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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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From Port Washington To Watching Washington

Before the demise of its Sunday help-wanted section, The New York Times used to publish testimonials from people who said they’d gotten their jobs through The Times.

Dr. Wendy Schiller, a Brown University political science and public policy professor who grew up in Port Washington, was not in the market for a new position when The Times recruited her for a very glamorous assignment. She’ll be joining three of the newspaper’s top writers on a Times-sponsored Journey to Western Europe in October 2013. The Oct. 12-24 cruise, part of an education travel program The New York Times launched for its readers last year, will originate and terminate in England, and include stops in France, Spain and Portugal.

“Since 2007, I’ve been giving presentations outside of Brown at One Day University, and that is how The New York Times/Insight Cruise folks found me,” Schiller, a Paul D. Schreiber High School graduate, explained, during a recent interview. “I even ran into former teachers from Port Washington at a few of these events in New York City, including my French teacher, Elaine Berman, and my typing teacher, Mrs. Fischer.”

The 49-year-old Schiller said she could make the overseas trip in the fall because she’s on sabbatical this semester, and will be joined on the trip by her husband, Robert Kalunian. Schiller, however, won’t have too much down time.

“I’ll be giving four, 90-minute lectures, sitting on several panels, and joining people at dinner each night who have an interest in the subjects I teach,” she added. “But I love to talk about politics so it’s a great opportunity.” Her lectures on the cruise ship include Is the U.S. Constitution Outdated?, The Obama Presidency in Historical Perspective, Equality in America: What Really Constitutes the American Dream? and How Congress Really Works.

These subjects align closely with the popular courses Schiller teaches at Brown University, such as The American Presidency, Introduction to the American Political Process and Congress and Public Policy.

MSNBC viewers and Bloomberg Radio listeners may already be familiar with Schiller because she was an on-air contributor at MSNBC between the summer of 2011 and the fall of 2012, and is a regular guest on Bloomberg’s The Hayes Advantage. Closer to her home near Brown’s campus, Schiller is the on-air political analyst for WJAR 10, the NBC affiliate in Providence, R.I. Schiller has also brought her intellectual horsepower to television programs which sorely need an informed opinion, like HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

The University of Chicago graduate worked for U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Governor Mario Cuomo before earning her Ph.D. in political science from The University of Rochester. After Fellowships at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University, Schiller came to Brown University in 1994. Her first book focused on how senators from the same state — like Schumer and Gillibrand—cooperate and compete with each other as U.S. Senators. Her more recent book, to be published next year, Promises Unfulfilled: Constitutional Reform and Senate Elections, focuses on the role money played in determining U.S. Senate election outcomes both before, and after, 1913. Prior to 1913, state legislatures, not the state’s voters, decided who would represent their state in the U.S. Senate. Schiller is also proud to be a co-author of Gateways to Democracy, an introductory American politics textbook now in its second edition.

“The goals at the time were to change a very chaotic and very corrupt process,” she said, when talking about the adoption of the 17th Amendment in May 1913, which called for the direct election of U.S. Senators. “We’ve accomplished none of these goals.”

Schiller also finds little upside to the current state of Twitter-driven political discourse in the U.S. “Because everything’s reduced to [140] characters [Twitter’s limit], Americans don’t have to do much work to figure out where they stand on a policy issue, and that’s bad.”

When I asked her where people should go to gain a broader perspective on the issues of the day, Schiller said, “I check because it offers the single best source of news coverage and opinion covering the entire ideological spectrum.”

The New York Times, in case anyone at that paper is reading this, should know that Schiller, despite having lived in Rhode Island for nearly 20 years, remains a Times home delivery subscriber.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: