Jeff Gedmin makes his case for Paul Simon Institute director


Auston Mahan | @AustonMahanDE

Jeff Gedmin speaks about the modern political climate Thursday Sept. 21, 2017 during his speech in the Illinois Room at the Student Center. “I’m being opinionated and you can challenge me,” Gedmin said in his speech. “Capitalist societies have inequalities. We’re not Communists… but there’s a balance to this, and when it becomes extreme, for societies that care about justice and opportunity, that becomes a problem.” (Auston Mahan | @AustonMahanDE)

By Amelia Blakely

Jeff Gedmin, one of six finalists to become the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s next director, wants to create a collaborative environment at the bipartisan nonprofit think tank.  

“I like leaders who are highly inclusive, collecting ideas and building consensus,” Gedmin said. “The more inclusive, the better.”

Gedmin, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, presented his plans for the institute Thursday in the Student Center to 11 people in attendance. If chosen, Gedmin would be replacing David Yepsen, who retired in October 2016 after serving as director for seven years. 

The institute conducts public opinion polls and hosts politicians, entrepreneurs and educators to give presentations on campus. It is named after the late two-term Sen. Paul Simon, who founded the institute in 1997.


Gedmin said Simon was a pragmatic and empathetic man of principle, two components he said make democracy work.

“I think we have a massive deficit of tolerance in the country right now,” Gedmin said. “You have to compromise. Democracy is untidy — it’s gloriously untidy.”

Gedmin said Simon was an internationalist who recognized the country’s prosperity and health were linked to the world’s.

In today’s political climate, Gedmin said the United States has a responsibility to help other countries in need, especially those that may not have the same resources the U.S. does.

“Some people may say, ‘People oughta pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’” Gedmin said. “You have to have bootstraps first.”

Gedmin said he wants the institute to facilitate discussions about the issues facing the country today.

“I would like to suggest that in this difficult moments, there is an opportunity to get more people to come here,” he said.


Martin Simon, the son Sen. Simon and the chair of the institute’s board, asked Gedmin how he would engage with students as director.

Gedmin said he would most likely be teaching in addition to his role at the institute.

“I love teaching, and I am open to where I could be most useful,” Gedmin said.

Gedmin called himself a “hybrid” because of his varied professional history. In addition to his position at Georgetown, he also serves as a senior advisor at the consulting firm Blue Star Strategies.

He worked at the Aspen Institute in Berlin from 1996 to 2001, and filled the role of president and CEO of Free Radio Europe and Radio Free Liberty. He holds a doctorate in German studies from Georgetown.

Gedmin said he was drawn to the institute because of its vision, which according to its website is “bringing together public service leaders, our community members and students to honor and support Paul’s vision of making a difference in the world we live in.”

Gedmin said he acknowledges the importance of immersing oneself into other cultures to understand their perspective. During his travels through eastern Europe during the ‘70s and ‘80s, he said learned more about the value of freedom than he did in the United States.
John Jackson, a visiting professor at the institute, asked Gedmin how his international outlook would factor into his leadership.

Although Gedmin learned about freedom in Europe, he said he also learned that freedom is not enough by itself.

“Freedom works with responsibility,” Gedmin said.

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected].

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