February 04, 2009

Yepsen to lead Paul Simon Public Policy Institute

by Tom Woolf

David Yepsen
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Veteran journalist David A. Yepsen covered every Iowa presidential caucus campaign since 1976, including Paul Simon’s 1988 bid for the Democratic nomination.

In his book about that campaign, “Winners and Losers,” Simon wrote, “Every four years, the chief political reporter for the Des Moines Register becomes the most important reporter in the nation. It is a position that could cause vanity and abuse. To his credit, David Yepsen handled this position with sensitivity and balance. And he worked hard.”

Yepsen now is poised to lead the institute founded by the late U.S. senator from Illinois.

At a news conference today (Feb. 4), Southern Illinois University Carbondale officials introduced Yepsen as the new director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. He replaces Mike Lawrence, who retired last November. Lawrence became director in October 2004 following Simon’s death in December 2003.

Matt Baughman has been serving as interim director. Yepsen will begin his new duties April 1.

Chancellor Samuel Goldman said that Yepsen’s extensive knowledge of public policy and experience in higher education will serve him well in his new role.

“He brings a firm commitment to public service, to contributing to the education of our students, and to upholding the vision that Paul Simon had when he founded this institute,” Goldman said.

Simon’s daughter, Sheila, who chairs the institute’s Board of Counselors, said, “I am thrilled David Yepsen has decided to join us. His national prominence and experience at Harvard will be real assets to the institute.”

A nationally recognized political analyst, Yepsen began his career with the Des Moines Register as the police and county government reporter in 1974. His tenure at the paper included six years as Iowa statehouse reporter, 11 years as chief political reporter and six years as political editor. He has been writing his political column, which appears three times a week, since 2000.

Yepsen has also been a commentator on Iowa politics and presidential caucus campaigns on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’ “Face the Nation, ABC’s “This Week,” National Public Radio, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. He co-hosted the 2007 Iowa Presidential Debate on ABC-TV with George Stephanopoulos.

In 2008, Yepsen served as a fellow at the Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School, where he led a study group of students examining the presidential nominating process. In 1989, he was a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

A 1972 graduate of the University of Iowa, Yepsen earned a master’s degree in public administration in 1985 from Drake University.

Asked why he sought the institute position, Yepsen said, “Paul Simon’s legacy prompted me to apply. I am really interested in spending the rest of my life in public service, teaching and working with students and working in the public policy arena.

“I am a great admirer of his and I have been to the institute and the campus several times,” he added. “I like the University and the people here. Also, I grew up in a small town in Iowa that was not far different from much of Southern Illinois. When this position came open, I thought this could be a really good fit for me.”

He said the institute presents a “nice combination of academic work and public policy work,” noting it reminds him of the Harvard Kennedy School “in terms of bringing students, academicians and practitioners together to solve problems.”

Once on the job, Yepsen said he plans “to listen, talk to people and see what direction they think we ought to go. You lead by consensus.”

Two issues he hopes to explore are the needs of higher education, particularly students, and ethics in government.

“If you think of Paul, those are two things he was known for,” Yepsen said.