Darren Reisberg implements David Axelrod's (AB’76) vision for the Institute of Politics.
The Institute of Politics won’t open officially until January 2013. In the meantime, while director David Axelrod, AB’76, runs President Obama’s campaign, executive director Darren Reisberg leads the preparation. Axelrod provides guiding input—“the guy’s pretty amazing,” Reisberg says, “in terms of his ability to think about strategy”—while Reisberg does the legwork.
Since receiving his undergraduate degree from Duke and his JD from Yale in 1999, he has been in and out of the public sector, most recently serving as deputy superintendent and general counsel of the Illinois State Board of Education. Part of Reisberg’s job now is to help students interested in public-service careers.
The institute, with the College and the Harris School as its primary campus partners, will have three main features: a visiting fellows program, a lecture series, and student internships, including one already established with the website Politico. The structure reflects Axelrod’s experience as an adviser to a similar Harvard institute. From that starting point, Reisberg says, he and Axelrod have focused on how to put a UChicago stamp on it.
Among the challenges: asserting the institute’s political independence under a director so deeply involved in the Democratic Party. In two summer interviews with the Magazine, Reisberg stressed the importance of many points of view among institute participants, noting that “carbon copies are not really helpful for anyone.”
Who’s a good fellow?
As diverse a pool of fellows as possible, in terms of ideology, race, gender, age, profession, etc. ... I could see elected officials who at this point are out of office and are willing to come share their experiences. ... Current journalists: television or print personalities. Most often those individuals don’t need to be on a sabbatical and are able to arrange with their employer that they will just live in, for example, Hyde Park for ten weeks and be able to continue their duties. ... Former cabinet officials who are coming in and able to talk about their particular areas; so a secretary of education, a secretary of commerce, a secretary of defense—I think that would be tremendously interesting.
We’re really eager to see students help us drive the programming of the Institute of Politics. That programming ranges across the spectrum from the speakers series itself, where students would be helping us before each academic quarter—thinking about whom we’re going to be bringing in for our larger events of 400 or so people, and what the formats of those events should be.
Also thinking through the types of internships we should be securing for students. The Politico internships establish a springboard to show the types of things that we’re going to be able to do.
And then also our civic-engagement activities with students serving as election judges and helping to try to promote voter registration and working in the public schools. And in order for students to really have a meaningful say in all of that, there needs to be a structure, and that structure will be a student advisory council.
Casting a wide net
I’m looking to develop a more targeted list of those students who are really interested in what we are doing. I want that to span beyond public policy, political science, economics majors, and be able to get some of the physical or biological science majors who are going to participate and be interested in—who knows what—health policy?
A big tent
We want the home that we’re going to have on South Woodlawn Avenue to be a home for the students and for them to feel comfortable coming there at any point in time, ... another space to study or hang out. We want it to be as much of a social gathering space as possible. … I don’t know whether students would want to do it, but it’s open for them to come in and watch The Newsroom every week.
How to catch an undergrad
If we provide food—that’s the key.