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Advice for President Obama: IU faculty members have their say

Imagine you're sharing an elevator ride with President Barack Obama, and he asks your advice -- about something you've spent your professional career studying.

That's the challenge Perspectives on Policy posed to almost 30 Indiana University faculty members, including experts in health care, energy, education, the environment, technology, economic and tax policy, and other fields. Their responses -- varied in tone and content, but without exception thoughtful and passionate -- make up this issue.

The authors of these "elevator speeches" write with deep awareness of the difficulties facing the new administration. "Mr. President," says law professor Fred Cate, who directs the IU Center on Applied Cybersecurity Research, "you have won the most important -- and, I suspect, most difficult -- job in the world." Yet they get right to the task, offering a range of ideas:

  • Boost consumer spending by using federal funds to reduce state sales taxes.
  • Use the power of technology to improve citizens' health, not just the health care system.
  • Take advantage of the global interest in learning English to help young Americans engage with the world.
  • Reach out to China and India, the world's most populous countries, to tackle climate change.
  • Create an Arts Corps of people to share the experience of having one's life changed by art.

While many of the suggestions are analytical and policy oriented, others are direct and personal.

"I ask you to first, send your two adorable girls to ballet class," writes Michael Vernon, chair of the Department of Ballet at the IU Jacobs School of Music. "It will send such a powerful message to children all over the world."

The experts urge Obama to heed expertise, and they take heart from his inaugural promise to "restore science to its rightful place."

"But we need to value science for what it can teach us about uncertainty, as well as for its ability to reduce uncertainty," writes conservation biologist Vicky Meretsky. Science, she adds, can provide strategies for "weathering surprises, reducing damage and hastening recovery."

While Perspectives on Policy is written for you, the readers, the fact is that some of this advice has already found its way to the new president, where at least some of it has been heard and implemented.

  • Lisa Bingham, a SPEA faculty member, served on Obama's Urban Policy Committee/Collaborative Governance Task Force, which produced white papers for the campaign. On his first day in office, President Obama signed an executive order on transparency and openness in government, which reflected the group's input.
  • Fred Cate, the IU Bloomington law professor, advised the Obama campaign on cybersecurity issues.
  • Leslie Lenkowsky, another SPEA professor, shared his views on whether national service should be expanded on Monday at a Washington, D.C., symposium sponsored by the Hudson Institute.

For all the range and depth of the advice that we've gathered, it only scratches the surface of Indiana University policy expertise -- and of the issues facing the Obama administration.

Even so, we believe these contributions should spark productive discussions by policy makers and by citizens. As you read them, we urge you to share the comments that strike you as true and important. Send them to your neighbors. Send them to your congressman or congresswoman. Yes, send them to your president.

Mr. President, are you listening?