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Liberty + Leadership Podcast – Roger Ream on Educating and Empowering Young Leaders

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This week, we’re celebrating the 50th episode of the Liberty + Leadership Podcast with a special guest – your host, Roger Ream! The Fund for American Studies’ Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Slattery takes Roger’s place as the host this week to interview TFAS’s president of 25 years. The pair have sat at the helm of this organization together nearly three decades expertly navigating TFAS through countless changes and improvements to make it a leading organization in alternative education and the freedom movement.

Lifelong friends, Steve and Roger sit down to reflect on their time at TFAS and the impact this organization has had on them. Steve asks Roger about his experience as a TFAS student in 1976, how his internship led him to a career at TFAS and the growth he’s seen over the past 30 years. They discuss joys and hardships of creating new programs, educating students and young adults all over the world, launching the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, and much more. Tune in to hear even more about the man behind the microphone!


Episode Transcript

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, supporters, faculty and friends who are making a real impact in public policy, business, philanthropy, law and journalism.

Steve Slattery [00:00:20] Today is the 50th episode of Liberty and Leadership, and we’re celebrating this milestone by turning the tables. I’m Steve Slattery, executive vice president and COO of The Fund for American Studies. Today, I’ll be interviewing my colleague and friend, Roger Ream, the normal host of the podcast. In addition to being the regular host of Liberty and Leadership, Roger is the president of The Fund for American Studies. Roger has worked with TFAS for over three decades and is an alumnus of TFAS 1976 Public Policy and Economics D.C. Summer Program, also known as ICPES. Roger has made an impact on the lives of countless students and has dedicated his career to advancing economic freedom and individual liberties. Today, we’re going to learn more about Roger as he shares about the impactful work being done at The Fund for American Studies. Roger, you’ve hosted the Liberty and Leadership Podcast for one year. This is the 50th episode. What have been some of the highlights or key takeaways from the podcast?

Roger Ream [00:01:19] Well, thank you, Steve, for that introduction. It’s been a real pleasure to host this podcast. Hard to believe it’s been a year now and this is our 50th episode. I think there have been several key takeaways. One is the opportunity to talk with so many accomplished alumni. They’ve all spoken to the fact that our programs have been transformational, whether it’s been a summer experience, a high school program, a Novak or Rago fellowship. It’s clear that we’re impacting their lives in a profound way, and really, they give us a lot of the responsibility for the success they’ve had in being courageous leaders. The other takeaway, I think, is that we’ve had the opportunity to bring on faculty, both economics professors and others who are with our students in the classroom throughout the year, and they’ve had the opportunity not only to talk substantively about economics, economic policy and other important materials they use in the classroom, but also to reflect on the impact they feel like we’re having on students as well. So, it’s been great to talk to faculty and hear their take on the opportunities they’ve had in the classroom, which many of them value more than the everyday teaching they do at their home universities.

Steve Slattery [00:02:34] Yes, there have been a lot of great guests, a lot of great episodes. Which ones were among your favorites of the 50?

Roger Ream [00:02:40] Oh, it’s hard to single out anyone because we’ve had so many great guests, including many of our alums or leaders. I would say one of the first we did a year ago was with Clint Bolick, who’s had a tremendous impact in his career, both as a lawyer defending economic liberties as well as a now associate justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. So, it’s great to talk to people like Clint and Dan McConchie, who’s in the Illinois State Senate and others like that who make a difference. Perhaps two favorites, if I can narrow down to two, were talking to Jillian Kay Melchior, who’s a writer for The Wall Street Journal now, since we did the podcast station in London. She covers such interesting issues. She’s covered the challenges Hong Kong faced with communist control coming there. She’s written a lot from the front in Ukraine about refugee programs. She had a great piece last week about Poland. So, I expect we’ll be reading great things from her, from her new perch in London. But then also Dean Michael Collins, Professor Collins, who’s been with us since 1982, teaching in Washington and Prague and Greece, has really had an impact on students, and the way he reflected on both what he’s taught students about the importance of freedom and community, about giving them advice on how they can make a difference in their lives, drawing in literature, poets like Seamus Heaney, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King in the Birmingham Jail, Alexis de Tocqueville and others. It was just an enjoyable podcast.

Steve Slattery [00:04:16] Yeah, I love that one as well. You know, there’s so many podcasts out there, it seems like everyone and their brother has a podcast. Some of them are very famous, like The Ben Shapiro Show and the Joe Rogan Experience. We both listened to together, The Serial. There are others like Trashy Divorces, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff You Should Know, The Bible in a Year with Father Mike Schmitz. So many out there. How does Liberty and Leadership fit in with this or differentiate itself in such a crowded field?

Roger Ream [00:04:52] Well, I think our audience is maybe a little narrower because our goal is to reach our thousands of supporters around the world, around the country, so they can fully understand the value of their gift to us. I’m glad I hear from supporters of ours who say they listen to the podcast. They love hearing the alumni talk about the impact we’re having on them. So, that’s one major audience. Our alumni, we have 47,000 alumni of our high school and college programs, and I know a lot of them are listening. They get to hear other alums talk about their careers, their success. So, that’s an important audience. I think we’ve picked up other listeners who enjoy the substance of the conversations we have there about public policy, about economics, often about important matters, and I think we offer a take on many of those issues that perhaps they wouldn’t get in a lot of these other podcasts that you mentioned.

Steve Slattery [00:05:48] Yeah, I agree. It’s been impactful, and I know it’s been fun, but were there any discouraging aspects of putting this podcast project together or anything you’re disappointed with?

Roger Ream [00:05:58] Well, I was surprised that we’re able to keep it up on a weekly basis. We’ve gone to every two weeks this summer, but that so many alumni were willing to do it, to come on and talk about themselves and their careers and the program. I’d say on the negative side, I wish we had more listeners. We are growing in listenership, but it would be great for more of our alumni and donors and others to be listening to these because they have been very interesting subjects, topics and conversations.

Steve Slattery [00:06:31] Great, exactly. We will encourage people to share this with their friends and colleagues. You started many of the podcast conversations with alumni asking them about their TFAS experience. So, let’s start with you. You began at TFAS in 1976 when you were a student at Vanderbilt. Can you tell us how you learned about TFAS and what your summer in Washington was like?

Roger Ream [00:06:54] Yeah, it was really a stroke of luck, maybe, or providence, that as a freshman at Vanderbilt, I attended an event on campus. I don’t need to go into the details of it. There was a political organization that was forming at Vanderbilt, and at that meeting the director of this program, it was the Young Americans for Freedom Chapter, invited me to a meeting the next day that they were having organizing their chapter. I went there and I met David Jones. He was living in Tennessee at the time, and he was one of the founders of The Fund for American Studies, as you know. I got to know David at that meeting, and he became a mentor of sorts over that time at Vanderbilt, helped me a lot with some of the things I was doing there, bringing in speakers to the campus. He said one summer after my sophomore year: “Roger, you should do this program in Washington. There are scholarships available. It would be a great experience.” So, I applied, was accepted, given a scholarship, and I came to Washington in the summer of 1976, interned for Congressman Phil Crane and took a course in comparative economic systems and a course in comparative political system. I met lifelong friends like Mark Levin, radio host, who was a classmate of mine, just lived a few doors away from me, and others I’ve kept in touch with today. Mark Stansberry and others have been involved in the life of TFAS over the years. So, I went to this meeting and met David and that was my first involvement.

Steve Slattery [00:08:24] I know David had a great impact on a lot of young people, identified leaders, brought them into the organization. Can you, in addition to that, talk about ways that TFAS experience shaped your career?

Roger Ream [00:08:37] Yeah, definitely did, because when I interned for a member of Congress, Phil Crane, who was on the Ways and Means Committee from the Chicago suburbs. He then called me during my senior year when I was back at Vanderbilt and asked me if I’d want to come work for him. So, I came back to Washington. So, my first job was with my intern sponsor at TFAS, and it was a fun experience with Phil Crane. I traveled the country with him.

Steve Slattery [00:09:04] So, he ran for president shortly after, right?

Roger Ream [00:09:07] He announced in the following year that he was running for president. So, I spent a lot of trips with him to New Hampshire and Iowa and Florida, the early primaries. Ultimately, someone else by the name of Ronald Reagan got in the race. So, Phil eventually dropped out, but it was an interesting two-and-a-half-year experience. So, it certainly shaped my career from giving me my first job. Then I went to work in economic education and did other things, but I always kept in touch with David Jones. He did invite me to occasional TFAS events, a board weekend retreat I attended in Virginia. I went to their annual dinner from time to time, so David kept in touch and eventually contacted me in 1991 to come work at The Fund for American Studies.

Steve Slattery [00:09:53] Which memory stands out as a key part of your TFAS experience as a student?

Roger Ream [00:09:58] As a student, it was the summer of 1976, so the country was celebrating the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, and it was a fun summer from that standpoint. It’s hard to say just one; I might mention a couple, but that fireworks display that summer going with the other students to the Mall, sitting near the Washington Monument and watching the fireworks go off over the Jefferson Memorial was special. We heard fascinating speakers. We met Lev Dobriansky, one of the leaders of TFAS, would speak to us. He was from Ukraine, and talked about the Soviet Union in a very informative lecture. But Walter Judd gave one of the greatest lectures I ever heard. He really emphasized the importance of being a courageous leader. We even heard Pearl Bailey, who was then with the U.N. delegation for the U.S., and at the end of her lecture about world events, one of the students raised his hand and said: “Would you sing “Hello, Dolly!” for us?” So, she sang “Hello, Dolly!” in a classroom at Georgetown. So, it was meeting great people, working on the Hill with Phil Crane. It’s really a live, learn, intern experience that all has an impact.

Steve Slattery [00:11:15] So, for those who don’t know who Walter Judd was, could you explain his role in history?

Roger Ream [00:11:21] Yeah, it’s remarkable, and there’s a great biography written by Lee Edwards.

Steve Slattery [00:11:26] “Missionary for Freedom: The Life and Times of Walter Judd.”

Roger Ream [00:11:28] I don’t know if it’s possible to get copies, probably on Amazon used books. He was the runner up to being Richard Nixon’s running mate in 1960. Lee Edwards speculates that if Nixon had picked him, he may have won the election in 1960 and history would have been different. But Judd was a great anti-communist, but also a great believer in the U.S. being engaged internationally. He worked to get us help with NATO and organizations like that, and every year, I think, he lectured to TFAS students, and he traveled the country lecturing about communism.

Steve Slattery [00:12:08] Yes. That’s the name: “Missionary for Freedom.” He was traveling the country giving speeches, and I remember you and I had a chance to meet him in the early nineties when he was in his nineties, and we had a great meeting with him.

Roger Ream [00:12:21] Yeah. We went out to his apartment in Maryland. He’d come in and we unveiled a portrait of him that hangs in our office.

Steve Slattery [00:12:29] He autographed books for us in English and Chinese.

Roger Ream [00:12:33] Yes, yes. He was in his nineties, and he was still writing Chinese characters. He was a remarkable man.

Steve Slattery [00:12:41] So, looking back, you’ve been working at TFAS for more than 30 years. How have things changed in the organization? Quite a bit has changed.

Roger Ream [00:12:49] Yeah, well, I came there in 1991 and one of my best decisions was within the year I hired you to come over and join me, and it has been amazing. You know, at that time we had three summer programs and that was about it, a few conferences throughout the year. Now, we’re doing a much larger and more summer programs. So, we have almost 300 students here this summer in our undergraduate programs. We have a program for law students. We’ve added year-round semester programs. The big change right from the start, in the early nineties, in response to the fall of communism in eastern Central Europe, was to create international programs in Prague and later in Greece, Asia and then South America. Those are great opportunities for American students to go abroad and broaden their knowledge and experience.

Steve Slattery [00:13:49] What was the thinking of the board in creating those international programs?

Roger Ream [00:13:52] Yeah, it was interesting because originally, they asked our now chairman, Randy Teague, who was a trustee at the time, to look at creating a program in international relations for Americans and do it in Washington. But with the changes in 1989, 1992, at the break of the Soviet Union, they quickly shifted their attention to providing opportunities for students who’d grown up under communism and knew very little about political and economic freedom but yearned to learn about it. Let’s create a program which was two tiered, one with scholarships to bring them here, to attend our programs here, and the other was, because the demand was so great, to do a program in Prague. We had many years, well over 125 students coming to Prague for three weeks to study under our faculty and to hear from leaders from that region. We remember we brought in people like Lech Walesa, Czech Prime Minister and President Václav Klaus, leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia and the Baltics: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. Just tremendous leadership that these students could hear from.

Steve Slattery [00:15:00] A lot of these students were quite young, but they moved into positions of leadership in their countries. So, have you seen any of them rise since then?

Roger Ream [00:15:09] Yeah, I mean, it was a vacuum, of course, in 1989-1992 in those countries, and we’ve had our alums become foreign ministers, I think in Armenia and Bulgaria. Right now, we have two who serve their countries as ambassador to the United Nations from the Czech Republic and Poland. We have had other graduates in leading positions in journalism and the business world working for members of parliament. It has been remarkable. We have a young man who was on a podcast, Jacek Spendel ’08, ’09 from Poland, who’s created an international organization to promote the ideas of liberty. So, great impact.

Steve Slattery [00:15:51] So the TFAS network is worldwide now.

Roger Ream [00:15:53] It truly is.

Steve Slattery [00:15:54] Are there any disappointments related to the international programs?

Roger Ream [00:15:59] Well, there have been a few. The biggest was that we had to move our program out of Hong Kong. Like anyone who spends much time in Hong Kong, it’s easy to fall in love with the city. It was the freest economy in the world. It was just an exciting city, amazing city. To bring students there from all over Asia and from mainland China for the summer to study the ideas of economic freedom and political freedom was a great, great opportunity. After 2019, we decided it wasn’t the right environment to be in anymore. Once the Communist Party in Beijing decided to crack down on civil discussions, political liberty, and eventually it’ll be economic liberty that goes, I fear. So, we moved out of the University of Hong Kong. You’ve worked to help find another location for that program, so maybe we’ll return to Asia. That’s the biggest two-point disappointment, I think.

Steve Slattery [00:16:53] Absolutely, tragic. Back home domestically, TFAS moved into the high school space. Can you tell us how that happened and why?

Roger Ream [00:17:03] Yeah, 2013 was a big year for us. One reason was we heard from Jerry Hume, then chairman rather, of the Foundation for Teaching Economics, FTE, as it’s called. FTE was working out of Davis, California, near Sacramento, and since the mid-seventies had been working to improve economic education in high schools by training teachers and directly bringing students to our Economics for Leaders programs on campuses around the country. Jerry’s father, Jack Hume, had started the program, and Jerry and his family wanted to make sure that if it continued, it would be in good hands. That would be true to his father’s intent as a donor and creator. He was, I think, contemplating, I’m told, shutting it down, which would have been a tragic loss because it does such important work. So, we met with Jerry, you and I, and his team, Gary Walton, the president at the time, over the course, I think it was a few years of I’d like to say, a few years of dating before.

Steve Slattery [00:18:09] The courtship.

Roger Ream [00:18:10] Yeah, the courtship. Jerry’s confidence in what we could do grew. And the staff, Ted Tucker and others were enthusiastic. So, we had the marriage of the two organizations. It was folded in as a program of TFAS.

Steve Slattery [00:18:26] How has that worked out?

Roger Ream [00:18:27] It’s just been fabulous. I mean, we’ve been pushing up enrollments every year. We now have over 1000 high school students doing their Economics for Leaders programs this summer, a record. We hope about 1500 teachers attending all sorts of different programs, summer online, summer in person, a few hours to a week-long program, doing things like economics and the environment, economics and entrepreneurship, economic forces in American history, they’ve got just great lessons and curriculum. It’s a go-to program for high school teachers wanting to be good instructors of economics and even some of the many students who do FTE then can come to the TFAS summer programs as college students.

Steve Slattery [00:19:11] Right. So, we often characterize that as TFAS, the high school programs, the collegiate programs, and then other programs for young professionals. Can you talk a little bit about the continuing education offerings that TFAS has?

Roger Ream [00:19:24] Yeah, that’s been growing. We’ve always tried to do some things for our alumni. As I said earlier, you know, there are about 48,000, almost 50,000 alumni. So, we’ll do programs around the world for them. Different events. You just organized an event in New York for our alumni in New York City. We’ve done four of those this year, and it’s grown because that same year – I said 2013 was an exciting year – we took over the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship program that our board member, Tom Phillips, had started with Bob Novak. There have been over 150 Robert Novak Journalism Fellows. We give these young journalists a fellowship that enables them to really pursue a writing project, a book project, something that will help them get their name on the map. Sometimes they’re reporters who are working in obscure locations in the country or small publications, and this is a chance for them to find a breakout opportunity.

Steve Slattery [00:20:24] Who are some of the Novak fellows who benefited from this?

Roger Ream [00:20:28] Yeah, there’ve been a lot of them. Mollie Hemingway, maybe one of the best known because she appears on Fox News regularly and has written some bestselling books, but others are our friend Steve Hayes, Tim Carney, who’s at AEI, who has told me and was a guest on this podcast, that he turned his Novak project on corporate cronyism into his career, because he has done so much on that. Robby Soave at Reason did a book on a free speech in college campus life. There were many, many more. Kat Timpf, who’s on Fox News. Carrie Sheffield. The list is long.

Steve Slattery [00:21:11] Every year we have about six.

Roger Ream [00:21:13] Yeah, I just selected a new class of fellows. I just reviewed with Ryan Wolfe the names of them, their publications, their projects, and it’s going to be another strong class that we announce later this summer.

Steve Slattery [00:21:26] Could you also talk about the Joseph Rago Fellowship, which kind of goes hand in hand with the Novak Fellowship?

Roger Ream [00:21:33] Yes. I’ll mention I had the first Joseph Rago fellow on this podcast last summer, Elliot Kaufman, and he set the mark for Rago Fellows that the others have sought to duplicate because he was just an outstanding fellow. We were contacted in 2017. In 2017, Joe Rago passed away in his sleep. It was very sad. He was 34. He’d won a Pulitzer Prize writing editorials for The Wall Street Journal, mostly about the Affordable Care Act. Joe’s parents, Paul and Nancy Rago and his family with The Wall Street Journal were looking for some way to capture his legacy in a meaningful way. They talked with us about creating this fellowship, which we’ve done, the Joseph Rago Fellowship for Excellence in Journalism. So, every year we select an outstanding young person with less than five years’ experience, and we pay their salary through this fellowship to work for nine months on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Who could ask for a better experience for a young person?

Steve Slattery [00:22:39] Great opportunity.

Roger Ream [00:22:41] Most have come right out of college or only been out a year. We have had five. Two of the five so far have been hired to stay full-time at The Wall Street Journal. Elliot Kaufman, who oversees the letters page, and Faith Bottum, whose name you’ll see regularly in there. Our most recent has joined The Boston Globe to be a voice for sanity on their editorial board, writing for The Boston Globe. So, that’s outstanding. One of the others, Matthew King, is joining the Navy and Naval Intelligence. They all have been outstanding. We will be announcing our next fellow in a few months.

Steve Slattery [00:23:22] Can listeners be a part of the Novak and Rago Fellows program and see it?

Roger Ream [00:23:28] Yeah. I mean, every year we are raising money to support the Rago Fellowship and to support the Novak Fellowship. So, we would welcome financial support, of course, to keep these going. We always have more applications for Novak Fellowships than we have money to give out. So, we’re turning down some people who could be outstanding journalists. We work with them throughout the year, too. On a quarterly basis, they’re submitting in writing what they’re doing, and we’re reviewing it and editing it. We try to mentor them, help them find publishers for their work. So, I encourage support from listeners who are able, especially also the Rago program. I hope that in the future we can have maybe two Joseph Rago Fellows and maybe have some similar programs in other publications.

Steve Slattery [00:24:17] You mentioned how the journalist fellows go on to careers in journalism or they write books. What about some of the other TFAS alumni? What is a typical career path for some of them?

Roger Ream [00:24:28] Well, it is somewhat varied. Many of them, I like to say, get Potomac fever, but they take advantage of the summer here and the internship placement they had to come back to Washington. Often that, like with me, internship will hire them full-time when they graduate. In other cases, they’ll come here to do a job search. But we have dozens, I would guess at least 30, you may know the exact number, Steve, of alumni working on Capitol Hill, on committees for members of Congress. We have two serving in Congress, David Rouzer of North Carolina and David Kustoff of Tennessee. We’ve had a handful of others who’ve served in the House and Senate as members, but a lot on committees. We have a lot of our alumni who have come here to work in think tanks. You know, they’re at the Cato Institute, at the Mercatus Center, at many, many organizations, American Enterprise Institute and others in D.C. A lot of the journalism graduates are working in the news media, and that is everything from writing, following stories every day to having major impact. David Muir, the anchor of ABC News, is an alum, spoke at our 50th anniversary, as you remember, about the importance of learning economics as a journalist. So, they’re everywhere. I don’t want to just focus on the ones that come to Washington. We talked about ones internationally, but they’re everywhere, in every city in this country. We have alums serving in legislatures, as judges, business leaders, community leaders. They’re really making a difference throughout the country.

Steve Slattery [00:26:02] In fact, you often tell the students when they come here, don’t think that the change happens in Washington, the real change happens outside the Beltway. So, what would you tell a young person who wants to make a difference in this country?

Roger Ream [00:26:14] Yeah, you’re asking me something that’s timely because I was talking to some of our program staff just this morning about how our how students changed over the years. One change, which I don’t think is for the better, is the observation made by someone on our team that students today more likely look toward political action to bring about a change. A lesson we try to convey in our programs is the idea of honorable leadership, community service and public service, but not just focused on government doing things, that more real change takes place bottom up and top down. Get active in your community, join civic organizations, homeowners’ associations, business groups, and make change that way. David Jones would stress this: if there’s a problem in your community, don’t wait for government, don’t lobby Washington, but get out there with organizing your friends and neighbors to do something about the problem. Build the Little League field where it’s needed or clean up some issue, deal with problems in your community.

Steve Slattery [00:27:24] Or start a business and hire people.

Roger Ream [00:27:26] Well, that’s a very important thing because too many young people think if you want to make the world a better place, that means work for a nonprofit. I try to emphasize that, you know, business has done more for most of us in curing diseases and making our lives easier and cleaner and better than nonprofit organizations, as valuable as they are. Even though I work for one, but I like to argue sometimes that people like everyone from Kellogg who lived 100 years ago to Bill Gates, have, I think, done better through their for-profit activities, making life better for all of us in the public and private sector through their for-profit than they did through their philanthropy.

Steve Slattery [00:28:08] Right. And of course, when people are successful, they become wealthy, and it’s part of the American tradition to give back to philanthropic giving. You meet many of these wealthy people through the work at TFAS. Can you tell me why they support this organization?

Roger Ream [00:28:27] Yeah, well, one thing that’s been a real pleasure in my career is meeting so many donors that support us. I mean, they’re such wonderful people. They have such interesting stories. They’ve created wealth where wealth didn’t exist before. You know, they weren’t redistributing a pie. They were making a bigger pie. The interaction with donors, you find lots of different types with different motivations, but most understand that if our country here is going to have a future, it’s going to come from influencing the rising generation. We’ve got to educate the rising generation so they understand the importance of a free enterprise system. They understand the connections between economic freedom, human flourishing and human dignity. They also know the importance of our system of government, of all the things tied to our founding, like checks and balances and separation of powers and limiting the government to its constitutional functions. So, our donors really want to get those across to young people, to imbue them with these same values of economic freedom, personal responsibility, honorable leadership, and courageous leadership. So, I’ve had the opportunity to meet millionaires to people with the ability to only make small contributions, but are really dedicated corporate people, foundation leaders. That’s just been wonderful to see them all kind of come together through TFAS to try to really make an impact on the rising generation.

Steve Slattery [00:30:01] In recent months, we’ve really helped bring in some big six and seven figure gifts that are going to be transformative to the organization. Why do you think this is happening? Why are donors making these big gifts?

Roger Ream [00:30:16] Well, there is a lot of concern, of course, about the direction of our country. You see that in the polls. So many people, no matter what their politics, think we’re going in the wrong direction. I think one real large concern that looms over a lot of people is the state of journalism in our country. We’ve become so divided, and we have our one set of media organizations that tell one story and another to tell a different story and that seem so biased with the conclusions they reach. As Richard Benedetto, our journalism professor, said on a podcast, when he went many years ago to journalism school, he learned a journalist’s job is to tell a story. “What did you see? Report what you saw. Don’t do it with an agenda.” And he finds so many journalism students today come with a very set in place political agenda, which he regrets and tries to get them to understand isn’t something they should carry into their journalism. So, that’s one reason we got a large support for expanding our journalism programs. We’re going to work much more closely with campuses to try to develop more young journalists while they’re in college, encourage young people to go into journalism as a career and then help get them through programs like the Novak and Rago program, where they can be well placed and supported as they go through that. So, we’re excited. We’ve starting the Center for Excellence in Journalism, which I think as we raise more money can really have an impact in improving journalism in this country. We’ve also had some large grants to focus on trying to reinforce the belief in free markets among some people, even some conservatives, as well as others who have become skeptical of free enterprise and free markets and think we need a more active government and doing central planning or industrial policy. So, in all sorts of levels in our young professional programs, we’re trying to reinforce the importance of free-market economics.

Steve Slattery [00:32:20] And yet we see these polls that show that some young people prefer socialism over capitalism. How does that make you feel?

Roger Ream [00:32:28] Well, it’s disturbing. I discount a little, but not a lot. I think sometimes it’s the way the questions are asked. I think young people do think entrepreneurship is important. Free enterprise does a little better than capitalism in those polls. I think in some cases, in many cases, it’s ignorance. I saw one follow up poll that asked students to define socialism, and they thought they didn’t know what it meant. They associate it more with Scandinavia than with Cuba, the Soviet Union or Venezuela, which is what you get with socialism. It’s discouraging to see. I just today saw the latest index of human freedom from the Cato Institute. And 94% of people in the world live in a country that’s less free than it was before COVID. I think COVID helped cause some backtracking on the belief that government is the answer to problems, and it’s important that we try to reinforce the mistakes that were made by government under COVID. But it just means we have to do more. As much as we’ve been trying, Steve, you and I both know, we need to do more to reach more students, educate more in different ways, so they come to understand that socialism is a path to suffering, poverty, worse environments, disease and lower life expectancy. What is often called capitalism but is individual liberty is a path to prosperity.

Steve Slattery [00:34:00] I think that’s why we emphasize economics in all our programs, from the high school to the collegiate level. That’s why we partnered with George Mason University, which has a renowned economics department. Talk about our partnership with George Mason.

Roger Ream [00:34:15] Just before I do, I will mention this partnership we also have now with the Fraser Institute in Canada, because that is called the Realities of Socialism project. That’s important too. So, students can understand, compare life in Poland or Estonia or elsewhere, the end of communism to before communism. Life was miserable in so many of these socialist countries. But then the George Mason Economics department is outstanding. We appreciate the partnership we have, or the collaboration, with George Mason. They’ve had several of their professors, Jim Buchanan, Vernon Smith, win Nobel Prizes – I almost said the Academy Award! – Nobel Prizes in Economics. We just have outstanding faculty. Don Boudreaux, long time member there, their department former chairman, teaches a course called Economics and the Citizen. Anne Bradley, who got her Ph.D. at George Mason, who’s our academic director. I could name them all. They’re just outstanding professors who have a passion for teaching. Chris Coyne. They really know how to effectively teach economics.

Steve Slattery [00:35:25] How do they reach some of these students who are coming into the classroom with negative perceptions of free markets?

Roger Ream [00:35:32] Yeah, it’s been interesting. I think the approach is, in a sense, on day one to say to students: “You know, I don’t care what your preconceived ideas are, your ideology. I’m going to assume that each of you wants to make the world a better place. Each of you want to see human flourishing. Each of you want to reduce poverty. We’re going to look at how the tools of economics can help accomplish that. How getting to the idea that there are only tradeoffs, you know, you can’t solve every problem whenever you spend money here, there’s less spent over there.” And to go through the basics of what we call the economic way of thinking really helps. It triggers lightbulbs in their heads, and they start to adopt this economic way of thinking in different aspects of their life. It’s what FTE does too, in Economics for Leaders. So it can be very transformational. You and I have known students who’ve decided as a result of the one course they took with us to transfer to George Mason, go to George Mason for grad school, because economics explains the way the world works in so many ways.

Steve Slattery [00:36:43] Yeah, they are great professors. You’ve also worked with some prominent people in the liberty movement, such as you mentioned, Phil Crane. You worked with Ron Paul, Leonard Read at FEE, Richard Fink, David Jones. Which of these people has had the biggest influence on you?

Roger Ream [00:36:59] Well, David Jones, certainly on the direction of my career was very important. When I was at FEE, working for Leonard Read, the author of “I, Pencil,” and many other works. It was very early in my career, and my job as director of seminars enabled me to spend my three years there doing a ton of reading. I would review some books for the Freeman Magazine. I’d just read books to increase my knowledge and prepare to lecture at seminars. So I read Ludwig von Mises “Human Action” and “Socialism” and many of his books. Read some Hayek. Henry Hazlitt I got to know well. He lived a half an hour, 30 minutes from FEE or so, and I would drive him down to seminars. Israel Kirzner, a great economics professor from New York University. I read Bastiat and others. Someone once said to me: “Oh, you’re going up to the monastery,” when I went there, and it was like three years in a monastery where you’re just studying things and it was very impactful. When I came back to Washington, I worked on Capitol Hill for a while, and I think I decided then that the answer is in politics. It was so hard to get things done. This was the early eighties and there wasn’t much opportunity. I did start a lecture program on Capitol Hill then for Ron Paul to bring in free market professors to speak to the interns, which led to a program we’re doing now. That was interesting. We had people like Walter Williams and even Murray Rothbard and others who were very interesting speakers who came.

Steve Slattery [00:38:36] That’s why Rand Paul came to you a few years after he came to the Senate and said: “I want to do a program like you did with my dad.”

Roger Ream [00:38:44] Yeah, he had come for the summer to intern. I think he was still in high school or a freshman in college. He spent the summer in Ron’s office, so when he became Senator Rand Paul, he got in touch about doing the same program. We are at our 11th year doing it now, I think, and four or five lectures every summer on the Hill. We pack that room with 200-300 students to hear, you know, the likes of John Mackey. We had Matt Taibbi a few weeks ago talking about free speech and free press and the Twitter files. We have Tulsi Gabbard coming this summer. Rand Paul. We’ve had Mike Lee, lots of great speakers.

Steve Slattery [00:39:18] Some prominent speakers. There and elsewhere in your career, you’ve met some giants of history through this job and others. You met Ronald Reagan when you’re in college, Margaret Thatcher, Vladislav Havel. Who among these heroes of history was the most exciting to meet?

Roger Ream [00:39:39] Well, I was a college student when I brought Reagan to Vanderbilt. He had just left office as governor and I met him a few times when he was in the White House, and once after he left his office in California. I had great admiration for him and what he accomplished. I think probably Margaret Thatcher, who I met on a couple of occasions, once at Parliament after she was prime minister, and had a chance just to talk with her. She told a great joke about Gorbachev, which I’ve forgotten, and I wish I could remember. Lech Valencia was a hero for his leadership of solidarity. I’ve met Havel. I always tried to get him to speak to our students, never succeeded.  I’m subsequently reading more of his writings, and I read a great biography of him last year. My admiration for him has grown quite a bit for his courage and willingness to go to jail to oppose communism, it’s remarkable. People like that, I think, now Jimmy Lai, who’s sitting in prison in Hong Kong, who’s someone I think should be our hero for what he’s willing to give up, a billionaire who could easily have gotten on a plane and left Hong Kong behind, has stayed there to fight. We’ve had others like that in our lives. I always wanted to meet Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had a communication with his secretary, but it never led to a meeting. He was a larger-than-life figure.

Steve Slattery [00:41:10] Speaking of Havel, what was it like being in Prague in the early nineties when things were so fresh for democracy and freedom?

Roger Ream [00:41:17] Yeah, my first trip to the region was 1990-1991, I guess, right around then. Prague and Warsaw, Budapest, Krakow, places like that were only barely emerging from communism. You really saw the contrast between the changes taking place, some buildings being renovated, and Havel called it “The wild, wild East.” Things are interesting. One of the more profound trips I took a few years later was to Berlin. I’d never been there before that, so the wall had been down five years probably. But to see that there the wall for the most part, had been taken down, but you knew you were passing where the wall was not because of markers, but because the difference between the buildings that were in the West and the buildings architecture. I visited a Stasi prison where the tour guides were former prisoners. Our guide was a guy who had trained to go over the wall to attend a Rolling Stones concert and got put in this prison. We went to the Stasi headquarters. It was incredible to see the difference in Potsdam. Every other house was a beautiful, well renovated home to a dilapidated, black, dirty building that was falling apart as they slowly renovated the homes and Potsdam. The liberation from communism. So, a lot of amazing experiences. Hong Kong was amazing. Santiago, Chile, where we do a program is interesting place to visit because it’s such an outlier from the rest of South America.

Steve Slattery [00:42:55] In addition to those trips, what memories stand out to you as a key part of your job over the last 30 some years?

Roger Ream [00:43:07] Well, I think about the things we’ve accomplished. I think the growth of our programs in journalism and for young professionals is very important. Going to year-round programming, which really was pushed by you when you first joined us. We saw that as a natural thing to do and we accomplished it. Establishing overseas programs. There’s been a lot. Hard to narrow it down to a few things, but in the end, it comes down to, I think, just the testimonials of the graduates and the things we’ve done through their lives to make a difference. We have alums reaching hundreds of thousands of people every day through the radio, TV and writing they’re doing. Millions of people are reached every day by our alumni. We have alumni who are just making a difference through nonprofits, through business, and in so many ways. I think that’s our greatest accomplishment.

Steve Slattery [00:44:06] One catchphrase we’ve been using recently is courageous leadership. Why is that important in the context of TFAS?

Roger Ream [00:44:14] Well, I think it’s become increasingly important. When we with the board reviewed our mission statement two years ago, I think that was like the one little change we made is put in front of the word leadership, the modifier, courageous leadership, because today it takes courage to speak out, to voice an opinion that’s unorthodox or bucks the establishment. You have to be prepared to be canceled. That’s true if you’re in many universities in this country, many of which voice a commitment to free speech, but when it comes down to it, don’t adhere to it. So, we decided we have to emphasize with our students the willingness to be courageous. I heard someone the other day talk about fear being something you can’t avoid. It’s how you respond to fear, how you respond to threats and to stick to your principles, to stick to the values you think is important, and to preserve those values while speaking out is a sign of true courage.

Steve Slattery [00:45:17] How do you make sure that TFAS students, alumni and staff work to practice courageous leadership?

Roger Ream [00:45:25] Well, we bring in role models, show them examples of leadership. You know, that’s the theme that you developed for our Capitol Hill Lecture Series this summer. So, our speakers, our people have been willing to buck the establishment and face slings and arrows for doing so in some cases. Matt Taibbi, for instance, who wrote about the Twitter files. He’s been attacked not only by colleagues in the press, but the IRS comes to his house the day he testifies before Congress. So, it does take courage. I hope it’ll never come to the kinds of things like what happened to Jimmy Lai or Alexander Solzhenitsyn in this country. I hope we avoid the need for that kind of courage. But it takes people being courageous now. So, I think students get that message through the course of the summer with the kinds of guest lectures we bring in, the examples we talk about. We seem to be, I think, making that impact by constantly talking about it.

Steve Slattery [00:46:29] Let’s go back a little bit to your childhood. You grew up in Wisconsin. I think everyone who knows you knows you’re a big Green Bay Packers fan. Can you talk a little bit about how your Midwest upbringing influenced your values and your career?

Roger Ream [00:46:44] I was hoping you wouldn’t bring up the Packers now that they have to try to start with a new quarterback and rebuild. My father was a minister, so I was regular with my church attendance and Sunday school attendance, and around the dinner table, particularly on Sundays, he would often pose ethical dilemmas. He asked my three siblings and me to try to give our opinions of what you would do in certain situations. So, we were always having those kinds of conversations on a regular basis. It probably helped build a strong commitment to living a life as morally as possible in adherence with your moral code. I went to Vanderbilt from Wisconsin and never went back. I think Wisconsin is a great place to grow up. It’s a town where the people are generally friendly and have hardworking values. My grandfather was born on a farm in Wisconsin and left when he was 18 and ended up a small businessman in Utah, of all places. My dad came back for his career as a minister, and then also in my career, I’ve had role models. Some of them we haven’t talked about today. I was fortunate in 1984 to meet Charles and David Koch when we were starting Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Charles and David served on the board. I’ve always had a great admiration for Charles Koch as someone who was an intellectual, someone who studied hard, read a lot, learned a lot, not only in his field of business, but in political economy and political organization. He’s always been willing to stick to his principles and adhere to high ethical standards. There are people like that who could easily decide to take the easier path of “go along to get along.” But they stick with pursuing what they know is right and are willing to take, again, the slings and arrows that may come along with that.

Steve Slattery [00:48:49] Are there other people like Charles Koch who you’re grateful to for helping you get where you are today?

Roger Ream [00:48:57] Well, there was a businessman in Milwaukee who was one of my father’s best friends, Bill Law. He owned several leather tanneries and served on the board of FEE and on the board of IHS. He was a guy who I admired a lot. He’d never graduated from college. I think he said he’d attended about 16 different academic institutions, but he was one of the smarter people I know. He spoke four or five languages. He would go to the country where he wanted to learn. If he wanted to learn French, he’d do a two-week Berlitz school in the U.S. and then go to France for a few weeks and only be with people who speak French. He knew economics as well as anyone, and he learned it. He was a strong believer in free markets, but he studied Marxism, and read Marx in order to understand what was wrong in it. So, he was someone I really admired. I could name others. Working with Randy Teague as our chairman, he’s always been pushing us to do more, to accomplish more, to build bigger programs. That’s been a big plus for what we’ve accomplished as well, as you know. So, there are a lot of others we can name, but I know time is short.

Steve Slattery [00:50:08] You met, I think, all but one of the TFAS founders, probably.

Roger Ream [00:50:11] Yeah. Marvin Liebman, Walter Judd, David Jones and William F. Buckley. Of course, I brought Buckley to Vanderbilt when I was a student there, thanks to David Jones. He was a remarkable guy. I read a lot of his books and he was kind enough to speak at our memorial program for David Jones and was a fascinating man.

Steve Slattery [00:50:36] The only one you didn’t meet was Charles Edison.

Roger Ream [00:50:39] Charles Edison, son of the inventor of Thomas Edison. He died shortly after we were founded in 1967, so we didn’t have a chance to get to know him.

Steve Slattery [00:50:50] I think we’re getting to the end here. I just want to ask you, as we move on past the 50th episode of the podcast, where do you see the podcast going?

Roger Ream [00:50:59] Well, there’s no limit, I think, on the number of alums who are living impactful lives we could bring on. So, we’ve got a list of those alums I’d like to schedule in the coming months. There are some professors still that have fascinating things to talk about in their teaching for us. So, I think there’ll be no shortage of guests that we can bring on for interesting conversations in the future.

Steve Slattery [00:51:26] How can listeners help advance this podcast, help it grow and advance the mission of TFAS?

Roger Ream [00:51:34] They should of course listen to it, share it, review it on whatever device they listen to it on, whether it’s Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, whatever, and just encourage others to listen as well. Our guests have been great at sending it out through Twitter and other social media to promote it as well. So, I think over time the audience will grow.

Steve Slattery [00:52:03] Well, thank you. Thanks for letting me be a part of this podcast, the 50th episode. It’s been a pleasure and an honor.

Roger Ream [00:52:09] Maybe at number 100, I can interview you.

Steve Slattery [00:52:11] Sounds good.

Roger Ream [00:52:15] Thanks Steve.

Roger Ream [00:52:15] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcast. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal studios in Washington, DC. I’m your host, Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.


About the Podcast

TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.

Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.

If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.

View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.

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