Chair of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez ’83 P’18 will lead a study group at the University this fall as part of his new role as a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the Watson Institute announced in early September.
The group, entitled “Governance and Leadership in Challenging Times,” will meet for seven sessions spaced throughout the fall semester. Student participants in the group will not receive any academic credit.
Perez, who was also secretary of labor under former president Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017, will lead approximately 50 students in conversation about the practical difficulties and complexities of enacting governmental policies to improve the public good, according to a Watson press release.
“Today’s students at Brown will be tomorrow’s leaders,” Perez wrote in a statement to The Herald. Perez hopes the seminar will “expose students to leaders who have been wrestling with some of the most difficult issues confronting our nation, share lessons of success and failure and discuss tools for future progress.”
Perez will continue his full-time role at the DNC and will personally pay for his travel expenses to campus from Washington, D.C., according to an aide from the DNC.
The group sessions will also feature guest speakers who have direct experience working in governance. The list of speakers includes Obama’s former Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Gov. Gina Raimando and former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele, according to the Watson press release.
“The idea of bringing in speakers is to broaden the discussion possibilities and to broaden the kinds of experiences that are represented to students,” said Director of the Watson Center Edward Steinfeld. “We will look to glean insights from them, and students will be able to articulate their own concerns to these individuals.”
In an application that has now been closed, students hoping to participate in the course were required to answer only a single question in 250 words or less: What is the greatest challenge to American democracy today, and what do you propose as a possible solution?
Steinfeld praised several aspects of the study group, which he described as “a new experiment” for Watson.
He highlighted the importance of bringing people to the Watson Institute who have extensive firsthand experience and a practical understanding of governance in a time marked by extreme political polarization.
“By creating these kinds of seminars, these opportunities to engage with practitioners and people in various kinds of positions of power, our students, I hope, will be inspired to do something about an environment they are not entirely happy with,” Steinfeld said.
“Consistent with what Watson does, it not only recruits traditional faculty to teach students and engage with them both in class and outside of class, but it also brings in practitioners to campus to do the same thing,” said Provost Richard Locke.
Steinfeld also emphasized the benefits of the discussion aspect of the group’s structure.
“Because this is a not-for-credit seminar, it really is about discussion and …multi-way conversation,” Steinfeld said. “My hope is that by participating in this kind of conversation, students and other participants will get inspired to change the world.”
“All our students — wherever they are in the political spectrum and wherever they are from — every student I have met is interested in effecting change for the better,” Steinfeld said. “My hope and belief is that the kind of conversation that Secretary Perez will lead will help people come up with better solutions and help them articulate their own sense of what those solutions can look like,” he added.
“Knowing (Perez’s) area of expertise,” Locke added, “I think it is going to be terrific for our students and for our community.”