Politics professor Ken Goldstein began his time at the University of San Francisco in 2012 when he was asked to launch USF in D.C. as the program’s director. He was born in Massachusetts and inherited a love of politics from his parents: his father was a professor of international politics, while his mother was a political speechwriter. Although he never imagined that he would become a professor one day, a majority of his career was spent teaching politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also become known for his appearances in the media, where he offers unbiased knowledge on voter statistics, political advertising and political campaigns. Before he was recruited to build the USF in D.C. program he led CMAG, a non-partisan political consulting firm, for a couple of years in the nation’s capitol.
What was it like to set up an entirely new program?
We’re very fortunate that we were able to capitalize on the hard work of some other universities. The University of California has a building in D.C. And so, to give their students the opportunity to take more classes and have a more broad experience, they have a consortium, which is Berkeley, Notre Dame and University of Michigan. So, it was great, we were able to join a consortium with some great universities on the academic side, and we’re able to jump right into a great living situation on the logistical side, and that’s really what it takes to do our program. […] So we were able to get it up and running at once. I was hired in May or June, and we welcomed our first students in September.
So what is it like to have all of these students from universities across the country? Do you find that they have varied perspectives and create an even more diverse conversation in the classroom?
Yeah, it’s interesting. One of the reasons I think it’s great for the USF students is not only the class content; I think they’re probably getting a little more diversity in opinions when they’re in a class with people from different parts of the country, different political viewpoints and from different universities.
A lot of people have discussed the millennial voter crisis this election. Do you believe that students at USF are subject to that kind of voter apathy?
My sense is, although I was not here and you were not here, that it would have been a very different feeling here on campus in 2008. I wonder if you’re going to see that same level of energy or engagement this year. So far, I don’t see it. I think there’s little chance of young voters or non-white voters voting for Donald J. Trump in droves, but the question is whether they are going to come out at the same levels that they came out for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
A lot of students are obviously dissatisfied with Hillary Clinton as their Democratic candidate because they were rooting so heavily for Bernie Sanders. What do you think the election would look like now if it were Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump?
Yeah I think there’s this notion, and I taught the elections and campaign elective class last spring, where many of the students were big Bernie fans. It’s difficult when your first love in politics loses, right? It was the thing that got them involved and I think they took the loss hard. Do I think they’re going to go vote for Donald Trump? No. I think it’s going to be interesting to see whether they turn out to vote or engage. […] I think Bernie was sort of like a Rorschach test for students, he was whatever they wanted him to be. He wasn’t Hillary, and he was anti-establishment.
Is there one stand out moment from this election that has either really amused you or really caught your attention? What do you think has been a defining or really interesting moment?
I was just on air with Bloomberg doing a segment on ads, and Trump’s latest comments broke. The Washington Post got Trump on tape saying some pretty vile things about women. I think it’s probably nothing that surprises anybody, and nothing that people wouldn’t have expected him to say, but it’s pretty jarring when you hear the flat out, absolute video and audio. That felt different to me. Listen, it’s only been said 20 times, but that’s going to be the comment that sinks Trump. Then again, maybe it’s only immediacy and once I step back it’ll just seem like one comment in a whole other series of comments, but that comment seemed to have the potential to mobilize a lot of women. […] I wouldn’t tell my daughter to go and listen to that tape.
You’re known across multiple media formats for your impartiality and for your objectivity. How have you been able to separate yourself from your work academically and journalistically?
I want to be very careful about what I say in a classroom, because I think by definition a professor has some power. I think some colleagues feel differently about this, which is fine. I at least don’t want to show any of my partisan colors on my sleeve. I’m very careful what I say in public, I’m very careful what I write in emails. I’m out to dinner with a bunch of friends and they’re talking politics, I’m usually not going to be the one to chime in on ideological stuff. But I also think I’m a little bit more non-partisan in nature. If you could actually look inside my brain and my political beliefs, I probably am more moderate in my outlook. It’s part purposeful and part who I am.
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