process, and to ensure that votes were tallied correctly. Most importantly, his calm leadership under pressure when votes were being announced ensured peace and stability.

For these reasons and more, I am delighted to present the NHEF Integrity Award to a dear friend and a remarkable individual, Professor Attahiru Jega.

In Conversation with Danny Meyer

On May 15, 2014, Jonathan sat down with renowned New York City restauranteur, Danny Meyer, to discuss his life in and outside of the restaurant business. Jonathan’s introductory remarks are below and video of the event will be available shortly. The conversation lasts 40 minutes, followed by a Q&A session with members of the audience. 

In Conversation with Danny Meyer

May 15, 2014 

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a very special evening.  Many of you have been here before to enjoy book discussions like Bruce Katz’s Metropolitan Revolution or to hear global leaders like South African Constitutional Court justice Edwin Cameron.  Or attend major conferences like “John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream,” a fresh look at lessons from his time as Mayor.

But tonight is different.  For the past few years I have had a series of public conversations at Roosevelt House with the most interesting people I know personally.  Ed Koch was my first guest, followed by former MoMa President Agnes Gund, James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Vartan Gregorian of the Carnegie Foundation, Judy Collins, and most recently, Joseph Califano and former Columbia President Michael Sovern.

My guest tonight is Danny Meyer, New York’s leading restaurateur.  You know the names, Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Blue Smoke, Untitled at the Whitney and The Modern at MoMA and, of course, Shake Shack.  How many in the audience have eaten at one of Danny’s places?

Danny is from St. Louis, majored in Political Science at Trinity College, worked in Italy in his father’s tour business and opened his first restaurant at age 27, The Union Square Café.  And that is how we know each other – I was President of the New School and Chair of the Union Square – 14th Street Local Development Corporation at the time and Danny joined our Board.  He was one of the pioneers in the transformation of Union Square from “Needle Park” as it was known in the early 80’s, to the safe, clean, vibrant Park it is today.

He was the model of a responsible, engaged businessman taking an interest in the people, institutions and local businesses that called Union Square home.  And when I moved to Chicago to head the MacArthur Foundation, Danny was one of the key people who assumed leadership of the LDC.  Speaking of Chicago, we have another tie: his grandfather, Irving Harris was a friend of mine in Chicago as we shared so many interests from the Harris Public Policy School at the University of Chicago to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which provides underserved communities with high quality early childhood care and education. I know Irving was very proud of Danny’s accomplishments.

Danny has written several books:  The Union Square Café Cookbook,  Second Helpings From Union Square Café, and the one I like the best, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business Setting the Table gives us an insight into Danny’s deep caring for humanity, his respect for his employees and the customer experience, his taste for risk, his dedication to quality.

That quality is reflected in numerous awards and prizes. Danny and the Union Square Hospitality Group account for 14 James Beard Awards, and 3 of New York City’s top 10 most popular restaurants according to Zagat’s 2014 Survey, a list that in the past has been topped by Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern 15 times.

But his recognition goes far beyond his restaurant work.  In 2010 Cooper Union recognized him with its Urban Citizenship Award, and NYU followed a year later with the Lewis Rudin Award of Exemplary Service for New York.  In addition to the Union Square LDC, Danny has served on the Boards of Share Our Strength, City Harvest and the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

So we have a lot to talk about.  Danny and I will chat for about 35-40 minutes and then open to your questions.  Our program will finish at 7:15.

 

 

 

Improving Immigrant Access to Justice: Innovative Approaches

On May 14, 2014, Roosevelt House hosted an event that looked  into the state of immigrant justice in America. Mirela Iverac of WNYC moderated a panel that consisted of Justice Robert KatzmannChief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Angela FernandezExecutive Director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and co-founder of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, and Peter L. Markowitz, Interim Executive Director of the Immigrant Justice Corps. Jonathan provided introductory remarks, which are included below. Video will be made available shortly.

Improving Immigrant Access to Justice: Innovative Approaches

May 14, 2014

Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my pleasure to welcome you to a discussion on innovative approaches to improving immigrant access to justice.

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt would have been pleased that we gather in their home tonight to explore this topic so central to our values and national character. Hear Franklin’s words in his October 1940 radio address to the Herald Tribune Forum. He spoke of how immigrants contribute to our country when he said:

“…These varied Americans with varied backgrounds are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. All of them are inheritors of the same stalwart tradition—a tradition of unusual enterprise, of adventurousness, of courage ‘to pull up stakes and git moving.’ That has been the great, compelling force in our history. Our continent, our hemisphere, has been populated by people who wanted a life better than the life they had previously known. They were willing to undergo all conceivable perils, all conceivable hardships, to achieve the better life. They were animated just as we are animated by this compelling force today. It is what makes us Americans…They built a system in which Government and people are one—a nation which is a partnership and can continue as a partnership. That is our strength today.” It is this sense of partnership and our panelists’ commitment to fairness and the rule of law that brings us together tonight.

But I think FDR would be troubled, as we are, by these startling facts:

  • In New York City, 60% of detained immigrants facing deportation do not have attorneys by the time their cases are completed.
  • It is estimated that 40% of undocumented children are eligible for legal status but only a few have legal counsel to help them secure that status.
  • And individuals not detained but who face deportation are successful in their case 74% of the time if they have legal counsel, but only 13% if they are unrepresented. Quite a difference.

One of our panelists tonight, Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Robert Katzmann, has taken the lead in addressing this shocking situation. In 2007 he gave the Marden Lecture at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York about the unmet needs of the immigrant poor. It was rich in evidence of how badly immigrants facing deportation were treated by both administrative and judicial arms of our government. And it was a clarion call for reform. “We are a nation of immigrants, whose contributions have been vital to who we are and hope to be. All too often immigrants are deprived of adequate legal representation, essential if they and their families are to live openly and with security. This failure should be a concern for all of us committed to the fair and efficient administration of justice.”

A year later, Judge Katzmann convened a study group on immigrant deportation made up of 50 leading lawyers in private practice, leaders of immigrant service organizations, government officials and more. It commissioned a New York Immigrant Population Study which documented the statistics I cited earlier. Its work lead to the establishment of two important projects we will discuss this evening.   Starting this year, the Immigrant Justice Corps-spearheaded by Justice Katzmann’s efforts – began its work of providing New York’s immigrant population with high-quality legal assistance.  The I.J.C. recruits from a pool of talented young lawyers and law students around the country, partnering them with non-profits that specialize in immigration assistance.  The founding of the Corps marks the largest expansion of immigration legal services in New York’s City’s history.

We have a distinguished moderator today who will help to facilitate what I know will be a thoughtful and lively discussion. I am delighted to introduce Mirela Iverac, a reporter for WNYC, where she covers topics on poverty and immigration. In 2013, Mirela won a Gracie award for Outstanding Reporter for her coverage of those issues.  Prior to joining WNYC, she was a freelance contributor to the New York Times. Mirela holds master’s degrees in journalism from Columbia University and in international affairs from the University of Cambridge, U.K.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mirela Iverac from WNYC who will introduce the other panelists this evening.

 

Making the Emergent City: A Panel Discussion

On May 12, 2014, the Roosevelt House welcomed a panel discussion exploring the city of the future, co-hosted by the World Policy Institute. The panelists included Jill S. Gross, Associate Professor in Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, Marc Norman, Director of UPSTATE: Center for Design, Research and Real Estate, and Emeka Okafor, Co-Founder and Curator at Maker Faire Africa. Kavitha Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Emergent Cities Project at the WPI moderated the event. Jonathan provided introductory remarks, which are provided here. Video of the event may be viewed below.

Making the Emergent City: A Panel Discussion

May 12, 2014

Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to a program we are doing in partnership with the World Policy Institute, a panel discussion on “Making the Emergent City.”  As more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, a number expected to grow to 6.3 billion by 2050, the future of the cities is a topic to which Roosevelt House will devote considerable attention.

Earlier this academic year, Bruce Katz of Brookings came to discuss his new book, The Metropolitan Revolution, in which he argues for a New Hanseatic League of international cities which will learn from one another.  Tonight’s program will deepen our exploration of the future of cities worldwide.

I am very glad Roosevelt House and the World Policy Institute are making common cause on this program.  When I was President of the New School, then WPI Director Arch Gillies and I merged the WPI into the New School and we were proud to have it and The World Policy Journal as part of our University.  Its longtime editors, James Chace and Karl Meyer, and WPI leaders like Sherle Schwenniger and Fellow Walter Russell Mead added to the University’s intellectual vitality.

When I was doing our due diligence before the merger, I talked with Les Gelb, then head of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He praised the WPI for its fresh thinking, for getting ahead of the issues, for bringing a different perspective, for example, understanding the changes in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and the shift in the balance between economic and military concerns.

After my time, the New School made the mistake of encouraging the WPI to become an independent institution again, but many New School trustees like Henry Arnhold and Michael Gellert remain vitally interested in it as do I.

Tonight’s program we think will stimulate complex and creative thinking around the contradictory fate of the 21st century city – the exploding megacities of the Global South and the shrinking Rust Belt cities of the Global North.  Tonight’s conversation will help us understand the challenges facing cities and some of the lessons that New York and other US cities might learn from emerging mega-cities around the world.

We gather in the homes of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara.  I think FDR would be pleased with our topic tonight.  “Making the Emergent City,” will look at what the informal sector, citizens themselves, can do to build cities that are decent places to live and work, resilient, and avenues of opportunity for people of all backgrounds to improve their lives.

FDR understood that government could not fix every problem, that local initiative was important.  Hear his words speaking to his neighbors in Poughkeepsie in 1933,

“More men and more women are taking an individual, a personal, interest in all the problems – the social relations and economic and political problems – than ever before in the history of the Nation, and I hope that that interest will be extended to the problems of the local government as well.”

And he understood that business as usual would not do.   Like the World Policy Institute, he challenged us to see our problems in all their complexity and be bold in thinking about future solutions.  Giving a commencement address at Oglethorpe University in 1932, he said,

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation… We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely.  We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer.  We need the courage of the young.  Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you.”

And that leads to our topic tonight.  How citizens from Detroit to Lagos to Katmandu can remake their cities.

To introduce and moderate our panel tonight, I will now call on Kavitha Rajagopalan, Senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and co-leader of the Institute’s Emergent Cities Program.  The program develops and pilots new ways to “activate” resilient urban spaces in the economically troubled and shrinking cities of the West, using lessons from cities in the developing world characterized by high rates of migration and informality, i.e. “emergent” cities.  Kavitha is the author of Muslims of Metropolis: The Stories of Three Immigrant Families in the West, a narrative nonfiction examination of migration, integration and identity formation in three Muslin immigrant families – a Palestinian family from Jerusalem to London, a Kurdish family from Turkey to Berlin, a Bangladeshi family from Dhaka to New York City.  Her projects include research and advocacy on the causes and consequences of undocumented migration, urban informality, and minority access to mainstream financial systems.  She writes widely on global migration and diversity and has taught related courses at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.

After the panel talks for about 40 minutes, we will open the conversation for your questions and conclude by 7:15 pm.

 

SSRC at Roosevelt House: “Anxieties of Democracy”

On May 6, 2014 Roosevelt House hosted the final installment of the series, “Anxieties of Democracy,” in partnership with the Social Science Research Council. Titled, “Are the people the problem?” the event brought together two distinguished panelists: Jane Mansbridge of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of Beyond Adversary Democracy, and Paul StarrProfessor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. In a stimulating discussion, moderated by Jonathan,  the two scholars examined the role of human behavior in the political process–how it can both facilitate and hinder political and economic development. These are Jonathan’s introductory remarks. Video of the event can be viewed below.

 

SSRC, Anxieties of Democracy

“Are the people the problem?”

May 6, 2014

Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.

It is a particular pleasure to welcome to you to the third in a series of Roosevelt House-Social Science Research Council events on the pressing subject of ‘Anxieties of Democracy.’  Roosevelt House is devoted to public discussion of just such fundamental issues, so this partnership with the SSRC is based on deep affinities for the deployment of rigorous research and knowledge in the social sciences in the public interest.  Likewise, the Social Science Research Council, now entering its tenth decade, is devoted to advancing scholarship on the most critical issues of the day, and to promoting conservations within the academy and well beyond.  Together, both organizations are committed to an informed public sphere and to a robust civic culture.

The SSRC’s program on democracy asks how representative democracies can be strengthened to govern more effectively.  It is motivated by the sense that the core institutions of our democracy that connect citizens to the political system–institutions that include elections, mass media, political parties, interest groups, and social movements–are not working terribly well, and that the American people, both in particular groups and the citizenry as a whole, have lost a significant degree of faith in whether our democracy can address large problems such as  climate change, poverty, and personal and national security effectively, legitimately, and accountably.

Within the coming week, the SSRC’s work on ‘Anxieties of Democracy’ will launch its website on http://www.ssrc.org. This digital resource will open the posting of think pieces on democratic dilemmas written by thirty leading scholars and journalists who participated in formulating the scope and direction of the program during the past year.

The prior two sessions in the current series conducted in this House–a home where Eleanor and Franklin thought hard about the role of government and its abilities to solve big problems–examined the causes and significance of ideological polarization in our political life, and why Congress has recently had so much difficulty in governing effectively.  The focus on polarization and the discussion of Congress largely concentrated on the beliefs, actions, and shortcomings of political leaders.  Tonight, we shift gears.  We are asking, to what extent are the people the problem?  Intentionally provocative, the question invites us to think about what citizens know, how they think, what they prefer, the ways they are informed, the character of public voices, the manner in which citizens act, and how each of these dimensions of civic participation shape the character and prospects of our democracy.

FDR would be pleased we are having this discussion in his home tonight. Hear his reflections on the state of our democracy in a 1938 Fireside Chat:

“We in America know that our own democratic institutions can be preserved and made to work. But in order to preserve them we need to act together, to meet the problems of the Nation boldly, and to prove that the practical operation of democratic government is equal to the task of protecting the security of the people.”

Then as now we face big, vexing issues.  It is my hunch that our two distinguished speakers believe that it is less the people who are the problem than the ways the media, the parties, and money in political life shape what citizens know and believe and affect how they behave.  But as theirs are rich and sometimes surprising voices, I, like you, keenly look forward to hearing from these two distinguished scholars and public intellectuals.

Jane Mansbridge, recently president of the American Political Science Association, is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  Her current work includes studies of representation, democratic deliberation, everyday activism, and the public understanding of collective action problems. She is the author of Beyond Adversary Democracy, an empirical and normative study of face-to-face democracy, and the award-winning Why We Lost the ERA, a study of social movements based on organizing for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Paul Starr, the holder of a Pulitzer Prize, is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. His current interests concern the sociology of knowledge, patterns of technology, and information, especially as they bear on democracy. With Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich, he co-founded the influential magazine The American Prospect.  He recently published Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care Reform.

One further introductory remark:  I am substituting this evening for Ira Katznelson, president of the SSRC.  Ira has been awarded the Sidney Hillman Book Prize for his recently published Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.  At just this moment, the award is being conferred at The New York Times.  Ira, who sends apologies for his absence, asked me to step in to moderate the conversation that will follow the presentations by Professors Mansbridge and Starr.  They will each speak for about 15 minutes.  The three of us then will proceed to a conversation, followed by a period of questions.  Our program concludes about 7:20.  We begin with Professor Mansbridge.