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School to grant degree in political management

By Jonathan RoweStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 15, 1987

New York

`THE era of the amateur in public life is over,'' says Prof. Ross Baker of Rutgers University. ``We preserve the image of the New England town meeting as the ideal, when in fact it's a quaint relic.'' Precinct captains and volunteer canvassers have given way to consultants and media buys. And now comes the Graduate School of Political Management - the first institution of its kind - which will open in New York City this fall.

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The school will offer a two-year degree program in the increasingly sophisticated techniques of modern campaigning and political influence. Polling, direct mail, ``lobbying tactics,'' ``the gaining of access to television news,'' are among the topics in the school's catalog. According to Neil Fabricant, its founder and president, the goal is to ``contribute to the development of a new profession - political management.''

At one level, the school is yet another sign of the marketing needs of universities in an era of declining enrollments. It also reflects the career orientation of today's students, who see the program's internships in congressional offices and political action committees (PACs) ``as an employment mechanism,'' Mr. Fabricant concedes.

But at a deeper level, as the United States celebrates the 200th year of its Constitution, the school mirrors the democracy that document established. So doing, it poses difficult questions.

Does the school represent the triumph of the marketing arts in the realm of politics - ``a definition of effectiveness that falls short of goals and values,'' as James David Barber of Duke University puts it? Or, as the school's founders contend, will it open up these ``dark arts'' to the public scrutiny they deserve?

Does the very concept of a graduate program in ``political management'' forebode the closing of American democracy to those not having a professional degree? Or will the school help women and minorities gain entrance to the burgeoning campaign industry, while making the tools of modern campaigning available to underfunded though worthy causes?

``Politics have already been professionalized, whether we like it or not,'' says Dr. David Adamany, president of Wayne State University in Michigan, who reviewed the program for the New York Board of Regents. ``The only question is whether we should provide training.''

Fabricant, a former legislative director of the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, has held various government posts and once ran a magazine of state government called Empire State Reports. A genial man, he is described by acquaintances as an ``entrepreneur'' who has channeled his energies to the nonprofit world.

One question he faced is whether subjects like ``lobbying tactics'' belong in a university. ``This would be like a class in clubhouse politics 50 years ago,'' says one New York academic who is familiar with the school but asked not to be named. These subjects, he says, are ``much better taught in a campaign'' - especially given the price, which is over $12,000 a year for tuition alone.