MIDDLEBURY — Gov. James Douglas’s first post-gubernatorial job will be a short-term teaching assignment in his own backyard, on the campus from which he launched his political career almost four decades ago: his alma mater, Middlebury College.
Douglas, a Middlebury Republican rounding out his eighth and final year as Vermont’s top elected executive, confirmed to the Addison Independent on Thursday that he will teach a month-long college “J-term” course titled “Vermont Government and Politics.”
Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz had invited Douglas to teach the course, and the governor quickly agreed.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” Douglas said. “I feel I have something to offer the next generation of leaders.
“My ideas will be quite fresh,” he noted of what will be an almost immediate matriculation to the classroom from the governor’s office in the Pavilion Building in Montpelier. J-term classes start Jan. 3.
This is not the first time Middlebury College has offered employment to a former Vermont governor. Madeleine Kunin taught at the college from 1999-2003 as the Bicentennial Scholar in Residence.
Liebowitz said it made perfect sense to invite Douglas to teach on campus. He cited, among other things, Douglas’s more than 35 years in Vermont politics, his status as an alum and his ability to inject more information about Vermont into a curriculum that he said currently does not focus a lot on the Green Mountain State.
“He is such a resource,” Liebowitz said of Douglas. “We are looking forward to having him here.”
Middlebury College’s J-term — also known as the “winter term” — is an abbreviated semester during which students can take some free ranging and sometimes offbeat courses. Examples of some winter term courses to be offered this January include “Exploring Tolkein’s Middle Earth,” “Chinese Painting” and “A Cultural History of Everyday Objects.”
The J-term course catalogue offers the following description of the “Vermont Government and Politics” course that Douglas will teach:
“Vermont is the second smallest state in America. Its state government is similarly small and accessible. How does it work? Does it work well? Are there lessons for other states that haven't fared as well during the recent economic downturn? Are there lessons Vermont can learn from other states? This course will offer an insider’s perspective on the political landscape and governmental system of our host state. We will meet with those involved in the process and discuss the intricacies of state government and how the political system affects it.”
As is the case with all winter term instructors, Douglas will be expected to maintain at least eight “contact hours” per week with his students. The number taking the course is expected to number in the low-20s. Douglas said he’s been told the course is already fully enrolled.
Douglas has spent recent days researching potential course material. He anticipates a field trip to Montpelier and perhaps some guest speakers easily culled from his voluminous political Rolodex.
“Some exposure to players in the drama of government could be helpful,” Douglas said.
The college does not divulge salary negotiations, but Liebowitz stressed Douglas will be receiving a customary “nominal” compensation that is paid to J-term instructors.
This won’t be the first time Douglas, class of 1972, will have returned to the college in an instructional capacity. He recalled “more than a cameo appearance” at one of Prof. Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis’s classes back in the early 1990s, while he was serving as Vermont secretary of state.
It was at Middlebury College where Douglas, then a Russian Studies major, got his first taste of politics and indeed an appetite for elective office. As a student during the early 1970s, Douglas became active with — and a leader of — the college’s Young Republicans Club.
“I took a number of political science classes,” Douglas noted. Among his instructors was Murray Dry, now the Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science. Douglas recalled going to Dry’s home as a student to ask the professor his advice on whether he should pursue a career in politics. Dry encouraged Douglas to pursue his calling, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Douglas was elected to the Vermont House in 1972. He became majority whip of the House in his second term and majority leader in his third term at the age of 25. Douglas retired from the Legislature in 1979 to become a top aide to Gov. Richard Snelling. He was elected secretary of state in 1980, a post he held for 12 years. After an ill-fated challenge of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy in 1992, Douglas was elected state treasurer in 1994, and he served for eight years. He won election as Vermont’s 80th governor in 2002, opting to pass on a re-election bid this year. Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat, will be sworn into office Jan. 6.
It has been a long political road for Douglas, one that is taking him back to his roots.
“In a way, it’s coming full circle,” he said.
Dry is pleased to see his former student join him in the teaching ranks — if only for a short while.
“We are delighted he is going to teach the course,” Dry said.
Douglas continues to work on long-term employment prospects and expects to soon land a new job in the private sector. For now, he is glad to be returning to his old stomping grounds.
“Some people were expecting me to go on a cruise or take a long vacation,” Douglas noted of speculation surrounding his immediate exit plans. “But that’s not in my nature. I need to stay active to remain intellectually challenged.”
Liebowitz did not rule out the possibility of asking Douglas to extend his teaching stay. He said the college could provide the soon-to-be-former governor a good environment in which not only to teach, but write.
“I’d love to keep him,” Liebowitz said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.