Former mayor Annise Parker must have had a good time teaching at Harvard University this semester, because yesterday, Rice University announced that Parker has accepted another fellowship, this time at Rice's Doerr Institute for New Leaders.
As a fellow with the institute, Parker, a 1978 Rice alum, will be working with groups of elected members of student government on developing leadership skills, though the specifics of her job haven't yet been nailed down. She'll be the first fellow that the Doerr Institute has hired since it got off the ground last August, thanks to a $50 million grant — the largest in the school's history. She'll also be teaching a social sciences course that also hasn't yet been determined.
“During my 20-year career in the oil industry and 18 years in public service, my attachment to and affection for Rice were always evident,” Parker said in a statement. “I am honored and excited by the opportunity to return and work with students who will shape our world. Each of us faces challenges; all of us are called to lead in some way. I look forward to helping Rice students realize and develop their leadership potential.”
Tom Kolditz, director of the Doerr Institute, said that the institute is among the most comprehensive university leadership programs in the country, something he and the staff are “deliriously happy” about given how brand-new it is. He's expecting 600 to 700 students to be enrolled in the elective program next fall, each of whom will have his or her own personal certified leadership coach. While Parker's role is new and not entirely ironed out yet, Kolditz said the university reached out to her to offer her the gig because of the perspective she gained as an elected official for nearly two decades in one of the largest and most diverse cities in America. Parker spent 2010 to 2015 as the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, six years as a city council member and six as city controller.
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“There's a real-world quality about her,” Kolditz said. “She's had great successes, but she's also had some frustrations and failures. I think it's really important that students see people who have actually been in the arena. To me, she brings a level of realism that's really valuable.”
Parker just finished up a similar teaching assignment as a fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics, leading a three-month seminar she titled “Is Governing Possible?” Her syllabus provides a peek into the conflicts she grappled with as mayor in Houston on a daily basis, covering everything from speech delivery to knowing when to "toss a grenade or seek consensus." It's unclear whether Parker will simply continue fellowship-hopping or take her leadership expertise to bigger places, though it looks like she stays pretty busy: Parker currently serves on President Barack Obama's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary’s Advisory Council, and chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors Criminal and Social Justice Committee, among other things.
Regardless of where she heads next, Kolditz said that Parker's decision to stop in at Rice will prove to be a big win for students.
“People who are in these kinds of roles are not doing it because they need a job,” Kolditz said. “This is, in many respects, Annise Parker being generous to us in terms of her time and willingness to do this and give back to students.”