US Rep. Harold Ford
Self-described "policy wonk" Harold Ford '96 JD isn't related to Gerald R. Ford '35 (see story below), but the US representative and the former president share an enthusiasm for politics. Rep. Ford, a Tennessee Democrat, addressed the graduating class of the U-M's Ford School of Public Policy this year—a school that was named in honor of Gerald Ford in 1999.
During his visit, the younger Ford discussed a number of political issues with Michigan Today's John Woodford.
Michigan Today: Education is one of your top concerns. How do you think our nation is doing?
Harold Ford: The Bush Administration has presented some good ideas in its "No Child Left Behind" program. They've imposed mandates that will link support to demonstrable levels of achievement by schools and school districts. What concerns me is that they have not provided the funds required to make such a program effective. Accountability is a smart thing, but if you don't provide the resources, you guarantee failure.
You have surprised some educational groups by not opposing charter schools and vouchers.
I'm not going to tell parents that they must send their children to public schools. It would be hypocritical. I'm a product of public and private schools, so how can I run around and tell parents that one sort of school is better than another? I'm for making all kinds of schools better—charter, private and public. And I don't think it's hard to figure out how to build an effective educational program: In any sort of school, what you need to do is look around at the most successful schools in your district, study them, then transpose or imitate what they do.
I've found, that lots of parents who support vouchers don't know the per-pupil cost of good public education. Some people want a voucher program for religious reasons, and they are willing to accept, say, $2,500-per-pupil in a voucher. But that won't buy a good education for their children.
As a member of the Budget and of the Financial Services committees, you're embroiled in tax matters. Are you for cutting taxes?
We've lost 2.7 million jobs in the last couple of years and $5 trillion in wealth in the markets. There's a $7 trillion turnaround in revenue to the Treasury, and 1.2 million or more people lack health insurance. In view of that, how can we cut taxes? We should have a tax program to help small businesses, but we shouldn't reduce our revenues.
But I do respect President Bush for his boldness. He is trying to fundamentally change the tax code. He may be wrong, but at least he recognizes that bold measures are needed. And that makes this a heady time to be in this business, especially when you're a policy wonk like me.
Does the Ford School have a presence in Washington?
It's known to have a strong faculty who advance interesting, provocative and creative ideas. And now is a time to test their theories in areas like how should the government deliver its services. The potential for academic researchers and thinkers to contribute is great now. We base a lot of our Congressional decisions on policy shops. Economic research data from U-M is something we all wait for every quarter. We rely on them heavily.
What would you do to spur the economy?
We need to find the next big growth area economically. That's what we're all looking for. The great thing about our country is that we always find it, and no one wants government to handicap our ability to do so. Venture capitalists are sitting on $120 to $130 billion right now because they don't know where to put it. Investors don't see any incentives for taking risks. And when capital flows, good things happen. The administration says a dividend tax cut will stimulate investment, but there is no solid sign that it will do it. We need resources for the middle class and also investment and tax credits.
We hear daily of the troubles of the Big Three domestic auto companies. Do their problems concern you?
When the car companies hurt, the whole country hurts. Cars and home sales were key to the recent boom and bubble, and we need the Big 3 to regain strength if we want to see our domestic economy get healthy. I don't think President Bush has helped in that area, but one thing about him is, he can change his mind quickly. He's shown that several times, such as on the accounting scandals. At first he said he'd do nothing to reform accounting methods or punish wrongdoers, but then he backed bold measures in both areas.
How do you view the 2004 presidential race?
In 2002, we Democrats had no message. We didn't lay out a coherent vision. In the next presidential race—and I hope Sen. John Kerry will head the ticket—we'll articulate a vision. Kerry is strong not just in traditional Democratic areas but also with the military, small business and law enforcement. He doesn't see government programs as solutions to all problems. [Ford was named Kerry's national co-chair after this interview—JW.]
President Gerald Ford
Former US President Gerald Ford '35 struggled to make ends meet during his days at Michigan.
At Rackham Auditorium Sept. 18, during a site dedication for the School of Public Policy that bears his name, Ford recalled his time at U-M more than 70 years ago as a football player working on campus.
He had come to Ann Arbor from Grand Rapids, Michigan, with $200 in his pocket—$100 for tuition and $100 to use for other expenses "for as long as I could." With no football scholarships then, his coach, Harry Kipke, found him a job waiting on tables for medical interns and cleaning the nurses cafeteria for three hours a day in the Old Main Hospital.
"With that compensation, I was able to buy my food and pay $4 a week for a joint rooming house room on the back end of the third floor, and we had to walk from the third [to another floor] to go to the bathroom. So those were not easy times," Ford told an audience of 350 people.
The 90-year-old Ford, who was accompanied by wife, Betty, and son Jack, said he would be pleased when the School—which has borne his name since 1999—raised enough money to begin construction on the new building.
President Mary Sue Coleman thanked Ford for his stand on social issues, including a New York Times opinion piece he wrote supporting the University's position on affirmative action in admissions. "I wonder," Ford wrote, "how different the world might have been in the 1940s, in the '50s, in the '60s, how much more humane and just, if my generation had experienced a more representative sampling of the American family."
The proposed five-story, 80,000-square-foot building will be at the northeast corner of State and Hill streets. Rebecca Blank, the School's dean, said nearly $4 million in private donations have been raised, but the goal is to have commitments of $15 million before construction begins on the $32 million project. The University will fund the remainder.
The Ford School trains students for careers in public service, emphasizing the value of social science techniques in understanding, developing, implementing and evaluating public policies. U.S. News & World Report ranked the Ford School, which has 40 faculty and 200 students, among the top 10 schools nationwide in public administration/public policy.