Serving the Public Interest from the Statehouse to the Classroom Former governor Michael Dukakis has been teaching and inspiring students at UCLA Luskin for 20 years.

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By Alejandra Velarde-Reyes
UCLA Luskin Student Writer 

Though Michael Dukakis, the popular three-term Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential hopeful, has had a multitude of experiences and stories he could tell, he takes pride in sharing the success stories of former students he remembers teaching at the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Thinking back on some of his most memorable experiences teaching at Luskin as a visiting professor of Public Policy, Dukakis proudly recalls the day his former teaching assistant, Rusty Bailey (MPP ‘99), became mayor of the City of Riverside.

“That was his ambition,” Dukakis remembers of Bailey. “We spent time making personal contact with every house and every voter. He was elected city counselor and six years later he was elected mayor.”

The story is just one instance of many that demonstrate Dukakis’ interest in his students. This year marks the 20th year that the well-known and oft-quoted politician and professor has been teaching at UCLA Luskin.

Dukakis says that when his time as governor came to an end and he knew he wouldn’t be taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, he had to ask himself what to do next. He recognized he had a desire to share his knowledge, and with the wealth of knowledge and experience in successful public service, he decided to parlay that passion into work with young people. His goal: to inspire them to also seek careers in public service. After teaching at Northeastern University for a few years, Dukakis planted his flag at UCLA.

Through his courses, “Institutional Leadership and the Public Manager” and “California Policy Issues,” he has inspired many students to enter the field of government and public service. Whether students come in for his regular office hours or contact him from across the country, Dukakis says he always tries to makes time for individuals who come to him for guidance.

Mayor Bailey says because of the years of mentorship he received, he now patterns his work after Dukakis’s leadership style.

“Personal connection and relationships are important to Michael, and he gives his undivided attention when he speaks to people,” Bailey says. “He also is very committed and leads by example…All of these things have influenced my leadership style in my elected office.”

Though Bailey thinks Dukakis would have influenced history and the country in a powerful way had he won in ‘88, he believes the influence his former professor has as an educator and mentor is just as powerful.

“I think those of us who love what we’ve done, whether a doctor or a politician, we enjoy teaching and encouraging young people to follow in our footsteps,” Dukakis says. “I spend a lot of time with my students to talk about their futures.”

In addition to seeing Bailey climb to mayorship, Dukakis excitedly recounts the stories of other successful former students. Among them: Veronica Melvin, who leads a nonprofit organization for improving schools in Los Angeles County, and Matt Dababneh and Jimmy Gomez, who serve as committee chairs in the California Assembly and represent areas near Los Angeles.

“In many ways, working with students is the best thing I do,” Dukakis says. “ I feel strongly about this country and the world, and the importance of getting young people deeply and actively involved (in public service).”

When students come to him for advice and mentorship, Dukakis emphasizes the importance of optimism. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to hold high standards of integrity for yourself and the people you work with, and you have to be good at bringing people together,” he says.

Urban Planning student Ben Kaufman says he was surprised when he first emailed Dukakis with the hopes of getting advice on which graduate schools he should apply to.

“I thought it was a ludicrous idea to Google a previous presidential nominee’s contact information, cold-email him, and expect a response,” Kaufman says. “But I did just that, and amazingly, he followed up within a couple of hours.”

The following week, Kaufman says he had an hour-long conversation with Dukakis during which the seasoned politician recounted old war stories and listened to Kaufman’s plans and goals for the future. After receiving a recommendation letter from Dukakis, Kaufman was admitted to UCLA a few months later.

“It’s amazing to me how kind and genuine he is as a person outside of the classroom, no matter whom he is speaking with,” Kaufman says.

Public Policy chair Mark Peterson agrees that Dukakis has been a true asset to the department as a skilled teacher giving students an unique perspective on politics, policy and public management.

“With a door that is always open, Dukakis avails himself to all who want to discuss current affairs, the coming election, next steps in their educations and long-term career choices,” Peterson says. “A devoted friend of the department and UCLA Luskin, Mike’s spirit resonates throughout the Public Affairs Building.”

Bailey cites examples of the former governor’s humility and leadership in everyday life as well, recalling the time after Dukakis’ service in elected office ended, and he asked the U.S. Postmaster General for permission to paint over graffiti on mailboxes.

“He would go around with a can of paint in his hometown and paint over the graffiti,” Bailey says.

In another incident, Bailey remembers Dukakis humbly declining a first-class seat that a flight attendant offered him.

“He replied without skipping a beat, ‘No I want to sit in the back with the Democrats,’” Bailey says. “That speaks volumes about his character and leadership style. It’s always been about public service and doing the right thing, and not about politics.”

Dukakis describes his typical day as beginning at 5 a.m., spending time with students, and doing a fair amount of public speaking outside of teaching. Despite his busy schedule, he enjoys coming to Los Angeles each winter quarter and being a part of the UCLA community.

“One of the great things about teaching is that you walk into a ready-made community,” he says. “You become a part of this community and don’t spend time wandering from friends. I’ve gained some wonderful friendships (at UCLA).”

Outside of his life as a professor, mentor and public speaker, Dukakis says he likes living in Westwood with his wife, Kitty, walking to campus, and enjoying the skyline of downtown Los Angeles from his window on clear days.

“Our favorite pastime is taking a brisk two-mile walk down Ocean Drive in Santa Monica and eating oysters by the beach. We know people around the whole region. It’s been really great,” he says. “It’s gratifying to be in a position to encourage young people and inspire them. I’m hoping I’m contributing to this country and the world.”

In honor of Gov. Dukakis’ 20th year as a UCLA faculty member, friends of UCLA Luskin will join together at a lunch in support of the Michael S. Dukakis Internship in Public Service. The fundraiser aims to raise $250,000 for the internship program and to expand the opportunities it provides for students who are seeking careers in public service. To learn more about attending the lunch and supporting the internship program, contact Melissa Bersofsky at bersofsky@luskin.ucla.edu.

UCLA Luskin Postcard: Health Care Reform Salon with Mark Peterson

Mark Peterson, an expert in health care policy and a longtime watcher of efforts to reform medical insurance in the U.S., spoke to an exclusive group of UCLA Luskin friends at a Dean’s Associates Salon a few weeks after the Affordable Care Act’s coverage began to become active.

UCLA Luskin student writer Max Wynn sent this postcard from the evening.

On January 15th friends of UCLA Luskin gathered at Michael and Natalie Mahdesian’s Studio City home for the eleventh Dean’s Associates Salon.

The highlight of the evening was a discussion of the Affordable Care Act led by Mark A. Peterson, UCLA Luskin professor of public policy, political science and law. Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, a visiting professor of Public Policy, provided closing remarks and perspective on the health care reform experience of his own state.

In his opening remarks, Mahdesian, a member of UCLA Luskin’s Board of Advisors, stated that the School trains leaders to come up with solutions to the problems and needs of our society. Health care is a universal need but health care reform is a complex issue, and the clarity of Peterson’s analysis reinforced Mahdesian’s reasoning for calling UCLA Luskin “one of the best [public affairs programs] on the west coast — if not the nation.”

The collected guests filled the Mahdesian’s spacious living room, and while some sat up right in their seats and others relaxed on couches, they all listened intently as Peterson spoke.

He began by explaining why the Affordable Care Act is such a complex piece of legislation, before tracing the fraught history of health care reform in this country up to the problems with the Act’s rollout last fall. However, the majority of his presentation was devoted to what he called “the implementation wars.”

Peterson characterized the national debate over Obamacare as a “civil war within our political ranks,” explaining that the vitriol of the debate was driven by an increasingly polarized Congress and the racial intolerance of a powerful minority within the conservative electorate.

This divisive rhetoric of the health care debate was a recurring theme throughout the night, but Peterson’s in-depth, factual analysis of Obamacare was a steady hand on the subject.

Peterson’s remarks were followed by a lengthy question and answer session, and the intimate setting fostered a lively discussion between Peterson and the attendees. Questions came from all corners of the room and the constructive nature of the discussion stood in stark relief to the divisiveness of the subject matter.

As the night wound down Dukakis delivered his closing remarks, emphasizing that, “Obamacare works…[and] it’s working in my state.”

As guests milled about afterwards the general consensus was that the night’s discussion had provided a level of context that is much needed, but rarely found, in the discourse surrounding health care reform.

If you would like to learn more about UCLA Luksin’s Dean’s Associates program, click here.

Madeleine Albright Speaks on Policy and Service at Luskin Lecture

By Max Wynn
UCLA Luskin Student Writer

On January 29th the UCLA community packed into a sold-out Royce Hall to take part in the third Luskin Lecture Series event of the 2013-14, “A Conversation with Madeleine Albright.”

In a list of achievements in public service spanning nearly four decades, Albright most notably served as President Clinton’s Secretary of State from 1997-2001. When she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, she became the first woman to hold that position, and at the time was the highest ranking woman in the history of U.S. government.

Former Massachusetts Governor and visiting professor of public policy Michael Dukakis introduced Secretary Albright, describing how much he had enjoyed working with her during his 1988 presidential campaign. Albert Carnesale, a professor of public policy and engineering and former Chancellor of UCLA, then presented her with the UCLA Medal, an award given to those who have not only earned academic and professional acclaim, but whose works also illustrates the highest ideals of UCLA.

Upon receiving the honor, Albright joined Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and basketball coach John Wooden in the exclusive club of UCLA Medal recipients.

Albright’s keynote address focused on the difficulty of creating effective foreign policy in the face of rapid technological change and growing global interdependence. These two megatrends, as she described them, are difficult to address from a policy standpoint because they create their own contradictions. They both share the potential to foster international cooperation and understanding, she said, and yet in many instances they have hardened sectarian, ethnic and regional divisions.

Conscious of her audience of students, Albright described her remarks as centering on “the challenges facing the next generation of global leaders,” saying “given all that’s happening across the globe, we have an awful lot to talk about.

“The world’s a mess,” she summarized.

Despite these weighty pronouncements, her light-hearted nature, sense of humor and inspiring closing statements made it clear that she retains an optimistic outlook for the future. “Higher stakes mean greater rewards,” she said.

“The leaders of today and tomorrow have a chance to examine the options before us, discard what is broken, adapt what can be made to perform better and create new mechanisms where they are needed so that the global system benefits us all,” she said.

In his opening remarks, UCLA Luskin Dean Franklin D. Gilliam. Jr., stated that “The mission of our school is to change the world. We do that by training the next generation of transformative leaders.” Albright echoed Dean Gilliam’s sentiment, recognizing the potential of Luskin’s students to do just that.

Describing the leaders that the 21st century landscape requires, Albright stated that we need “leaders who bring a broadened understanding of their role…men and women who understand the connections between policy, planning, and social welfare…who recognize the need for an interdisciplinary approach to an interdependent world.

“The Luskin School is the kind of place in which those leaders will be forged,” she said.

Early in her address Albright noted that she was particularly looking forward to the question and answer portion of the evening’s event. She explained that since she is no longer in government she was excited to be able to actually answer the questions students and members of the public asked her, and her answers were nothing if not candid.

After a conversation with Dean Gilliam in which the two discussed a series of topics ranging from the Syrian conflict to the revelation of National Security Agency spying practices to her father’s mentorship of Condoleezza Rice, Albright fielded questions from the audience, the majority of which came from UCLA Luskin students.

The questions touched on specific policy issues as well as covering more general inquiries about the experience of being one of the few women in the corridors of power. Lance Cpl. J. Vincent Barcelona, a Marine Reservist and a third-year undergraduate student, asked Albright what force she would recommend President Obama deploy in Afghanistan as he prepares to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.

After thanking him for his service, Albright said she didn’t know of the exact number, but she knew it was important to protect the United States’ investment in the country. She also spoke of her own experience advising on military action, and how seriously she and others in her role take the responsibility of sending young people to war.

Vernessa Shih, a second-year Public Policy student, asked what advice Albright would give to young women interested in public service. Albright responded that she would encourage women to not be afraid to interrupt, because if an idea is important enough to be shared, it’s important enough to break up a conversation. She also passed along what she called her “most-quoted line:”

“There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women,” she said.

Members of the audience took part in the discussion on Twitter. See what they were saying: