Tuesday, December 16, 2008
New Education Secretary
Indications of Approach
Other clues about Mr. Duncan's approach and authority as education
secretary may lie in his being a friend, neighbor, and
basketball-playing partner of the incoming president, rather than one
of the political rivals being named by Mr. Obama to some other Cabinet
positions. Mr. Duncan cultivated a reputation in Chicago as a leader
who is willing to make unpopular decisions and carry out controversial
That could suggest that Mr. Duncan would be a forceful advocate of
changes Mr. Obama decides to make on higher-education policy,
regardless of what at times could be ardent opposition from lawmakers
on Capitol Hill or from college lobbyists.
College leaders wouldn’t have expected Mr. Obama to choose a
higher-education specialist, given the federal government’s need to
keep its focus on promoting improvements at the elementary and
secondary level, said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for
government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.
“He obviously has some knowledge of higher education, being on the
Harvard Board of Overseers,” Mr. Hartle said of Mr. Duncan. The unique
nature of Harvard hopefully won’t lead Mr. Duncan to “generalize too
much from that experience” in formulating higher-education policy, Mr.
That aside, Mr. Duncan is “a terrific choice,” given his
demonstrated ability to find middle ground between competing factions,
Mr. Hartle said. And a personal friendship between a president and an
education secretary is good for all involved in education, he said.
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