Thursday, March 09, 2006

Alas, you can't trade a president emeritus 

I have enjoyed reading The American Experiment Quarterly for years, and several years back got to write an article about affordable housing for them. This came because a colleague of mine introduced me to Mitch Pearlstein, and the three of us had a very fine time over lunch some place in Monticello. Stories of the good old days of Al Quie, connections made since then, and finally about that issue, made me completely forget that they took the vegetarian to the place where only salad was available. Sometimes conversation is more important than food (and people that know me know food is important!)

I have not spent much time in contact with him, but writing this blog and the Northern Alliance and MOB brought me to many Center of the American Experiment events and meeting their people; they have many of the brightest young conservatives in the state.

Or, at least, they did.

Mitch Pearlstein, the founder of the center, will return as president after a 20-month period as its president emeritus. Pearlstein said the center will restructure to return to addressing public policy issues such as poverty, race, values, economics and taxes.

"We used to focus more on cultural and social issues and want to return to that," he said, refusing to comment further on the departures.

Those leaving include Annette Meeks as the center's president and CEO; Corey Miltimore as its director of media research and study; Randy Wanke as communications director; Chris Tiedeman as director of government affairs and; Ryan Griffin as development director; and Jonathan Blake as research fellow.

Under the recent leadership, the center retooled itself and had begun to play an aggressive role in influencing public policy in Minnesota. As an example, last year it rolled out an ambitious project to help conservative students battle what the center saw as liberal orthodoxy in academia.

That would be Intellectual Takeout, which has advertised on this blog in the past. A media advisory I received about this on Tuesday night indicated that the departures were not necessarily voluntary; a board member was named as the contact person for information about the changes. Meeks was quoted as saying,

I am so very, very proud of the many significant public policy accomplishments achieved by this team during our tenure at American Experiment. Policy highlights include the launch of two important web-based sites:, and, as well as the excellent scholarship put forth by Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke, as well as several other significant policy studies on a wide range of issues of importance to Minnesotans. I look forward to working with these fine individuals in the future as we find new and innovative ways to continue building the conservative movement in Minnesota.
Indeed, the profile of the Center had moved the last two years in my view, becoming more active and less of the think tank and speakers' shop that it had been in its first years. Intellectual Takeout was rather innovative; the Center had poured a good deal of resources into the project (I know, as I was getting calls from them for reading lists that they might use, some of which they did.) It seemed odd to me that a direction change made less than two years ago would be reversed like that if everyone had agreed to the change.

I spent part of yesterday inquiring of some people what the heck had happened. One source close to the situation reported back that Pearlstein's placement as president emeritus was a goodwill gesture to soothe his exit as leader of CAE, an exit I now am told he did not initiate. His compensation package remained generous and he remained active with the board.

I've seen this sort of thing in academia all the time, particularly with department chairs. When a new one comes, sometimes the old one wants to second-guess all the changes the new one makes. Sometimes that's good, because new chairs make mistakes -- God knows I did. Thankfully the fellow I replaced (because of contractual term limits, not anyone's dissatisfaction) let me make them and kept his opinions to himself, until I realized I had farked things up and needed advice from him. Oftentimes that doesn't happen, backbiting ensues, and in more than a few instances the old chair returns to the office, portrayed as a white knight to save the department from peril. That is sometimes true, but more often not.

In football, when a new quarterback is tabbed to start, it's damned awkward to look at the sidelines and see the fellow who's been benched watching the action. They want to play, and sometimes that means they are hoping for the new starter to fail. I admire teams that decide to trade the old starter to another team, so the new starter doesn't have to look over his shoulder.

That's the best I can make of Pearlstein's line, "We used to focus more on cultural and social issues and want to return to that." He wanted the ball; "we did things better when I was the starter." And a board of directors that lets that friction become a purge of six staffers on a staff that is pretty lean anyway has to look in the mirror and wonder how things became this way.

UPDATE: Kennedy v. Machine reports that the others left after telling the board they supported Meeks, and if she went they would too. By the way, Gary, Bledsoe was a perfect gentleman with Brady. Think more like Kurt Warner.

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