The Policy of Andrew Young
Atlanta icon lends his legacy to GSU
Story by Kathleen Poe Ross
Photography by Meg Buscema
From the window of his 44th floor office on the northern end of downtown Atlanta, Andrew Young has a panoramic view of the city. With Freedom Parkway to the east and Centennial Olympic Park to the west, he can look down Peachtree Street, out over Georgia State University, the State Capitol's Gold Dome and the neo-Gothic tower of Atlanta City Hall, to the Atlanta airport and beyond. For most business people, this vista would create an impressive conference room backdrop; for Young, who turned 80 this spring, it's a career retrospective.
These and other landmarks recall moments in Young's storied career: his civil rights work with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; his service as a U.S. congressman and then ambassador to the United Nations; his two terms as mayor of Atlanta; his championing of Atlanta as an Olympic host city; and his dedicated civic leadership. Monuments to Young's accomplishments are found throughout the city, but none carries his legacy into the future like GSU's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
GSU was in Young's orbit long before the policy school bore his name — or even existed. In the 1970s, his congressional campaign office sat across the street from campus, and he recruited students to pass out handbills and drum up support. The university was much smaller in those days; conventional wisdom among the administration held that GSU would never be a residential university. "It was essentially a night school for businesspeople," Young says. "Period. Full stop."
More than a decade later, Mayor Young was riding high on a wave of growth in Atlanta, hoping to cement its status as the next great international city. With GSU at the heart of downtown, it was natural that Young should be invested in the school's welfare; increased prestige for GSU meant increased prestige for Atlanta, and vice versa. Michael Mescon, then dean of the College of Business Administration at GSU (later named for J. Mack Robinson), recognizing the need to study and understand the dynamism of that time, enlisted Young's help in recruiting to GSU an economist and public finance expert from Syracuse University named Roy Bahl.
"I said, 'Why don't you come on down to the sunshine?'" Young says. He had found his pitch in the discovery that Bahl was originally from Florida. Georgia State needed a public policy department, he said, to track the extraordinary developments unfolding in Atlanta. "What we're doing is working for Atlanta, and there's nothing in any other city in the world that's working as well as Atlanta's working. We need to figure out how and why."
Bahl joined GSU in 1988, and former president Carl Patton — "one of the true downtown visionaries," Young calls him — followed soon after. In 1996, under their leadership, the College of Public and Urban Affairs was dissolved and replaced with a new School of Policy Studies, with Bahl at the helm as dean. His was the idea to name the school after Andrew Young, which was made official three years after the school was founded.
"To me it was quite obvious who the name [on the school] ought to be," says Bahl, whose tenure as dean lasted until 2007. "We were interested in international [policy], and we were interested in governance, and we were interested in analysis of social policy, and we were going to have a not-for-profit program — you know, all of the things that Andrew Young was fit what we wanted to do." In the traditional model, a school or building is named for or by a donor following a significant personal financial gift to an institution; in this case, Coca-Cola established a million-dollar scholarship fund for the school, and Young's gift was the conferral of his name and reputation.
The editorial board of The Atlanta Constitution endorsed the deal, writing that the Board of Regents should support the "naming [of] an institution for a person whose contributions have been social and political rather than financial." They continued, "... Although imperfectly at times, Young has always sought to blend his belief in economic and social equality with his staunch support for the sometimes harsh machinery of capitalism. ... Exploring that theme seems a fitting mission, as well, for a school of policy studies named for Young."
Now in its 16th year, the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies has carved out a niche of influence and excellence, as well as a few plum spots in the U.S. News and World Report national rankings. This year, the school broke into the top 25, the nonprofit management program was ranked no. 12, and the public finance program was rated no. 4 — a remarkable feat for a school that didn't exist two decades ago.
"We have taken his life and work as the touchstone for our mission as a school," says Harvey Newman, professor and chair of the department of public management and policy. "He's much more than just 'name over door' — he's been very active in helping to shape the school."
Leading convocations, presenting panel discussions and giving guest lectures are just a few of the ways in which Young guides his namesake school. He's been known to come up with an idea for a program and hand it off so someone else can take credit for it, and he is not shy about using his considerable influence to benefit AYSPS. Ten years ago, what might have otherwise been a low-key 70th birthday celebration became a star-studded, see-and-be-seen event to raise money for student scholarships. Former President Bill Clinton caught wind of it and called up to say that he wanted to come, although he couldn't stay for dinner; and would it be alright if he gave a lecture at the school while he was in town?
Impromptu economic summits tend to pop up when Young is around. On another occasion, Bahl recalls, "He called me and said, 'Hey, get some of the guys together, I want to talk about economics this afternoon. Can you do that?'" Bahl says. "And so, here he comes in with this guy in flowing robes — it was the president of Nigeria. Go figure, right?"
Young moves to Atlanta, becomes a key figure in the Civil Rights movement.
Young begins his career in Congress, serving more than two terms.
Young is appointed United States Ambassador to the United Nations by then President Jimmy Carter.
Young is elected mayor of Atlanta, during which time he brings to the city $70 billion in new private investment.
Young Serves as co-chair of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, leading the effort in bringing the Centennial Olympic Games to Atlanta.
The College of Public and Urban Affairs is dissolved and replaced with the School of Policy Studies under Dean Roy Bahl.
The School of Policy Studies at GSU is named after Ambassador Andrew Young.
Economics has been a topic of particular interest to Young, as it figures heavily into the so-called "public-purpose capitalism" he champions — the notion that private profits can be leveraged for public good in the fight against poverty. He takes issue with the many economists who were born into privilege and never had to work for a living. Future economists, he says, should be people who understand job creation and have a vision of how profits affect humanity. Young ascribes to a traditional Native American belief that was shared with him during his ambassadorship: that decisions must not be made for short-term or personal gain, but "for seven generations yet unborn."
"If we're going to deal with poverty, if we're going to generate jobs, we have to have economic policies that produce jobs," Young says. A preacher by training, he explains that his take on public policy is rooted in the Bible. "The reason I think of economics as important, the reason I think of Wall Street as important, is not because I want to be rich, but because I learned in Sunday school that Jesus said, to get into heaven you have to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and set at liberty those who are oppressed.
"Dr. King used to say, 'I admire the Good Samaritan, but I don't want to be one. I don't want to pick up people on the Jericho road after they've been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road so that they don't get beaten up and robbed,'" Young says. "That's public policy."
Young continues to spread his gospel of good policy both here and abroad through the Andrew Young Foundation, established in 2003, and GoodWorks International, his consulting group focused on connecting U.S. businesses to the emerging markets of Africa and the Caribbean. With these organizations and the Andrew Young School as his pulpit, Young hopes that the lesson that both individuals and communities can do well by doing good will take root across the globe.
In educating the next generation of policymakers at the Andrew Young School, Young says, we are not just training people to work in the United States; we're training the world. He and his wife, Carolyn McClain Young, set up a fellowship in her name to attract and support graduate students from countries in the Caribbean or on the African continent who are leaders in their respective homelands. The school's International Center for Public Policy offers a dual master's degree with an Indonesian university. More than 30 nationalities are represented among students and faculty, who are working on policy projects in more than 60 countries.
No matter where they come from, Young believes students can learn from what he calls Atlanta's fairness formula: "That we could go forward if we all went forward together," Young says. "Other cities were trying to take this group forward or that group forward, and they weren't getting anywhere. We've always been able to package ideas to include everyone, and I think that's the key to the city's success." Many AYSPS graduates will leave Atlanta after their studies for other cities, perhaps even other countries or continents, but Young believes they will have learned something about the way cities run just by having lived here for a while. "Hopefully the world will see some of the things that we've made work here and they will go back to their countries and help make good things happen there," Young says.
Atlanta's transformation from southern capital city to international metropolis didn't happen overnight, and it couldn't have happened without Young's visionary leadership. His memoir, "An Easy Burden," is a firsthand account from the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement that concludes with his election to congress in 1972. There is no written record of Young's subsequent years as a politician, ambassador and civic leader. To fill that gap, the Andrew Young School has partnered with the Andrew Young Foundation on a project with a working title of "The Making of Modern Atlanta" that will document Young's impact on the city. Andrea Young, the ambassador's eldest daughter and executive director of the Andrew Young Foundation, is spearheading the effort with Harvey Newman, leading the charge from the university side. They have conducted some 50 interviews with prominent Atlantans over the past year with help from several AYSPS graduate research assistants for the first phase of the project. This multimedia, multiyear undertaking — known as the Legacy Project — will culminate in a second memoir, a documentary DVD and exhibits around the school.
Current AYSPS Dean Mary Beth Walker says the faculty is in the process of developing a course that will focus on public policy as it pertains to the city of Atlanta to highlight for students what an effective leader their school's namesake truly has been. "One of the thoughts behind the Legacy Project is finding ways to infuse what Ambassador Young does and what he has stood for into more of our curriculum," she says.
AYSPS and the Andrew Young Foundation are deeply invested in documenting Young's life through the Legacy Project and preserving his rich history, but at this rate, they may not ever catch up to him. He reads voraciously, takes meetings and gives interviews every day, always keeping an eye out for the next opportunity. Although many of the buildings and streets his office overlooks signify deals negotiated or partnerships forged during his career, Young sees beyond all that as he gazes out over the city and the university below.
It isn't the past that he's focused on, he says. "I like looking off into the future."
Read more about the Young family's investment in scholarship at GSU here.