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.”


  • Recent Alum

    This is outrageous. Howard Dean is a guy who has said "I hate Republicans"; "Republicans have never made an honest living in their lives"; and "The Republican Party is a White Christian party." This kind of hateful hyper-partisan rhetoric has no place in a diverse community like Yale. For one thing, does anyone think that Dean would grade conservatives or Republicans fairly? Would Rush Limbaugh also be able to teach at Yale if he wanted to?

  • Eli

    Regarding the student comment: has it really come to the point where a freshman (perspective) political science major is concerned about a course led by a major reshaper of modern American politics because it is not theoretical enough? If that's the case, I don't have much hope that the next round of our leaders will emerge from the ranks of Yale political science majors.

    Anyone who thinks he or she doesn't have something to learn from a course like this one probably doesn't

  • Alum 80


  • Sherlock Holmes

    As a recent alum myself, I'm curious who "Recent Alum" is. Anytime a politically charged story appears in the YDN, he posts from a consistently conservative Republican perspective. Nothing wrong with that, I'm just curious - care to reveal yourself?

    As for me, I'm more inclined to agree with #2 than with Recent Alum. For better or for worse, Howard Dean has been a major reshaper of American politics in the last few years. He may be hyper-partisan - he was chairman of the DNC, after all - but "hateful" is a bit far, and taking a few partisan quotes from his long career out of context isn't enough to justify an accusation like that. Besides, Yale has had a glut of big-name conservative (especially neo-conservative) professors over the last few years, most recently including John Negroponte. What's so wrong with a guy like Howard Dean signing up to team-teach a class?

  • dtm

    This simply shows Yale at its worst--the only reason to bring this guy here is his name. He's no intellectual, just a mud slinger. Many dedicated liberals feel this way.

    God help us all.

  • Dr. John H. Watson

    I couldn't agree more with Sherlock. And I personally don't think "Recent Alum" even went to Yale. Stupid internet trolls.

  • cultofthewalrus2010

    @dtm - if you think you can only learn things at Yale from intellectuals, you are missing out on perhaps the most valuable part of your education.

    This sounds like an awesome idea - Yale is blessed to be able to attract people with relevant real world experience to come teach undergraduates. Its a shame that only 15 kids (from a certain residential college) will have the opportunity to take this.

  • Yeeeaaaarrrgh!

    I'm not at all concerned with his 'partisan' politics.. after all, who on the national stage of politics does NOT lean one way or the other? We all have biases, and just as the many conservatives who have come here to speak may challenge those students with liberal leanings to think more critically and hone their arguments, the same can be said for the conservatives with Dean.

    If I were studying politics, I would find it equally fascinating to have direct contact with Howard Dean or Karl Rove. Both have had huge impacts in the real world, so why complain about real, tangible access to such people, regardless of the side you lean towards?