Ulmer heads to Harvard

Former lieutenant governor to teach public policy as resident fellow

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

After spending nearly 30 years in Alaska politics, former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer is going back to school - as a professor as well as a student.

This fall, Ulmer sets out to Harvard University's Institute of Politics to teach one semester of public policy as a resident fellow.

"The whole fellowship idea is to bring practical, real-world experiences into the classroom, so that it's not just political science as a theoretical thing or economics as a theoretical thing," Ulmer said. "They want specific examples from the real world, and I've got 30 years of examples about Juneau and about Alaska ...

"It's also an open-admission policy to Harvard, so I can take whatever classes I want to take in the business school or the law school or anything."

As a temporary resident lecturer at Harvard, Ulmer will join the ranks of past fellows such as former Vice President Al Gore, political pundit David Broder, feminist author Betty Friedan and Ted Sorensen, former legal counsel and speechwriter for John F. Kennedy.

Ulmer said her husband, Bill Council, a local attorney, will remain in Juneau, minus a few trips to visit her during the fellowship.

Using examples inside and outside of Alaska, Ulmer said she will focus on natural resource policy, the economy and how science and politics impact the decisions made in the public sector.

She also will discuss Alaska-specific issues such as the Tongass National Forest, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and fisheries and ocean management policy.

Ulmer moved to Alaska in 1973 and has served as an advisor to former Gov. Jay Hammond, as mayor of Juneau, as a state representative, and in two terms as lieutenant governor with former Gov. Tony Knowles. Ulmer, a Democrat, made a bid for governor last year but lost to Republican Frank Murkowski.

She said she plans to bring her experiences on the campaign trail to the classroom.

"I am sure that there will be, for example the time that I went up to Bethel and ended up having to participate in the rookie dogsled race," she said. "I'm sure winning that sled dog race in Bethel will come out. I mean, how many people running for governor have the chance to do that?"

Ulmer said she looks forward to the experience largely because of a lack of participation in politics among the youth and a steady decline in voters between the ages of 18 and 25.

"There are lots of stories like that that I hope as I share them will encourage people to seriously consider the world of politics, because right now there is this real darkness associated with the topic of politics," she said.

"I think a lot of young people look at politicians and look at the whole electoral process and they say, 'I don't want any part of that. It's messy. It's dirty. It's hard. It's mean.'

"And in a democracy if you have the new generation saying, 'I don't want to participate,' I think it's very dangerous and I think it's a very sad statement about where we're headed as a country. ... I've thought about writing a book on this topic because there is a lot of material."

Ulmer attributed much of the apathy among voters to the media's negative portrayal of politics.

"It's a complex subject, so there isn't one answer," she said. "... Try to find a happy story. I mean even the successes that happen in government rarely get covered because it's not considered news. What's considered news is the negative. It's the mistake that gets the headline, not the success story - it's the problem, the controversy."

Ulmer said she has not made plans for after the fellowship, but noted she doesn't plan to run for elected office anytime soon.

"I don't know if I'm ever running for public office again, but I do know I'm not running in 2004," Ulmer said. "I know I'm teaching at Harvard this fall, and beyond that I really don't know what I'll be doing next. It may be more teaching. We'll see how that goes. It may be management or administration of some kind."

Since the November election, Ulmer said, she's had more time to spend fishing, hiking and traveling with friends and family.

"I've probably done more hiking and fishing in the last few months than I've done in the previous eight years," said Ulmer, who left her position as lieutenant governor in December, when Lt. Gov. Loren Leman was sworn into office.

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