Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Here's an interesting article from today's Hartford Courant. I'm posting the whole thing because you may not want to get a password. It accepts the LATimes password, if you have one. Since it's Yale, I'm not surprised that three of the four (one is undecided) is going for Dean. Even fairly smart people are fooled by this guy.

Yale Teachers Size Up Candidates

When A Former Student Runs For President, What's A Professor To Think?

Courant Staff Writer

December 30 2003

Although teachers like to dream they are shaping the minds of tomorrow's leaders, few really get a crack at those leaders, and far fewer get the kind of bragging rights attained by a group of old Bulldogs.

"Many of us had the sense we were preparing future leaders," said Robert Dahl, who presided over Yale University's political science department during a span that history is recognizing as epic.

"But I don't think any of us had any idea we were teaching so many presidential candidates."

Between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s, President George W. Bush, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean all studied at Yale. Each studied history and political science, and although none were in the same class, they did share professors and mentors.

Beyond the pervasive dynamics of the day - the Vietnam War and the transition of a campus moving beyond an elitist enclave - these students were also all privy to the same lessons.

Kerry graduated in 1966, Bush in 1968 and Dean in 1971. Lieberman received his undergraduate degree in 1964 and then graduated from Yale Law School in 1967. While Bush and Dean left more of a mark on their social circles, Lieberman and Kerry achieved top student leadership positions - Lieberman as chairman of the Yale Daily News and Kerry as Class Day speaker.

Yale historian Gaddis Smith, who has been cited by Dean and Kerry as an influence, said a few men with powerful intellects and personalities defined the campus when these presidential seeds were growing:

John Morton Blum, chairman of the history department and renowned liberal; H. Bradford Westerfield, hawkish political science professor; Robert Dahl, chairman of the political science department; and the activist chaplain, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr.

All are in various stages of health and retirement; they live near or in New Haven, except Coffin, who lives in Vermont. They are all, including Smith, finding minor fame on the campaign trail as the candidates praise them as mentors and influential teachers.

Some skeptics accuse the candidates of using their former teachers to bolster credentials that may be lacking. But the professors aren't sure what to think.

Few of them remember the president or the candidates as students, and fewer still recognize their own teaching in any of the current campaign platforms. Almost all of them tend to believe the presidential contenders, with one exception, are too conservative.

"As every alumnus knows, they have the right to disagree with what the faculty said when they were young men," said Blum, who had Bush, Kerry and Dean in his course "Politics and American Culture in the 20th Century."

Blum said he used to deliver objective lectures on historical events but paused occasionally to offer what he called a "parenthesis."

"I'd stop a minute and say this is a parenthesis, this is what I think, closed parenthesis," he said. "I thought it was important that students were aware of my biases."

For Blum, the biases tended toward the left. He opposed American foreign policy in Vietnam and told students he thought the Bay of Pigs was a mistake. He was quick to denounce McCarthyism.

While he taught his sprawling survey course, he also presided over the Yale history department, a responsibility that barred him from getting to know many undergraduates, including the president and the candidates.

But they remember him.

On Dec. 15, Dean cited him in a foreign policy address. Kerry spoke about his classes to author Douglas Brinkley for the biography "Tour of Duty" due out next month.

Most often, however, Blum is cited as one of Bush's favorite teachers. The president praised Blum in 2001 when he delivered the commencement address at Yale, a fact Blum described as "embarrassing."

"It's very hard for me to believe, considering where he stands on policies," Blum said.

Blum instead is supporting Dean.

Westerfield has a different story. He was, at the time, the young political science professor who stuck out for his adamant defense of American policies in Vietnam. He said he believed - and argued on campus - that "the spread of communism was held at bay by valiant Cold War warriors."

In his "Contemporary Introduction to American Relations," he taught Bush, Kerry and Vice President Dick Cheney, who left Yale before graduating in 1962. Cheney has since publicly and - Westerfield said, personally - thanked him for fueling his interest in public affairs.

But it is Lieberman whom Westerfield remembers best. He said when Lieberman was chairman of the Yale Daily News campus newspaper, he recruited Westerfield for teach-ins on Vietnam - teach-ins during which Westerfield remembers he and Lieberman defended the "hawk line, the Johnson administration."

After Lieberman graduated and anti-Vietnam sentiment pervaded the campus, Westerfield had a political and intellectual conversion. He said his about-face began in 1967 and affected the way he taught his course. But by then, the current leaders had already passed through.

Now retired, he is a liberal and tired of regrets, he said.

"I don't blame myself any longer for having misled those students," he said.

Yet, Westerfield still seems dismayed by his effect on Cheney. "He has said I inspired his interest in public affairs, not in public policy," he said.

Westerfield isn't supporting any of the students he remembers. He's supporting Dean.

`Absorbed Every Word'

Smith was one of the youthful faculty members who attracted scores of students with an engaging teaching style. Long before he was appointed historian for the school, he taught "American Diplomatic History" to Bush, Kerry and Dean.

One of the main themes of the course, he said, was to get students to think about the reasons for the United States to engage its military internationally.

He was personally opposed to the policies toward Vietnam and once invited a student who was a Vietnam veteran to describe U.S. troops' attitude toward the Viet Cong.

"[The veteran] said, `If it runs, it's VC. Waste it. If it hides, it's VC. Waste it. If it's dead, it's VC. Count it and wait for your promotion'," Smith recalled. "The other students were stunned."

Smith was mentioned alongside Blum in Dean's recent foreign policy speech, but the retired professor doesn't remember Dean or Bush well.

"Kerry," he said, "was the one who stood out."

According to the Brinkley biography, Kerry used Smith's lessons to form a Class Day speech that criticized the Vietnam War he was about to join.

"What was an excess of isolationism has become an excess of interventionism," Kerry said in 1966.

More recently, Kerry told Brinkley that he "absorbed every word uttered in Gaddis' class."

Smith doesn't think the lessons aged too well, however. He is now a Dean supporter.

Two of the other major influences on campus had a broader effect on students' intellectual and extracurricular life. Dahl and Coffin, historians say, are what made Yale at the time unique.

Dahl does not recall teaching any of the candidates, but as head of the political science department from 1957 to 1962 he had the distinction of transforming it into an expansive, top-rated program that drew professors from a diversity of views and global perspectives. His course covered Plato to Marx, and he said he challenged students to seriously consider challenges to democracy.

Where the political science department previously drew students using it as a steppingstone to law school, Dahl attracted students interested in preparing for public life and, he said, "those who saw it as a way into this modern world."

As for his politics now, he said he has made only one decision: He will not support Bush. Otherwise, he is undecided among the Democrats and may even support a non-Yalie.

In terms of life outside the classroom, it was Coffin's presence that made Yale, well, Yale.

Coffin, a vigorous civil rights agitator and anti-war activist, is an oft-cited Lieberman mentor, inspiring the student to participate in voter drives in the South.

Coffin remembers Kerry for his Class Day speech, which he recalled as "very good," but does not remember Dean.

Bush has credited Coffin with inspiring him to turn his back on what Bush perceived as intellectual elitism.

Bush has said that one day on campus Coffin made a cutting remark about Bush's father.

Coffin said he does not recall the remark or the young Bush, but has said he and the president have exchanged apologies nonetheless. Bush, for his part, has had a rapprochement with his alma mater. His daughter is a student there (as is Dean's), and Bush's commencement address seemed to close the earlier chapter.

Coffin has chosen to support a Yalie for president, but not his former protégé, Lieberman: "He's much too conservative for me."

He recalled a recent conversation with Lieberman. "I said, `It's too bad you're an Orthodox Jew and a conservative Democrat. It'd be much better for the country if that were reversed.'"

Like three of his four colleagues, Coffin is supporting Dean, the former student they collectively remember the least.

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