Madeleine Kunin: Serving The Public Good

For the past 40 years Madeleine Kunin has served the public good in politics, journalism, and in education.

Governor Kunin is now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Vermont and at Saint Michaels College.

Her distinguished career is highlighted by many achievements: Kunin was elected Governor of Vermont in 1985, the fourth woman to be elected state governor in the US and the first women governor elected for three consecutive terms.

She was President Bill Clinton’s appointment for Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Education in January of 1993 where she served until August of 1996 when Clinton appointed her the US Ambassador to Switzerland.

She is currently teaching Political Science 229 at UVM, entitled “Serving the Public Good.” The class focuses on individuals who are able to achieve great things and served the public good by going through the system (the existing political and economic structures) rather than rebelling against it.

Governor Kunin said, “My mission is to convince people that politics work, that [students] can have an impact.” Governor Kunin believes that there are many opportunities for college-aged Americans to have an impact on politics and society.

Roughly 25 percent of 18-25 years olds vote regularly. Kunin believes that students would have a greater voice on issues that directly affect them if only more voted.

Kunin said, “It is so important for young people to vote. If students got involved they could have some impact on student loans and grants. Student leave college with such high debts, and that in turn makes it difficult for them to take jobs that are usually lower paying, and are considered serving the public.”

When discussing the reasons why most people in the 18-25 demographic do not vote, Kunin acknowledges the belief of many that there is little difference between Democrat and Republican politicians, that they are both the products of a single bureaucratic system.

She counters this by saying, “If anyone says that there is no difference between the two political parties you only have to look at the environmental policies of the Bush Administration.”

She goes on to say, “I am obviously a Democrat, we’re not perfect, we make mistakes, but there is a real difference in philosophy, and what the role of government is in society, what the role of corporations are, who should be at the table in policy discussions.”

Her class is driven by dialogue and discussion; the ambiguity of the course title is a precursor to the varied issues and the many interpretations of serving the public good. SGA President Joseph Thibault is current enrolled in the class, he said of the class, “The class discussions are valued over the actual course work. There are many strong opinions presented that result in great debates.”

Throughout her career Governor Kunin’s championed educational, environmental, and women’s issues.

As governor, Kunin doubled funding for public education, established kindergarten in all schools, and created pre-school programs for low-income children.

She also established the Vermont Housing and Land Conservation Trust Fund, a program to create affordable housing while also helping the preservation of Vermont’s forests. Through her tenure as governor, Vermont ranked first in children’s services by two child advocacy groups.

While Governor Kunin was Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education she worked on legislative acts such as Goals 2000: Educate America and the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act.

In 1994 was a member of the delegation to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Governor Kunin was appointed US Ambassador to Switzerland at a time when the neutrality of the Swiss during WWII was coming into question.

Kunin was born into a Jewish family in Zurich, Switzerland and immigrated to the United States in 1940 in fear of the Holocaust.

She investigated Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis and looted gold held in Swiss banks. Kunin was able to urge the Swiss to acknowledge their involvement while still retain good relationships between the governments.

Governor Kunin will spend most of her time next year at St. Michaels College, but will lecture and be involved with UVM’s Honors College that will officially commence the fall semester of 2004.