The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Letter from Interim Director J.Russell Muirhead

Article Type 

Dear Friends,


I’ve always admired the Rockefeller Center, looking at it from my office next door in the Government Department, but now that I know it from the inside, I not only admire it, I love it. Seeing the Rockefeller Center from the inside gave me a vantage on its work I never would have had otherwise.

One cold evening back in February, I left my family over dinner and made my way to the Rockefeller Center to drop in on a gathering of the Management and Leadership Development Program. The sight warmed this teacher’s heart: students in all their diversity, earnest and happy, shoulder to shoulder over plates of Indian food, sharing and talking, learning and exploring, connecting, and becoming friends. Looking over the room, eavesdropping a bit on the conversations, I couldn’t help but wish I were a student too, sitting among them, learning to understand the world by understanding each other. This is the soul of Dartmouth College.

The sense of mission that marks the culture of the staff and faculty at Rocky was never more impressive than in the last weeks of March—and throughout the spring term—after the pandemic caused Dartmouth to cancel on-site classes for the spring term. The faculty threw themselves into the task. They mastered new technologies—Charlie Wheelan’s video midterm-oral examinations are something to behold. And they did everything they could to make the term a success—Herschel Nachlis must still be exhausted by the way he poured himself into his spring term classes.

The Rocky staff pivoted to remote programming overnight, and made it all happen. I think it is no hyperbole to say they made Dartmouth happen. As one student said, “In a lot of my other Zoom classes, I have not had the opportunity to connect with my classmates on a deeper level. I felt like the small breakout rooms during RGLP allowed me to do that.” Connecting with classmates on a deeper level—isn’t that the beating heart of Dartmouth College? Excuse my enthusiasm: but take it from me, the faculty and staff at Rocky were tested this year like in no other. And they revealed what they are made of.

Yet the test is not over. Beyond our local situation, the urgency of our moment is intensified by the belated realization that racism and institutionalized racial discrimination are real—and that something must be done. Stephen Stills’ line from the 1967 single, “For What It’s Worth” comes to mind: “there’s something happening here; and what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Something’s happening, and a lot of something needs to change. The Rockefeller Center has a great role to play in inspiring and preparing our students to renovate their country and their world—even as the Center itself may need to change too, in ways that are not easy to predict.

My confidence that Rocky will meet the challenge of our time is underlined by the arrival of our new director, Professor Jason Barabas, Dartmouth Class of 1993. Jason is a brilliant political scientist who specializes in American public opinion. With Jason’s leadership, with devotion that characterizes Ron Shaiko (the associate director) and Sadhana Hall (the deputy director) and indeed everyone at Rocky, I have no doubt that the Center will meet the challenge that the next year promises to bring. As we welcome Jason, let us resolve also to support him, and to offer him everything we can – our ideas, our work, our encouragement. If we show him what we’re made of, he will soon feel as grateful as I am to be part of the Rockefeller Center community.


Yours sincerely,

J.Russell Muirhead

Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences