Hinckley Institute of Politics names new director

By and

A former Hinckley intern has returned from a high-profile political career in Washington, D.C., to help U students benefit from the same program that started his sojourn.

The Board of Trustees and U President Michael Young approved Kirk Jowers as the fourth director of the institute on Monday after two years of interim leadership.

Thirteen years ago, Jowers was himself a Hinckley intern, serving then-Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) in Washington, D.C.

“When I started working at the U, I knew him as a student and have kept in touch with him since,” said Jayne Nelson, long-time Hinckley assistant director. “I think his knowledge and experience with Utah politics and his connections nationally in D.C. and important political figures nationally will be great for us.”

The Man

Jowers graduated magna cum laude from the U in 1992 with a major in political science, and he graduated top of his class from Harvard Law School just three years later.

He served as a legal counsel under President George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, when he dealt with voting issues in the closest presidential race in U.S. history. He has also been a legal counsel to dozens of legislative races around the U.S.

For the last four years, he has worked with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the founders of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., and others to pass the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

For the past two years, Jowers has been one of three interim directors of the Hinckley Institute, along with Dan Jones and Rob Hrebenar.

He has worked with hundreds of U students through his role as the Washington contact for the institute and has met numerous students as adjunct professor of a political science course, “Money, politics and the U.S. Presidency,” which he co-teaches with Mike Benson, president of Snow College.

Jowers said this experience and his service as interim director operating in D.C. established good relations with U students.

“Tons of students are good friends because we get 120 plus students a year back in D.C….Plus the class I teach adds a bunch,” Jowers said. “There are probably close to a thousand students I’ve worked with over three years who are still at the U.”

He also said he has a good relationship with much of the faculty and administration at the U.

Jowers has helped bring some of the Hinckley Forum’s most influential speakers including McCain and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Hrebenar, chairperson of the director search committee, said the committee selected Jowers because of the unique combination he brings to the U.

“He’s deeply involved in the political process, he knows the University of Utah, he knows the Hinckley Institute of Politics,” Hrebenar said. “He has lots of contacts in Washington, D.C., and a strong desire to come back to Utah and to move his family and live here.”

While in D.C., Jowers explained his variety of jobs, saying he has worn “three hats,” including his role as co-founder of the Campaign Legal Center and associate interim director of the Hinckley Institute.

Jowers’ third and main job has been as a partner at Caplin & Drysdale, a D.C. law firm, where he represents political strategies of several clients. He has provided counsel for such corporations as Time Warner, HBO and Dell and non-profit organizations including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the National Republican Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Jowers said he was excited to come home to Utah, despite the opportunities he is leaving in Washington.

“I’m thrilled to come back. It’s the thing I enjoy the most,” Jowers said. “I like my work, and I could have easily done what I’m doing here the rest of my life. But Utah is home to me, and the Hinckley Institute was by far the most important thing in setting my career up. So if I can help and do half the things it did for me, it’s well worth it.”

He said coming home is exciting, but it was ultimately the Hinckley job that convinced him to return to Utah, where he has kept up with local events.

“I read The Tribune and the Chrony every morning and follow the Utes and

the Jazz more than the [Washington] Wizards and [Maryland] Terps. I’ve always wanted to come back at some point, but the Hinckley Institute is the one job I’ve always thought was the most interesting and most rewarding in Utah.”

Young praised Jowers, saying he has a reputation for doing the right things.

“I think he’s terrific,” Young said. “He’s very, very smart, imaginative and he has considerable experience-exactly the sort we’d like the director to have.”

The Vision

Jowers has already established several goals for the Hinckley Institute of Politics in line with recommendations from Young and the search committee.

Most of the initiatives Jowers touted revolved around student involvement.

“I see the amount of good [Dan] Jones and [Ron] Hrebenar do by encouraging their students to look into the internships and come to the forums,” Jowers said. “If we had 30 professors encouraging their students to take advantage of this, it’d be incredible.”

Jowers said he wants to push a bipartisan effort, bringing different experts with different viewpoints to the U.

“No matter which candidate, which party, which issue [students] feel passionate about, I want them to have the opportunity to get involved in it,” Jowers said. “I want to create opportunities in areas where they have passion so each student can find their place.”

He said he’d work to continue the tradition of the Hinckley Forums and Internships, which he concluded were the best in the country after visiting a dozen schools including Harvard, Duke and NYU.

“There’s no other school in the country where you can walk in and there are 30 plus internships where you can just apply,” Jowers said. “There’s funding for these and you come back here to D.C. and there’s subsidized housing. Every student needs to understand this is an incredible opportunity.”

He added that he would “exploit every resource and contact” in Washington, especially in bringing experts to the Hinckley Institute’s 40th anniversary lecture series, which will kick off with a party on Sept. 30.

One of Jowers’ main goals is identical to one of Young’s major underlying emphases for the university: promoting interdisciplinary work.

“I want a lot more students from across the U to take advantage of what the institute has, not just political science, but students across the board,” he said. “Everyone can benefit from it.”

Jowers announced creation of the Hinckley Institute Student Alliance, which he hopes will get student groups such as College Republicans, College Democrats, the student government and the Bennion Community Service Center to meet through the Hinckley Institute.

“We’ll provide funding and resources so we get more synergy,” he said.

The Delay

The search committee put off selecting a director until a new U president was available to help develop a collaborative vision of the Hinckley Institute’s future.

As a result, the institute was under interim control from the time former director Ted Wilson retired in 2003 until 2005.

“All the search was put on hold until we could take the president’s expertise in getting a new director,” Jowers said. “We wanted to make sure the president would be invested in it.”

Hrebenar-who simultaneously served as interim director of the Hinckley Institute and chairperson of the political science department during the past two years-said outgoing U President Bernie Machen and the incoming Young had different visions for the institute.

“Machen wanted to expand the role of the Hinckley into a more research-oriented institute,” Hrebenar said. “We have those type of institutes, and it was unnecessary to move in that direction…Once we refocused the Hinckley on what it had done for the last 40 years, it was easier to recruit for that.”

Young said there’s nothing wrong with finding someone who does their own research and writes their own books, but said he wanted someone “who reaches out, creates opportunities for our students, who views the educational mission as a central component.”

Jowers will be ushered in with a welcome party on June 9 at the Grand America Hotel and will officially begin serving as director Aug. 1.

Steve Ott, dean of the College of Socian and Behavioral Science and search committee member, said he expects Jowers to “hit the ground running.”

“His learning curve will be very quick because he knows the operations, he knows what [the Hinckley Institute] is,” Ott said. “He has endless energy and he’s a likeable guy.”

Jowers said he expects to be around for a while.

“Ten years from now, I see myself working with students, whether that’s at the Hinckley Institute or some other capacity, that’s hard to tell,” he said. “We’ve had three directors in 40 years, so following my predecessors, I’ll be here at the Hinckley Institute for a while.”

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