Howard Dean, professor?

After a nearly 30-year stint in politics, Howard Dean ’71 is hoping to return to the Elm City — this time as a professor.

Dean, the former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has applied to teach a residential college seminar, “Understanding Politics and Politicians,” alongside David Berg ’71 GRD ’72, a clinical psychiatry professor at the School of Medicine. But in an interview with the News on Saturday, Dean maintained that his seminar proposal does not signify the end of his days in Washington.

Howard Dean speaks during a taping of “Meet the Press” in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski
Howard Dean speaks during a taping of “Meet the Press” in Washington.

“I am not transitioning from politics to academia,” Dean said. “I will still be very much involved in politics. The reason I am doing this is because I am a huge fan of Yale and I had a great experience there.”

This proposal — which is currently under review by committees in the 12 residential colleges — focuses on giving students firsthand experience interacting with political figures and the world they inhabit. Dean and Berg, two Pierson College graduates who have been friends for 40 years, said they hope to bring together their respective fields of psychology and politics for Yale students.

“It’s intended to be an intersection of politics and the person,” said Berg, who has taught two college seminars. “Howard is the politics side and I am the person side of it. We’ll focus on the individual and how one behaves and interacts with the political sphere.”

Dean, who chose in November not to seek a second term as chairman of the DNC, did not receive an appointment in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, which media outlets attributed in part to tensions with Obama and Obama’s new Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel over Dean’s “50-state strategy.” Now that Dean’s tenure at the DNC is over, Berg said, the time is ripe to teach a seminar together, an idea they had “kicked around for years.”

If the proposal is accepted, Dean, who is an associate fellow at Pierson, will be granted the title of lecturer in Yale College. But Dean said he has not yet contemplated extending his stay at Yale beyond one semester, adding that, for him, the seminar would be “just for fun” and not to make money.

Dean described his teaching style as experiential and student-oriented. He said the course would heavily focus on inviting a number of politicians to the seminar and giving the students hands-on interview experience.

But Dan O’Connor ’12, a prospective political science major, said he had reservations concerning the empirical nature of the seminar. While the idea of learning from renowned individuals is intriguing in one sense, he said, he worried that the class could focus too much on guests’ personal stories.

In the interview, Dean insisted that he would not play too great a role in student discussions.

“I am not going to stand in front of the classroom and pontificate about my political experience,” he said. “I will be using my resources to get people from politics, people who matter. I really want the students to learn something for themselves.”

Both Dean and Berg confirmed that they plan to attend every class and lead the discussions. They will co-grade the papers and have significant interaction with the students, Berg said.

But while the seminar proposal focuses mainly on peer interviews, class presentations and weekly readings — including one of Dean’s own books — Dean and Berg plan on grading the students purely based on their written work. According to the course proposal, a 5-to-7-page midterm paper and a 10-to 12-page final paper would constitute a student’s grade.

While the class will focus on hands-on experience, Berg said, papers are the best way to measure a student’s standing.

“We didn’t want to grade people on the conversations during class,” Berg said. “Then we would run the risk of people worrying about what they say and how it will be evaluated.”

In general, the seven students interviewed expressed interest in the seminar but said they would like to see more information about it before signing up.

If enough colleges are interested in the seminar, Dean and Berg will be interviewed in February and then notified of their college sponsors. According to the proposal, Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt has already expressed interest in sponsoring it. In addition to being a Pierson associate fellow, Dean has a son, also a Piersonite, who graduated last year.

Berg said he is looking forward to working with Dean as a colleague in an academic setting.

“Howard is one of the handful of closest people I came away with from my undergraduate experience,” Berg said. “We lived in the same entryway, we took classes and played sports together. It’ll be interesting to work together on this.”

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