O’Muircheartaigh, an applied statistician, joined the Harris School faculty in 1998, becoming dean in 2009. (University of Chicago News Office)

Policy in practice

Harris School of Public Policy Studies dean Colm O’Muircheartaigh discusses recent appointments of high-profile political partisans.

Over the past year the Harris School of Public Policy Studies named former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley and former treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. distinguished senior fellows. The school also will partner with the new Institute of Politics that political strategist David Axelrod, AB’76, will lead in January. Dean Colm O’Muircheartaigh discusses how these moves reflect the Harris School’s priorities.


What has motivated the recent high-profile appointments?

The Chicago Harris degree has always connected students directly with policy makers through our mentorship program, while maintaining our focus on methodology and evidence-based policy in the curriculum. By appointing Mayor Daley and Secretary Paulson as distinguished senior fellows, we are signaling an increased emphasis on this connection to the top echelon of the policy world. Our partnership with David Axelrod’s Institute of Politics will make a whole series of opportunities in the political strategy and implementation world available to our students.

In parallel we have appointed four distinguished University faculty to Chicago Harris: Jim Heckman and Roger Myerson, two of the eight Nobel laureates affiliated with the University; Bob Rosner, the former director of Argonne National Laboratory who is coleading the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, a joint endeavor between Chicago Harris and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Steven Raudenbush, one of the world’s most distinguished sociologists of education.

What are Daley’s and Paulson’s roles as distinguished senior fellows?

In each case the distinguished senior fellow interacts directly with students, in large groups and small, and brings to them a better understanding of the strengths and limitations in the real world of the tools they develop as students at Chicago Harris. Each also brings prominent policy practitioners to campus to share insights based on experience. For instance, Mayor Daley brought in Mayor Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia and Karen Freeman-Wilson, the new mayor of Gary, Indiana, while Secretary Paulson brought in Robert Zoellick, then president of the World Bank, and former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to talk about China. Both Mayor Daley and Secretary Paulson also facilitate opportunities for our students to apply their course work and enrich their training through practical experience. Mayor Daley has developed an internship program that will allow our students to work with Mayor Freeman-Wilson and her team at the city of Gary on a number of initiatives. Secretary Paulson has hired a number of students to serve as research associates at the Paulson Institute, an independent center located at UChicago, that seeks to spur creativity and innovation between the United States and China through programs on urban sustainability, cross-border investment, entrepreneurship, and business best practices. And we are working with both DSFs to develop links with urban leaders in China.

How will the Institute of Politics operate when it opens in January?

While the Institute of Politics is an independent entity, its two primary partners will be the College and Chicago Harris. It will host residential fellows—practitioners, either politicians or policy administrators, who will spend a quarter here and be available to students and faculty.

Second, it will host events—outside speakers who will talk about public policy and political implementation. And third, the institute will put together an internship program for students across campus in places they might not otherwise have an opportunity to be interns—in the offices of political figures, in the offices of agency heads and administrators, in government offices. So these three things, in different ways, enrich our engagement with the external world.

Have the appointments of three political figures been controversial?

There has been considerable enthusiasm for all three. That they span such a wide range of ideological and political positions is reassuring to those who might be sensitive to any one on his own. In fact, in one important way they’re quite similar—all three are serious thinkers about society and enrich our discourse in multiple, sometimes surprising ways.

How do the new initiatives fit with the Harris School’s curriculum?

The school was founded, and still focuses, on social and economic policy. This was the great interest of Irving Harris, for whom the school is named, and of the founding faculty. We are extending our understanding of the context in which these policies are made to energy, the environment, and the international arena. The appointment of our distinguished senior fellows add emphasis to the political context in which policies are made; Chicago Harris has always addressed this, but we are now doing so in a much more visible way.