Political Science and Leadership

By Bruce Grube

“If the world was flat,” my California friends opined, “the Texas state line is just about where the world ends at the abyss.” Arriving at UT as a new doctoral student at the start of the 1967 fall semester, I had no vision whatsoever that, having entered the “abyss,” the experience would prepare me for an academic career that would include being a professor of political science at four institutions, provost at two, and president at two others. My decision to enter graduate studies in the Department of Government at the University of Texas, following an undergraduate degree in political science at the University of California at Berkeley, actually turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Civil Rights and the Vietnam War were in all of our minds at the time. I was clearly a beneficiary of the intense intellectual debates which took place in
a state political environment that was not prepared to entertain the perspectives that came with the scholars who had been recruited to UT. I mention
this collision of cultures because it was a significant element of the political landscape within which my graduate education took place. Observing the interaction between the University and elected officials in Texas provided many lessons about the nature of politics, particularly as politics can be defined as existing whenever there are disputes to authority.

The study of politics turned out to be a marvelous preparation for the role of provost and university president. Over the years, I have come to think that political science is a discipline that lends itself to the development of leadership. The conventional belief is that universities are communities. They are not. Universities are really collections of constituencies. And, a university president is consistently in interac- tion with several dozen constituencies, both internal and external. The study of politics prepares one for this reality.

Political science bridges many disci- plines. Importantly, political scientists generally engage in a way of thinking that illuminates the connections among many disciplines. This way of thinking is essential to working with diverse constituencies, to bridging dif- ferences, to understanding the perspectives of others. It is a way of seeing the world that permits tolerance, flexibil- ity, inclusion, and the general open- mindedness that should be expected of university leaders. It encourages the development of vision and the understanding of how to work with others to pursue a common vision.

So, as it turned out, the world was not flat after all. The road to Texas and the Department of Govern- ment at the University of Texas followed the curva- ture of the earth. Now, my wife, Kathryn, and I have returned to live in Austin. During the time since I finished my graduate work, we have lived in every re- gion of the country except for the caffeinated north- west. We have traveled in many countries, have been involved in relationships with people and other uni- versities throughout the world, have worked directly with governors, members of Congress, Senators, and many other officials to achieve the goals of higher education wherever possible. My California friends were wrong. I did not fall into the abyss. The Depart- ment of Government opened for me a world beyond what I had known — a world that can never be flat. As for California . . . well, that is another story.

Bruce Grube received his Ph.D. in government in 1976. He is president emeritus of Georgia Southern University, where he was professor of political science. He has also served as president of St. Cloud State University. He and his wife, Kathryn, moved back to Austin in January 2010.