Obies Join National Student Think Tank
At Oberlin, a new student think tank is offering students a forum in which they can actively attack global problems with policy initiatives.
Since the beginning of the year, Oberlin has had its own chapter of the Roosevelt Institution, a nationwide think tank whose purpose is to tap into the “immense intellectual capital” students offer, as the group’s website puts it.
The Roosevelt Institution at Oberlin was founded by College junior Ezra Temko. According to the website, the institution will give students both a channel through which they can advocate “solution-oriented problems” as well as “engage students in a forum” where they can discuss matters of policy.
The group is working on putting together a journal, The Ohio Review, where students will be able to publish their policy recommendations. The Ohio Review will be read by Ohio policy-makers, as well as Ohio representatives in Washington.
Temko commented that a lot of political action students undertake on campus is protest-oriented.
“The RI will offer them the complement of that,” he said. “[It offers] the chance to craft actual policy recommendations.”
The nationwide Roosevelt Institution was launched last January at Stanford University. Fed up with the debate of the 2004 election, students there decided to form their own think tank to bring students directly into the world of public policy.
Since then, the organization’s growth has been swift. The RI at Oberlin is one of 30 official chapters that are either getting started or already running. Temko says that there are 125 more that are in the early formation stages.
The Institution has been profiled in many leading newspapers, including The New York Times. In October, the Institution released the first issue of its policy journal, The Roosevelt Review. The peer-reviewed journal was hand-delivered to every congressional office on Capitol Hill.
The RI at Oberlin follows Stanford’s organizational model. It is comprised of different centers, which carry out research in specific areas of policy. Oberlin has five: Energy and Environment; Governance; Economic Growth and Development; Inter-national Affairs and Social Issues.
Students working at the Institution, called “fellows,” can follow any of three research models: fellow-driven, when the student pursues his or her own interest and expertise; group-driven, when students combine their expertise to solve a specific issue; or demand-driven, when the group takes on issues that outsiders need solved.
Because the Institution is still in a development phase, it has had to devote a lots of time this semester to administrative tasks. The group, however, has already put together a voter’s guide for the past election and fellows have begun working on research.
Topics of research range in scale and subject, from a statewide assessment of the long-term funding of Medicaid to U.S. food aid in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most of those involved believe the value of the organization will not just lie in giving students practical experience in political advocacy, but also in actually influencing policy-makers’ decisions.
Advisor Joseph Yi, a visiting professor of politics, sees the institution as a partnership between students and politicians.
“Policymakers want special ideas,” he said. “They often go to colleges to look for them.”
Director of the Center on Energy and Environment, Corinne Ramey said, “The Roosevelt Review was quite well-received by lawmakers. Hopefully The Ohio Review will be equally successful.”
Temko feels that the publication of The Ohio Review will show policy-makers that fellows can do quality research, and so will “garner demand-driven research.”
The first issue of The Ohio Review is slated for January. Delivered directly to policy-makers, the publication will include papers from students at Oberlin, Kenyon, Ohio State and Kent State.
The RI at Oberlin describes itself as a “nonpartisan progressive policy research organization,” but Temko does not want people to believe that “progressive” means “liberal.”
“Progressive just means searching for innovative solutions,” he said.
Students who are interested in becoming fellows can do so for credit. The institution offers a one-credit ExCo course on writing policy.
The Roosevelt Institution at Oberlin will have its launch event,
3-2-1-Policy!, this Monday. The event will feature President Clinton’s
joke writer Mark Katz and economic environmental analyst Richard D. Morgenstern,