Each year, TFAS Public Policy Fellows explore the themes fundamental to a free society by studying the American Founding: The Experiment in Self Government. The nine-month program gives young public policy professionals the chance to dive into the foundational elements of freedom that yield effective governance.
Fellow Jacob Lane, PPF ’20, said the Public Policy Fellowship is vital, especially with today’s heightened tensions, misinformation and cancel culture.
“It is important to study and analyze the big issues of our day,” he said. “Without a deep understanding of the topic at hand, how can one provide recommendations to key policy issues? TFAS’s Public Policy Fellowship provides a unique setting for participants to bounce ideas off one another while gaining insight from each other’s background and experience in the policy space.”
TFAS’s Public Policy Fellowship provides a unique setting for participants to bounce ideas off one another while gaining insight from each other’s background and experience in the policy space.” – Jacob Lane, PPF ’20
Find out more about the Fellows’ monthly discussion sessions, academic retreats and in-depth curriculum below.
September: Welcome Reception
In September, TFAS welcomed a new cohort of young professionals who work at the nation’s leading think tanks, government offices and policy organizations in Washington, D.C., to the 2020-21 TFAS Public Policy Fellowship.
During the opening session and orientation on Sept. 8, Fellows heard from TFAS International professor and research fellow at Hillsdale College, Dr. David Azerrad, and executive director of the Claremont Institute’s D.C. Center, Dr. Arthur Milikh. Through an interactive discussion session, Fellows engaged in an honest assessment of America’s current political conditions.
U.K. native and current Fellow Luke Timmons, PPF ’20, welcomed the opportunity to participate in topical discussions with two policy experts. Now more than ever, Timmons believes in the significance of challenging the U.S.’s current political state in a constructive manner. He was enthusiastic about embracing new ideals of the American Founding through the immersive Fellowship.
“When I came across the Fellowship, I knew I had to apply,” Timmons said. “I knew this would be an enriching experience and opportunity to dive deeper into the concepts of free market economics and limited government through thoughtful discussion and meaningful engagement with recent and historic literature.”
October: Retreat to Lincoln’s Cottage
During a day-long retreat in October, TFAS Public Policy Fellows considered how engaging in political discourse can shed light on the moral issues of the American experiment of liberty. They explored the political and historical implications of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates through a series of discussion sessions and a guided tour of President Lincoln’s Cottage.
The retreat began with a luncheon lecture by Chief Operating Officer at CURE, Dr. William B. Allen. Dr. Allen’s lecture, “Illuminating Darkness,” examined some of the arguments and principles at stake during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephan A. Douglas during the 1858 Illinois state election campaign. As Dr. Allen demonstrated, Lincoln was aware that the perpetuation of the republic is not guaranteed and that the direction and survival of a nation is dependent on the actions and dedication of its people.
This lecture encouraged Fellow Calvin Blaylock, PPF ’20, to continue to shed light on the many issues facing American society today through his work as a policy professional.
“Dr. Allen began with an exhortation to engage in politics as a light that illuminates the darkness, and to make that encouragement, he walked us through the Lincoln-Douglas debates,” Blaylock shared.
November: Lincoln-Douglas Debates Continue
November presented the Fellows with an opportunity to expound on what they learned during their October retreat at President Lincoln’s Cottage and learn about the principles on which our nation was founded through the medium of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. The Fellows explored the concepts of popular sovereignty and equality by analyzing their prevalence throughout history. They debated which of those two ideas has guided U.S. leaders by engaging in a lecture and discussion with Dr. Colleen Sheehan, an expert on the American Founding and the director of graduate studies and professor at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University.
December: Religious Freedom
In December, the Fellows discussed freedom of religion with TFAS alumna Lori Windham ’00, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Her lecture, entitled “Religious Freedom as an Answer to Religious Division,” explained how religious liberty is essential for the propping up of civil liberties, rather than adversarial to it.
Windham traced some of the challenges to religious liberty in the past as well as some of the tensions today and shared insight on potential new supreme court cases.
The TFAS Public Policy Fellowship challenged me to find my voice. It has given me the confidence to engage with my peers in open and pleasant conversations about American political philosophy, public policy, and the future of the country.” – Colleen Harmon, PPF ’20
January: Free Speech
The new year began with a frank discussion on freedom of speech with Dr. Arthur Milikh posing the question, “Will America ban hate speech?” The Fellows discussed how freedom of speech is essential for forming the habits of a free people. The discussion highlighted how free speech is crucial for deliberation and debate and how it influences people to use reason rather than force.
Drawing on themes brought forth from the Constitution and First Amendment to frame the discussion, Dr. Milikh pointed out that even though it may seem like free speech and the use of reasoning are common among modern populations, these ideas are actually a fairly unique aspect of the American character. At this meeting, the Fellows learned firsthand through their own discourse the importance of free speech.
February: Exploring American National Character
In February the Fellows convened in Charlottesville, Virginia, for an academic retreat on “American National Character.” Fellows discussed seminal texts, decrees, speeches and letters from America’s Founding and explored what can be done to renew a unified and spirited commitment to freedom and self-reliance today.
Dr. Azerrad opened the weekend with a timely lecture on some of the modern challenges to the Founders’ vision of citizenship, particularly the tenants of identity politics. This lesson had a significant impact on Nathaniel Urban, PPF ’20, who shared that the lecture was a “crucial” reminder of the Founders’ ideas and the threats he and his peers working in the policy world face as they navigate today’s political climate.
“He reminded us that at the time of the American Founding, the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ in terms of skin color do not appear in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution,” Urban said. “That is because these documents do not appeal to a specific race, but to all humanity under the influence of natural law.”
March: Perils to Citizenship
In March, Fellows learned about “The Perils to Citizenship in the Democratic Age” with Dr. Josh Mitchell. He provided an insightful and strong case for the importance of civic associations, particularly in democratic societies. These mediating institutions combat the problems of loneliness and isolation, encouraging habits of citizens rather than private individuals. He related Tocqueville’s work to modern times, cautioning against the use of supplements, such as Facebook friends or online shopping, as substitutes for meaningful connection.
Fellow Sam Lucas, PPF ’20, a legal assistant at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, especially enjoyed this meeting. He appreciated how Dr. Mitchell delved into the topic and presented different points of view.
“Our session with Dr. Joshua Mitchell was one of my favorites of the entire Fellowship,” Lucas said. “Dr. Mitchell’s perspective on the ongoing Western and American identity crises was insightful on many levels, politically, culturally and even spiritually. I especially enjoyed his discussion of the scapegoating phenomenon that identity politics creates, as well as the malaise resulting from the modern tendency to use what should be supplementary technology as ersatz substitutes for real human needs.”
April: Understanding Unalienable Rights
TFAS Public Policy Fellows heard directly from a key player in the creation of the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, Dr. Peter Berkowitz, during their April academic discussion dinner.
Now the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Berkowitz is the former executive secretary of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights and senior adviser to the Secretary of State. Berkowitz and the Fellows discussed the history of human rights in the U.S. by exploring the American founding, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the publishing of the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.
Megan Rohn, PPF ’20, said the discussion reminded her that Americans should never compromise the nation’s long-held values of supporting human rights in international relations to merely appease a military and economic competitor abroad.
“This talk helped underscore the fact that certain politicians tend to turn the other cheek when autocracies like China commit human rights abuses in order to keep the peace, and that this behavior is morally reprehensible and runs counter to the principles of the American founding,” she said. “In order to continue bearing the torch of global leadership, America needs to call out totalitarian states instead of appeasing them for economic or cultural reasons.”
May: Farewell Dinner
On May 18, 2021, TFAS Public Policy Fellows completed the program with a celebratory closing dinner at TFAS headquarters.
Colleen Harmon, PPF ’20, noted her gratitude for the ways the Fellowship challenged her and encouraged her to grow. She feels thankful for the opportunity to actively pursue a deeper understanding of such vital themes alongside her fellow policy professionals.
“In my professional role, I am often standing behind the scenes and not in the seat at the table,” she shared. “The TFAS Public Policy Fellowship challenged me to find my voice. Surrounded as I am by brilliant peers, I know I must be prepared and speak well, but I must also be open to having my mind changed. It has given me the confidence to engage with my peers in open and pleasant conversations about American political philosophy, public policy, and the future of the country.”
Summarizing his experience as a Fellow, Sam Lucas, PPF ’20, said, “The TFAS Public Policy Fellowship has been a wonderful experience. As a working professional with no formal education in policy or political theory, I am constantly seeking opportunities to grow in my knowledge of the American tradition to better inform my understanding of our political condition today. TFAS filled that need perfectly and in a way that allowed me to build real intellectual friendships, which I appreciated ever so much during this year of pandemic.”
If you or someone you know is an early-career public policy professional working in the D.C. area and this Fellowship is of interest, check out other program information at TFAS.org/PPF. We are accepting applications now through June 1.