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Longtime Public Policy Professor Finds Value in Engaging with Students and Faculty

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Mac Destler

In 1987, I.M. “Mac” Destler came to the University of Maryland School of Public Policy because of the great faculty, a quality he still admires in the School today. Destler is currently the Saul Stern Professor of Civic Engagement at the School.

After attending the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs to receive his master’s degree, Destler relocated to Washington, DC and joined the President’s Task Force on Government Organization. “They had this task force that included a lot of the leaders in the 1960s, so having the chance to work with them seemed to be really kind of exciting,” he says. “The idea was that Lyndon Johnson had produced all these great society programs, and how the hell is our government going to get structured to do these? The feeling was the government didn’t have the capacity to do it, and it wasn’t structured to do what should be done. Since I had studied international issues, I was asked to be the staff person for the subgroup that worked on foreign policy.”

Following his time with the task force, Destler worked for the Department of Agriculture and was influenced by his boss to apply for a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship. “I applied, but the question was ‘what do I propose to write about?’” he says. “This was 1968, and I wanted to write about Vietnam, but I had no credentials for that. I decided the thing I had the best shot at was something on foreign policy process because of my involvement in the task force. I ended up making a three-page proposal about how the U.S. government should be organized for foreign policy and they gave me the fellowship.”

I like working with students who are committed to making the world a better place, who are committed to doing it through government or government-related activity.
I.M. "Mac" Destler Professor

Destler then used the book manuscript, which he developed during that fellowship, as his PhD thesis. “That got me into research and the academic track,” he says. “I then spent the next 15 years working with think tanks, and then I was approached by this institution and this looked like an ideal place for me.”

Destler typically teaches PUAF780: The American Foreign Policy-Making Process, and PUAF700: U.S. Trade: Policy and Politics, while occasionally teaching PUAF620: Political Analysis.  He has served as the Stern Professor since 2007, a role that involves developing events and programs for students and others to attend, including the student-organized Stern Symposium. “We’ve had a panel on budget, a panel on political dysfunction in Israel and Palestine, other times we’ve had speakers across a range of topics,” he says. “We’ve had officials from the Congressional Budget Office and speakers on health care and the Middle East.”

Last year’s Stern Symposium featured a panel on disability with a keynote by Former Congressman Steve Bartlett. “Last year’s event went very well and exceeded expectations,” Destler says.  This year’s Stern Symposium will focus on emerging policy issues affecting LGBTQ persons worldwide. “The symposium is a way to connect to the broader university. We publicize the events and host them around lunchtime so people can come in from other departments.”

Destler says what he enjoys about working as the Saul Stern Professor is being able to work with students and faculty at the School. “I like to engage the students and the faculty. I try to bring people for forums who have good and new perspectives.”

“I came here because [the School] had a great faculty with minds and souls that I like,” Destler says. He adds that he also enjoys working with the quality students enrolled at SPP. “I like working with students who are committed to making the world a better place, who are committed to doing it through government or government-related activity,” he says. “I continue to believe that these such people are a force for good in the world.”

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