Longtime political campaigner and speechwriter Robert Shrum will join the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences as the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics.
USC Honorary Trustee Carmen Warschaw and her husband Louis created the chair with the intention of increasing and improving citizen activism. Shrum’s appointment begins June 1.
As chair, Shrum will bring his research and expertise of practical politics to the undergraduates at USC. He will be developing courses starting next fall, along with seminars and a series of programs.
Shrum, the first to hold the Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics, hopes to draw on his 40 years of experience to give a concrete view of what happens in politics.
“I think [Carmen Warschaw] wanted people to have a real sense of what it’s like inside the relationship between government and politics, and that’s what I hope to do in the courses,” Shrum said. “I hope to give people almost a sense that they were there in the middle of some of these campaigns. Then they can see what happened and what mattered, and get a feel for it as well as an analytical grasp of it.”
Shrum has spearheaded and contributed to numerous Democratic campaigns and candidates. In the 1970s, Shrum worked as a speechwriter for then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay, as well as for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. Shrum later worked for Sen. Edward Kennedy in the 1980s as his speechwriter and press secretary.
More recently, he has served as senior adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, as well as John Kerry’s in 2004.
“I was actually there,” Shrum said. “To give students a real sense of what it’s like inside, it helps to have been inside and it helps to have experienced these things. And I want to share those experiences.”
In his course, Shrum plans to focus on political campaigns — or the “great races” as he calls them — in concrete terms in order to give students a vivid picture of what they were like.
“I don’t want to do [the class] in an anecdotal, ‘great stories’ course,” he said. “What I want to do is take people to really significant campaigns and examine the sights and turning points and why they mattered and why they occurred.”
The veteran consultant also said he looks forward to arranging events with political figures that might be stopping by the USC area.
“I think one of the great advantages of L.A. is that everyone comes here one time or another. If we’re opportunistic and know when people are coming, we can conduct a public discussion.” Shrum said.
Shrum gave the examples of Joel Benenson, chief pollster and senior political strategist in Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and Steve Schmidt, senior strategist and advisor for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 campaign, as experts who could possibly drop by.
Vice Dean of Academic Programs Steven Lamy said he believes that Shrum’s real world experience will be highly beneficial to USC students in combining theoretical learning with practical learning.
“There are lots of jobs in the field and he will help find them and explain them to students who are interested in politics as a career.” Lamy said. “He’s well positioned to introduce students to key political figures.”
USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, who is close with Warschaw, expressed her confidence in the new appointment.
“Bob Shrum is the perfect person for the chair because of his long experience in politics at all levels and because of his experience in academic communities, helping to bring politics to life for the students in a research university.”
USC Dornsife Dean Steve Kay believes the addition of Shrum will benefit the university by putting the college on the map in terms of having a nationally recognized program of practical politics.
“[The] key thing about hiring Professor Shrum is the national visibility that he will give to our overall program of political science and especially the tract that I like to call practical politics,” Kay said. “He’s a very well-known and successful political campaigner and he’s also been a very successful member of the faculty at NYU.”
Kay also hopes to involve Shrum in future plans to create a USC semester program in Washington D.C.
As an educator of political science, Shrum said he is impressed with the younger generation’s political activity, especially in the presidential election campaigns of 2008 and 2012. He encourages students to be educated in political science and get involved in one way or another.
“My hope and my aspiration is that students decide to become active public citizens,” Shrum said. “You don’t have to run for office to have an impact, you don’t have to directly be in a campaign to have an impact, but you can care, pay attention, contribute and make a real difference.”