Ex-Members Head Back to School

Posted September 21, 2005 at 4:35pm

Members of Congress are often confronted with a dilemma when they leave office: What is next? For some, the answer lies in the field of higher education.

While serving as an educator is not as high paying as, say, being a corporate lobbyist, it has its own rewards. Lawmakers who head off to academia usually have a history with the field, having focused on education issues during their tenure at the Capitol or served as an educator prior to their time on the Hill.

Former Rep. John Brademas (D-Ind.), current president-emeritus of New York University, has education in his blood. “My late mother was an Indiana schoolteacher,” Brademas said in an interview, “and my late father was a Greek immigrant who said, ‘I’ll not leave my children much money, but I will leave you a first-class education.’”

In addition, Brademas’ sister is a retired schoolteacher. “I grew up in a family for whom education was central.”

When Brademas was on the Hill, he was especially interested in education policy. “I served for 22 years on the [House Education and the Workforce Committee] and was deeply involved with writing the bills enacted those years.” Among the programs that Brademas helped create were Head Start, Pell Grants and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Upon leaving Congress in 1981, he had a choice to make. “I had a very rich experience as a legislator. I did not like the idea of hanging around Washington as a lobbyist like a little boy with his nose against the candy store window.” After being offered the presidency of several universities, he saw that New York University was looking for a president; soon after throwing his hat into the ring, he was offered the job.

Brademas has used his time at NYU to help fuel the powerhouse school. “We’re the sixth largest employer in New York City, and the sixth largest private school in the world,” he said. “In the Princeton Review survey American high school seniors, when asked what is their dream college, NYU was ranked number one, ahead of Harvard and Stanford.”

Not all retired lawmakers want to head up their institutions. Some are more comfortable behind the lectern. Former Rep. William Whitehurst (R-Va.) counts himself in that group, currently teaching at Old Dominion University.

“One semester I teach two political science courses and one history course,” Whitehurst explained. “And the next I teach two history and one political science class.”

Like Brademas, Whitehurst was not interested in returning to the halls of Congress to peddle influence. “I thought, ‘If I stay up there, I’ll walk the halls trying to sell a damn aircraft engine or something.’ I just came back to a life that I knew from before would be gratifying.”

Returning to the academic world after occupying a House or Senate seat is a relatively common practice. Thirteen of the 558 members of the 2004-2005 session of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress currently hold a job in higher education. Former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.) is one of them.

“I started out as a teacher,” Margolies-Mezvinsky said. After a career in broadcasting and a stint in the House, she felt that it was time to return to teaching and took a position at the University of Pennsylvania. “After I was finished it seemed like a natural progression, there was so much interesting grist to share. I think you have to pass the baton to the next generation, especially with regard to getting women to the table.”

Former Rep. Ed Zschau (R-Calif.) is another Member returning to his first position. “Teaching at the university level was my first job that I ever had,” he said. “I started when I was 24, teaching at the graduate school of business in Stanford, then Harvard.” After his tenure in Congress and some time at IBM, Zschau decided to go back to teaching.

“It’s sort of picking up what I had done. I now teach at the electrical engineering department at Princeton.” Zschau said he finds the work extremely rewarding. “I spend a lot of my time outside the classroom talking to young people about life and choices and values, and that’s really inspiring and enjoyable.”

If a Member wishes to be a teacher and stay in the D.C. area, there are a number of options. Former Rep. Robert Drinan (D-Mass.), also an ordained Catholic priest, is now a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “I had a dozen offers from all over the country,” Drinan said. “There are advantages to being here. I was president of Americans for Democratic Action, and on the boards of various other groups. I think that every case is different.”