Remarks by RAND President and CEO Michael Rich at the 2014 Pardee RAND Commencement

RAND president Michael Rich speaks at the 2014 Pardee RAND Commencement

RAND Photography/Diane Baldwin

Dean Marquis, thank you. And to our graduating fellows; their families and friends; Pardee RAND faculty; the Board of Governors; RAND trustees, RAND staff; RAND alumni; all of you who support the Pardee RAND Graduate School; and other distinguished guests, I join the Dean in offering you a warm welcome to RAND’s headquarters campus.

Pardee RAND is one of RAND’s most distinctive and valuable assets. That is because the special relationship between the School and RAND produces a terrific synergy. Students arrive here at our campus with tremendous credentials and drive. They bring a rich diversity of experience and many new perspectives to our project teams. At RAND, they gain access to the world’s foremost collection of policy experts, more than 1000 of them, from dozens of academic disciplines and professions. What our researchers and students have in common is a passion for making a difference. They work together to help decisionmakers and citizens around the world take on the most challenging policy problems of the day. By working on real RAND projects for actual policymakers, Pardee RAND students develop a sophisticated understanding of the role of analysis in the context of real policy problems and real policymaking organizations. In short, they develop insights and practical experience that are unmatched among their counterparts at other graduate schools.

I have a special affection for the Pardee RAND Graduate School because it has played a huge role in my own career. I’ve taught courses, advised students, and chaired many dissertation and qualifying-exam committees. For a decade, I chaired the admissions committee. If you saw the caliber of the applicants to this School, including the ones who are not admitted, you would know why I always called it my annual humility booster shot.

My experience convinced me that the Pardee RAND Graduate School—its student body and faculty, backed by our alumni and other supporters—has the potential to help RAND chart an entire new course. This School can transform not just the science and art of policy analysis, but by serving as an engine of innovation for the world’s most prominent policy-research institution, it can also help transform the practice of policy analysis, too. That is the vision that the Dean and I share and with your help we are on the path to achieving it.

But, today, our focus is on this impressive graduating class. So, graduates: Congratulations!

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For 55 years, RAND has published an annual calendar with inspirational quotations. I hope many of you noticed the quotation for April in the 2014 calendar. It happens to be my favorite line from Les Miserables. I am sorry to say that the line didn’t make into the musical or the film; it’s only in the book. It comes in the section of the story when Jean Valjean and Cosette are living incognito in Paris. Victor Hugo wrote an entire chapter about the overgrown garden on their compound that served to conceal their houses. The chapter includes a very detailed passage about the interconnectedness of nature. It is fascinating to read, but what caught my eye about halfway through the chapter were this statement and question:

“Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?”

Hugo leaves that question unanswered, hoping, I am sure, to get readers like me to ponder it. I like the question because I think it has deep meaning for policy analysis, particularly the kind invented and practiced here at RAND. That is why it is in the RAND calendar this year and why I recommend that you think about it, too.

So, which has the grander view? Both reveal truths that are not observable with the ordinary eye. The telescope enables us to see far into the distance, beyond our immediate horizons, and beyond our reach. The microscope enables us to look deeply, closely, to reveal the hidden workings of what’s all around us. Both often show that what might at first seem obvious or simple, is anything but that.

Much of what you have learned in the Pardee RAND classrooms probably seemed like looking through a microscope. You’ve learned how to use advanced data collection techniques, statistics and economic modeling, complex computer simulations, rigorous case studies, and a lot more. Those are tools we use to unpack trends, distinguish correlation from causation, surface latent opportunities for savings, and reveal hidden costs. You’ve learned how to use those tools to dissect policies and programs – breaking apart systems into essential elements, searching for the factors that matter most in producing desirable outcomes, devising ways to reconfigure the pieces to produce a more effective or efficient whole.

But, because you’ve been a part of RAND, I hope you’ve also had a view through the telescope. I hope you have lifted your head from the focused field of the microscope to look up and to look out, in order to:

  • Explore the larger context in which today’s discrete challenges reside,
  • Take the long view, and
  • To think about society’s largest challenges, even when – and perhaps especially when – those challenges are too big, too complex, and seemingly too distant to be on current policy agendas.

So which has the grander view – is it the microscope or the telescope? My answer to the Victor Hugo question is that the grandest view of all for a policy analyst is the view that combines the telescope and the microscope. Your experience in two interlocking institutions, the Pardee RAND Graduate School and the RAND Corporation, has served you well because you have had the opportunity to be exposed to the power and limitations of both.

I am afraid that the policy problems you will tackle in your careers will be more challenging than the ones I have addressed in mine. The world is more complex than ever and there are many factors with potential to make it even more dangerous.

My wife and I just became grandparents for the first time, so we have a brand new stake in the future. Naturally, we want a world in which people are healthier, safer, more secure, more prosperous. We are counting on you to see the biggest problems first, to create bold solutions that work, and, most important of all, to see them through. In my judgment, you can only do all of that by using both a telescope and a microscope.

On behalf of all of us in attendance today, thank you for your contributions to RAND and to the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Congratulations on your great achievements. l look forward to applauding the contributions you will surely make to society in the years ahead.

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It is now my great honor to introduce you to your commencement speaker, the Honorable Elizabeth Dole, former United States Senator from North Carolina. There is a formal protocol for introducing a former Senator and that's how you do it. But, the book doesn’t say how to introduce a former Senator who has also served as a Cabinet Secretary—twice—president of the world’s most famous NGO and her own foundation, and all the other things that Senator Dole has done. I am going to spell out some of the details of her remarkable career later on, so let me say now only why I thought she’d be an especially meaningful commencement speaker for you and the rest of us.

Her illustrious resume was one of the reasons, but it wasn’t the main one. I am proud to say that I have gotten to know Senator Dole a bit over the last three years. I have had many chances to talk with her one-on-one, I have seen her in many different settings, and I’ve gotten to meet many people who have known her much longer and better than I have. I have been impressed by three things:

  • First, she shares RAND’s core belief that the best way to solve big problems is to start with the facts and analyze them rigorously and objectively. She doesn’t just believe it, that’s the way she’s conducted herself in public service.
  • Second, she knows that a policy is never an end in itself. She has always been focused on the people whom policies are intended to help.
  • And, third, she knows that when pursuing major policy changes, success depends on building and deepening personal relationships.

It’s taken me many years to learn those lessons, so I have found myself wishing that I had met her much earlier in my career. So, I very much wanted you to have the chance I didn’t have. That is why it is a very special privilege for me to have Senator, Secretary, Commissioner, President, Mrs. Dole at RAND today to address our graduates and all the rest of us.