The former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former chair of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, has been appointed as the Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in public policy for the academic school year, Howard University announced today.
In this role, Steele will facilitate a lecture series for the Howard community focused on politics, voting, election making and civil service, according to a press release.
“As the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy, Mr. Steele’s appointment continues our commitment to creating bipartisan discussions that earnestly address some of our nation’s most pressing problems, work that is imperative in today’s society,” President Dr. Ben Vinson III said in the press release.
Steele shared that he hopes to advance the initiatives of a former endowed King Chair, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and his “good friend,” Donna Brazile, by emulating a student ambassador program and holding office hours on campus to encourage a relationship with both the student body and the surrounding D.C. community.
“Students may not know I have a connection with Howard,” Steele told The Hilltop. “When I was a state party chairman in Maryland, some students and Howard reached out to me back in the early 2000s to start a Republican college club on campus which I helped them do.” Steele also held numerous town halls on Howard’s campus including a town hall on the proposed healthcare legislation during the Obama administration.
“My hope is to bring conservatives, to bring moderate [politicians] but more importantly to bring Republicans to campus in various conversations,” he said. It is Steele’s hope that exposure to various individuals regardless of their political opinions will foster conversation amongst students. “All I’m asking folks to do is listen, not just listen to me but listen to each other.”
Steele noted that since the Donald Trump era, some citizens have felt as if they must silence their beliefs out of fear of being ostracized or shunned, especially within the Republican party. It is his hope that through his lecture series, students will begin to feel comfortable with expressing their own personal opinions even if it isn’t popular within their immediate community.
He also commented on the current issue of people reacting out of emotion rather than logic. “The system tries to dumb down people to be emotional, not thoughtful,” he said. Steele hopes students walk away from the lecture having gained a new perspective regardless if they agree or disagree.
“I’m hoping people walk away thoughtful. I’m not asking anyone to agree with anything I said. In fact, I don’t care if you do or don’t. But what I do care about is that you come and listen. And if you want to contribute, you contribute honestly. And you contribute in a way in which requires us to listen to what you have to say,” he said.
Colbert and Gwen King, after which the chair is named, commented on their excitement for Steele’s appointment in the press release.
“We are very pleased that Michael has agreed to occupy the King Chair this year. He joins a remarkable list of distinguished public officials who have generously shared their time and expertise with Howard University students,” Colbert King said.
“The King Chair is also a wonderful way for the surrounding community to gain insight from the talented and accomplished individuals who’ve served in this role,” Gwen King said. “We look forward to what we know will be an incredible and dynamic year of learning.”
The lecture series, open to students and staff regardless of their major, is set to begin Oct. 5. Titled “In Defense of Common Sense,” Steele hopes to discuss the current events and political climate of the United States.
The appointment comes one day after republican Kevin McCarthy was voted out of his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, a first in United States history.
The name is inspired by Steele’s mother and what he believes is currently lacking from today’s current system: common sense. “In light of what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill, what we’ve seen happen up to now, you can see that we’re lacking the one thing that my mama preached to me and taught me as a young kid, and that is common sense,” he said.
Analyzing how this “plays out in our political system”, and its implications on “voter behavior, citizen behavior,” is something Steele plans to discuss throughout the school year.
“We’re going to look at politics and race, we’re going to look at what I call the fake consumerism of politics, we’re going to look at how we actually win elections, but in the process, lose the country,” he said. “So there are a lot of various aspects of what we want to begin to set up in the conversation that we’re going to cover over the next few months.”
Steele served as the chairperson for the RNC from 2009 to 2011. He served as the lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007. He is the first African-American to have served in both roles. Since serving in these positions, Steele has worked as a political commentator for the African-American publication The Root and has contributed to The Wall Street Journal and The Grio. He is also a political analyst for MSNBC. Though he identifies with the Republican party, Steele emphasizes that though he is conservative, he is not a right-wing conservative.
“I try to bring a Republican perspective, not a right-wing perspective because I’m not right-wing, I’m not part of that, never been a part of that,” Steele said. “And have always taken exception to it, even when it’s occurred on my watch as national chairman because I recognize Republicans color the entire spectrum.”
The Republican party is traditionally considered the more conservative political party in the United States compared to the Democratic party according to a breakdown of each party by Diffn.com. Right-wing Republicans tend to believe in the core ideologies of the party but differ from moderate to extreme in regards to policies on economics, foreign policy, same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ issues, and race. An NPR article from 2021 breaks down the divisions within the Republican and Democratic parties based on these issues.
Steele graduated from Johns Hopkins University, having received a Bachelor of Arts in
international studies. He earned a Juris Doctor degree at Georgetown University Law School in 1991. Steele specialized in financial investments at the Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton international law firm, after which he founded a legal and consulting firm called Steele Group.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew