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Friday, January 23, 2009

Is the Obama Administration More Geek Friendly Than Any Previous Administration?

The title of this post was roughly the topic of conversation I had two weeks ago with a reporter from the UK's Times Higher Ed, just as I was headed to San Diego for AALS. Of course, by "geek friendly" I simply mean prone to use more academics instead of folks in the "real world."  At the time, my thought was the Obama administration would have more academics on staff in high positions than the Bush Administration, but it wasn't clear to me that there were more than, say, the number in the Clinton Administration. 

I remembered that Bush 43 had Yoo, Dilulio, Greg Mankiw, Glenn Hubbard and some other economists, as well as Condi Rice. None except Rice was a Cabinet officer and Rice seems like a "discounted" academic b/c immediately prior to her appointments as NSA and SecState, she was in academic administration for seven years. By contrast, and just off the top of my head, Clinton had Reich, Donna Shalala, & Larry Summers in Cabinet offices; moreover, Laura Tyson, Drew Days, and Walter Dellinger had senior non-cabinet positions too. And of course, 42 picked at least one former prof turned judge to SCOTUS (Breyer). I could be wrong; maybe among the lower levels of staff, there were as many academics on the Bush policy team as there were on Clinton's. But Clinton certainly seemed pretty open to having a bunch of profs nearby. The spirit of 43 seems in retrospect comparatively less ... prawfy--at least by my lights.

At least initially, it didn't seem like the Obama administration would be unusual prawfy compared to Clinton's.  But now, with two more weeks past, it seems like there is a decisively more prominent role for academics with 44.  This article in the Times Higher Ed, which quotes me, notes the following:

Robert Gates Secretary of Defence - former head, Texas A&M University

Dennis Blair Director of National Intelligence - professor of strategic leadership, Dickinson College and US Army War College

Lawrence Summers Chair of National Economic Council - former head, Harvard University

Elena Kagan Solicitor General - dean, Harvard Law School

Steven Chu Secretary of Energy - professor of physics, University of California, Berkeley and Nobel laureate

Leon Panetta CIA Director - distinguished scholar, California State; professor, Santa Clara University

Christina Romer Chair of Council of Economic Advisers - professor of economics, University of California, Berkeley

Dan Tarullo Federal Reserve Board - law professor, Georgetown University

Dawn Johnsen Head of Office of Legal Counsel - professor of law, Indiana University

The piece, however, leaves out a number of folks. Again, just off the top of my head:  Trevor Morrison, Alison Nathan, Neal Katyal, Austin Goolsbee, Marty Lederman, Dan Meltzer, Einer Elhague, David Barron, and ... Cass Sunstein. And did I read somewhere that Ken Mack is going to be the staff historian at or near the Oval Office? And that Orin Kerr will be nominated as a late-addition to the bench in a gesture to Republicans for passing the stimulus package? :-)

Of course, having academics around may not be an "unqualified human good."  But putting that aside, I'm curious whether those with a longer memory of history think there was a more prawf-friendly administration than the current one. Is it the case, as Dan Kahan "put it" recently in Spanish, that Durante la campaña, Obama decía que éste era nuestro momento, pues es exactamente lo que piensan los académicos: está hablando de nosotros

Yes we can...but should we?!

Posted by Administrators on January 23, 2009 at 12:51 AM in Current Affairs, Dan Markel | Permalink


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Of course, by "geek friendly" I simply mean prone to use more academics instead of folks in the "real world."

You tricked me into reading this post under the mistaken assumption that it would be about science and technology policy. Despite the faddishness of saying, "I'm such a geek," most academics aren't geeks and most geeks aren't academics.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Jan 25, 2009 11:26:58 AM

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