Q&A with Incoming SPP Dean Edward Rhodes
by Jocelyn Rappaport
The following is a brief biography of Dr. Edward Rhodes and his first Q&A with the George Mason School of Public Policy. Rhodes will become the dean of the School on July 1, 2010 after the founding dean, Kingsley Haynes, steps down.
Dr. Edward Rhodes grew up in the Midwest, in a small town west of Chicago. He went east, to Harvard, for college, and then to Princeton, where he studied American national security policy and earned his Masters in Public Affairs and his Ph.D. His professional career has been at the intersection of research and public policy. After brief stints at Cornell, Stanford, and back at Harvard, he joined the faculty at Rutgers, New Jersey's state university. Since then, while on the Rutgers faculty, he had visiting faculty appointments at Princeton, returned to Harvard to do research in international affairs and in American history, was an international affairs fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Fulbright Fellow overseas, worked in the Pentagon on the Chief of Naval Operations' strategy and concepts staff, and served on the State Department advisory committee overseeing the preparation of the official record of American foreign policy.
Q&A with Dr. Rhodes
You will be stepping into a position only held by one other person. Many people might find this, along with SPP's broad focus and dynamic environment, daunting. What about it attracts you?
The clarity of Kingsley Haynes's strategic vision and the extraordinary skill with which he has constructed the School make his successor's job easy, not difficult. Dean Haynes has built both an amazing program and a very rare and very special relationship with the School's faculty. These give his successor a running start in continuing the School's development. In part, it is precisely the superb condition in which Dean Haynes leaves the program that makes this such a special opportunity. But it is also the fact that the School of Public Policy possesses not simply a broad, strong, and dynamic range of research activities and masters program, but is at the cutting edge in a number of critically important public policy fields, that makes this an opportunity that is impossible to resist.
School of Public Policy is proud of its distinguished faculty of researchers. Would you share with us some aspects of your field of research and recent activity?
My current research explores the relationship between core American values, the political vision of the founding fathers, and American foreign policy. The founders' nuanced understanding of human nature, of the nature of political life, and of the challenges facing a republic as it interacts with the larger world offers critical insights even now, more than 200 years later.
What have been major influences on your life and career?
Richard Nixon famously began his memoirs with the insight that he was “born in the house my father built.” I was very much born into the world of ideas that my parents created – a world where as children we listened to discussions of whether Hobbes or Rousseau better described humanity in its natural state, whether Keynes or Hayek better grasped the significance of state intervention in the economy, and whether Jefferson or Hamilton better understood the challenges facing a democratic, republican people. At every stage of my life, I've been blessed with extraordinary mentors and teachers. But it was my father and mother who first showed me the joy of listening carefully and respectfully, of reading critically, of reasoning, of wrestling with moral tradeoffs, and of developing and expressing my ideas. As an attorney, my father also taught me, and showed me, the power and beauty of the law, of liberal democracy, and of the American constitution.
What are you most looking forward to in this phase of your career?
I am a firm believer that education, research, and knowledge need to be placed at the nation's and the world's service. To take the helm of an institution that is so clearly dedicated to this purpose, and to work with its faculty, staff, and students in moving it forward on this mission, is a wonderful pleasure.
What are you most looking forward to about living and working in the D.C. metropolitan area?
For any scholar-practitioner interested in American foreign and national security policy, there is no place like Washington, DC. For any student of American history, there is no place like northern Virginia. On a purely personal level, our move to the northern Virginia/Washington area is also a happy one. My own memories of childhood are of spending half my vacation time at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo and the other half at the Art Institute. My wife, Kadri, and I have a five-year-old son, Charlie. Between the National Gallery and the National Zoo, I anticipate he will come to love Asian elephants and French Impressionism as much as I do.
Would you briefly describe the major opportunities you see at this point for SPP?
Dean Haynes has positioned the School to seize opportunities in two very different dimensions. In the next five to ten years, America and the larger global community will face a number of new policy challenges, reflecting the interconnected impact of technology, globalization, and political alienation. The School is at the lead, and possesses the flexibility and dynamism that will permit it to stay at the lead, in addressing these challenges and in creating the intellectual and human capital that will be needed in the critical years ahead.
Equally exciting, given the School's growing family of alumni and friends, the School is positioned to develop programs to meet its alumni's continuing intellectual and professional needs, in every stage of career development and personal growth. With its completion this fall, the new Founders Hall will serve as the intellectual home for this extended, multi-generational School family.
Is there anything we may not know about you that you would like to share with us?
My 102-year-old grandmother expresses satisfaction that I've accepted this appointment, but has reminded me that she still expects to see my next book in a timely fashion. She points to Provost Stearns as evidence that administrative duties are no excuse for failing to produce research.