VOL.10 NO. 2 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH FALL 2000
Every Student A Politician
For Hinckley Institute of Politics founder Robert H. Hinckley, it was a rally cry. For student interns in Washington, D.C., it's reality.
by Anne Palmer Peterson
"One thing we always tell students before they go back there is, 'Open your eyes and ears; don't just go to work. Get out, look around, read the papers, go to Congressional hearings, ask your employer for a day off here and there to do some important travel on the weekends. Go to museums. Don't do anything you could do in Salt Lake City. Don't go to movies. Don't sleep. Just go take it in.'"
Each year since 1966, as many
as 120 University of Utah students in the District of Columbia board the
subway every morning in order to staff copiers, format documents, and
run errands with a reverence and devotion that makes their service seem
almost a civic sacrament. The fact of the matter is, "a lot of what
the students do is donkey work," according to Ted Wilson BS'64, who
chucked his job as mayor of Salt Lake City midterm to head the University's
political institute. "Precinct work," arranged by the Hinckley
Institute of Politics, helps teach students to become informed participants
in the American political system. Answering phones and writing correspondence
some of the time hasn't tempered students' eagerness to enter the fray.
by the stiff competition for the privilege and that roughly 3,500 internships
have been served so far, working inside the Beltway seems a fitting complement
to a Utah undergraduate education. Serving as interns for justices, lobbyists,
and members of Congress, with nonprofit administrators, or for network
broadcasters seems to resonate with Utahns' sensibilities.
"Is it a coincidence
that the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Bennion [Community Service]
Center both flourish at the U, when other institutions have trouble achieving
the same success on a steady and continuing basis?" postulates former
Institute director R.J. Snow BA'62 MA'64. "I think Utah values are
better defined and maintained than elsewhere, and both the Hinckley and
Bennion ideals have always had support at the U, even before there were
such excellent opportunities for students to find ways to express themselves."
After all, patriotism is part
of the conscience many students bring to the U. For some, the regard for
their country has been inaugurated at church or school and embellished
at small-town Independence Day parades and rodeos, high school community-service
projects, or Scouts. Freedom of religion has its basis in politics, as
wella lesson understood by leaders and followers of many faiths,
whether Protestant, LDS, or Jew. Among the U student body are many with
convictions of another kind: a belief that a college education ought to
avail students of life away from home. Students adhering to either ideology
are encouraged by the Hinckley Institute of Politics to apply.
Robert H. Hinckley, founder
of the Institute, wanted the lure of politics to be irresistible so that
the "young, best minds" could be taught to appreciate the responsibilitiesas
well as the privilegesof citizenship. After years in governmentas
a state legislator and mayor of Mt. Pleasant, with the Civilian Conservation
Corps, Works Progress Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration,
Civil Aeronautics Authority, and as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for
AviationHinckley became increasingly concerned about public attitudes
toward politics. A former regent of the University, he came to believe
that one of the University's roles ought to be in preparing students for
Upon retiring to Utah, his
sense of the need for a political institute grew urgent, according to
his biographer and former Hinckley Institute Associate Director Bae Bishop
Gardner ex'49. Before determining the Institute should be founded at the
U of U, Hinckley studied models at Yale University to learn about fellowships
for hosting public leaders on campus: Grinnell College in Iowa; the proposed
John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; the Maxwell School of
Government at Syracuse University in New York; and the Eagleton Institute
at Rutgers University in New Jersey. His research convinced him to focus
on education, students, and participation as means of making democracy
make sense again.
public service and in the broadcasting industry, I have taken it upon
myself to go up and down the land preaching the gospel of politics and
[and] patriotismthat old-time religion
wrote Hinckley. A prosaic document drafted at the founding of the Institute
decries "the tragedy that there is a national pastime of belittling
and downgrading politics and politicians" and pledges to "inculcate
a wholesome respect for politicians in coming generations." As Snow
points out, the Institute was the beneficiary of Hinckley's convincing
others to put their money behind ithis own family (who willingly
watched much of their inheritance shift to the Institute), Hinckley's
ABC-TV co-founder Edward John Noble, Marriner and George Eccles, Joseph
Quinney, and, later, Rocco Siciliano. From 1975 to 1985, Snow, the University's
vice president for university relations, also directed the Institute.
Gardner, assistant director, ran the day-to-day affairs and coordinated
The Institute's $8 million
endowment, and the efforts of founding director and political science
professor J.D. Williams, enabled the first interns in the summer quarter
of 1966 to serve in U.S. Congressional offices and to be paid while earning
college credit. "In medical school, internships provide on-the-job
learning so that young people can take their academic training and try
it in an actual work situation. That was our fundamental logic, and we
were fortunate the U.S. Congressional delegation was so cooperative,"
Today students are also placed
at prestigious federal institutions, nonprofit groups, and political think
tanks. What's more, the Institute subsidizes convenient, comfortable accommodations
just outside the nation's capital in Alexandria, Virginia's Oakwood Apartments.
Interns pay $125 per month. Benefactors also have enabled the Institute
to provide stipends for interns of $600 per month, making the opportunity
to go to Washington affordable to a wider range of students. Few, if any
other, college internship programs in Washington provide students all
three resources: jobs, money, and housing.
Wilson says he frequently
takes calls from parents of BYU students asking, "If my child transfers
to the U, can she apply for a Washington, D.C., internship?"
Students live in connecting,
furnished apartment suites at a corporate housing complex that includes
such suburban amenities as swimming, tennis, and sand volleyball. On a
free shuttlebus that takes residents to and from the Metro line, the University's
interns spend time outside of work together. They also get to know one
another at potluck dinners and organized sight-seeing trips to destinations
such as Gettysburg, Mt. Vernon, Williamsburg, Boston, New York, Monticello,
Bull Run, and Baltimore.
For many, it is the first
professional experience of their lives. And culturally, it will be one
of the richest, according to Wilson.
"One thing we always
tell students before they go back there is, 'Open your eyes and ears;
don't just go to work. Get out, look around, read the papers, go to Congressional
hearings, ask your employer for a day off here and there to do some important
travel on the weekends. Go to museums. Don't do anything you could do
in Salt Lake City. Don't go to movies. Don't sleep. Just go take it in.'"
They're prone to heed the advice.
"Washington, D.C., is
a city that runs at a far different pace than what I'm used to. I recognized
the importance of being well informed, so I tried every day to read The
Washington Post, The Times of London, The New York Times, and The
Los Angeles Times. They were provided at my work, and I'd skim all
of them every morning," says Spencer Wixom. Great work, if you can
get it, especially for a college student. Wixom was a fall 1999 intern
to the U.S. Supreme Court who gave tours and researched the history of
paintings from the National Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of
American Art displayed in the justices' chambers. "I enjoy taking
an active part not only in politics but in the celebration of American
tradition and American freedomsjust to understand the nation we
live in and how it functions politically, economically, and socially,"
says the senior double major in engineering and business. Visual art,
it turned out, was the cultural asset he valued most in Washington, D.C.
Attorney Kirk Jowers BA'92, a former intern and recipient of a $28,000 Harry S. Truman scholarship administered by the Hinckley Institute of Politics, is an on-site advisor to the U's Washington interns and associate general counsel for the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce. Jowers raves about the variety and quality of internships available. "If you want to be a journalist, or a lawyer, or a public official, the Institute has places where you get paid to learn about the work you'll be doing. Even if you want to go into business, you still ought to understand that business answers to government, and you need to know how it works in order to create a business or lobby for more advantageous terms. No matter what kind of tasks interns do back here, understanding how government works enhances their ability to participate," he reiterates.
"These people wouldn't
have you there if you were going to replace the CEO or the chief of staff,"
Wilson admits. "Your job is to help them." Still, the Institute
will intervene if interns report being saddled primarily with menial tasks.
"We have to watch that day and night. And we tell students, 'If you
find yourself tethered to the copy machine, you let us know, because we
want this to be a substantive experience for you.' But writing letters
and tracing bills can be an important learning experience," adds
Wilson, who assumed the Institute's helm 15 years ago.
Many Hinckley interns wind
up with Potomac fever: an infectious desire to live and work in the capital
of the United States. "The people I worked with at the Supreme Court
would say, 'Once you get Washington in your blood, you never give it up,'"
states Amy Richins Oliver BS'95, who recently landed a job with a District
of Columbia law firm. She didn't realize that the opportunity she'd had
to work at the Court during college was such a coupuntil the dean
of the law school at Harvard pointed it out to her and the rest of the
class of 2000.
Jill Mathis, intern for Congressman
Jim Hansen, is a U student without much background in political science
but who wanted the experience of living back East. Friends who had previously
interned encouraged her to apply. Mathis wants to teach children or possibly
go into social work. "I'm not interested in staying in politics,
but I do want to be more up on current events, particularly issues that
affect children," she says. The day before, she had attended a press
conference advocating reforms to laws that potentially undermine the stability
of immigrant families while members are held for deportation hearings
based on so-called "secret evidence." "Taking people on
tours of the Capitol gets you interested in issues, and about how government
works," she says.
Former ASUU President Ben
McAdams BA'00 is proof of what he preaches when he says a Washington,
D.C., internship "opens doors that you never even knew existed."
He was an electrical engineering major with only a fleeting interest in
politics when he gained a University internship in the White House. "I
was fascinated with the White House press corps, so I studied the press
and developed skills to work with the media," McAdams explains. Following
his internship, he was selected by the president's Advance Team to orchestrate
media logistics for some of President and Mrs. Clinton's domestic and
international travel, including Mrs. Clinton's visit with ethnic Albanians
and the Macedonian people who took them in. McAdams has continued in that
role for the past two years and says he intends to pursue "some kind
of public service" after law school at Columbia University.
The only thing more inspiring,
as far as leaders of the Hinckley Institute of Politics are concerned,
is former interns running for elected office. That happens all the time,
too. They include former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives
Rob Bishop BS'74, Senator Fred Finlinson BS'67 JD'69, Frank Pignanelli
BS'81 JD'84, who served as minority leader of the House, Randy Horiuchi
BS'75, Jim Bradley BS'84, Jim Davis BS'72, and Enid Greene BS'80. Greene
became the student who obtained the highest elective office of Hinckley
interns when she was elected to the United States Congress from Utah's
second district. The name of former intern Donald Dunn BS'93 is set to
appear on the Third U.S. Congressional District ballot in the state of
Utah this fall.
Would they have done it without having served internships? Hard telling. The ideals fundamental to politics are also inherent to education. Both are seductive forces.
Anne Palmer Peterson MPA'00 is former editor of Continuum. She is an academic program manager for educational administration in Academic Outreach and Continuing Education at the University.
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