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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

A wonk with soul

December 22, 2011

Eric Schwartz.

Vibrant democracies need effective public institutions, says Eric Schwartz

By Bill Magdalene

Eric Schwartz was so excited to begin work at the U of M's Humphrey School of Public Affairs that, soon after setting out in his loaded up Honda for Minnesota this past October, he was pulled over for speeding on the Ohio Turnpike.

In his Dec. 14 address to the Humphrey School Assembly, Schwartz, the school's new dean, said his excitement stemmed "directly from the school's mission statement: to inspire, educate, and support leaders to advance the common good in a diverse world."

Schwartz has worked in the spirit of that mission throughout his career—early on as a reporter at Human Rights Watch, and later when addressing global humanitarian crises while at the White House and the State Department, and when working with disaster prevention at the United Nations and teaching future public servants at Princeton University.

In his first nine weeks at the University of Minnesota, he has met individually with the Humphrey School's entire faculty and has visited with many students, alumni, and public figures. In his address,"Advancing the Common Good in a Diverse World," he outlined his plan for the school.

Public institutions, public dialogue
"Americans may have legitimately differing perspectives on the best role for government," Schwartz said. "But there should be no disagreement with the fundamental proposition that vibrant democracies require highly effective and accountable public institutions. … At a time when these perspectives are under political stress, it is our obligation to vindicate the principle that public institutions and public dialogue matter."

Schwartz believes that the Humphrey School is "uniquely credentialed" to advance this fundamental principle. "The quality and culture of our scholarship and service reflect the proudest traditions of American public life," he said.

The Humphrey School's role
"We are the place at the University of Minnesota with responsibility to prepare future professionals to tackle the challenge of governance," he said. "And we are the institution that serves as a public affairs portal between the University and the broader community … to the most vexing policy challenges."

In setting out the school's challenges, Schwartz underscored three objectives: to ensure the school's financial stability, to engage in the public policy debate, and to equip students for the challenges of public service.

And he added, "We must pursue all … objectives in the context of concrete measures to enhance diversity." He cited President Kaler's remarks last month: within the next 25 years, 25 percent of Minnesotans will be people of color, but the state has wide achievement gaps between K–12 students of color and white students.

"While we at Humphrey School cannot solve Minnesota's challenge on our own, we can certainly impact our own community." Schwartz said. "To that end, we will create a strategic and action plan for diversity at the Humphrey School."

Related Links

Read or watch the speech

Humphrey School of Public Affairs