Many tenured professors on campus will tell you that being a professor is one of the most comfortable, if not rewarding, jobs a person can have. From an American perspective then, it would seem odd for a professor to leave the comforts of collegiate life to try leading a struggling democracy. This is exactly what Ross School of Business Professor Jan Svejnar did. Despite the fact that Svejnar narrowly lost the race for the Czech Republic’s presidency, he serves as an example for how professors can take their superior problem-solving skills into elected office.

Beyond Svejnar, I was even more amazed to hear from my friend and former graduate student instructor, Kan Takeuchi, about professors making the leap. Some may remember Kan for teaching Japanese at the University while earning his doctorate in economics. Now, returning to his alma mater in Japan to work as a finance professor, Kan’s ambition no longer rests in academia. Like many other Japanese professors, he aspires to springboard into a political career using his academic success. It is the norm in Japan for professors to use their titles to become public commentators in the local media, and then build a reputation from that position to become a dependable and intelligent leader.

When Kan told me this I chuckled at the irony. Compared to America, where it seems that there are more real-estate agents in politics than career academics, being a professor is more of a red flag than a something to publicize. We ask, “How can some person high atop an ivory tower ever relate to the American on the street?”

And this is precisely the problem.

Excluding Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from the equation, only 27 of the 533 members of Congress can boast any time as full-time college or university professors. Some of the more notable academics include Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Michigan Rep. Vern Ehlers earned a doctorate in nuclear physics before assuming the chairmanship of the Calvin College physics department.

Hardened skeptics explain academia’s absence in elected office as a phenomenon attributable to professors being too smart or too enmeshed in political sausage making. A tenured university position is too comfortable of a job to throw away for the campaign trail. On the other hand, critics also contend that scholars serve a more useful role as advisors to elected officials, leaving the politics to politicians and the policy to the experts.

Why leave this division of political labor to people who later disavow the scholarship these topics like some politicians treat global warming as if it is a pagan deity to be forgotten?

American democracy is for everyone. The experiences of Congressional leaders range from Rep. Heath Schuler (D-N.C.), a former Washington Redskins quarterback, to Rep. Eugene Price (D-N.C.), a Duke University political science and public policy professor. Part of the American mystique is that anybody can be an elected leader. It is in America’s best interest to have a wide variety of professionals in positions of leadership. And if the professional expertise of our elected leaders reflects the solutions they bring to government, then the American people may be better off having fewer executives in elected office.

Call me an academic elitist jaded by the aura of a prestigious degree, but America can stand to be a bit more like Japan in this regard. Beyond the “Vote or Die” initiatives that normally entice college students to vote, a more academic array of candidates might do the trick. As one student remarked of Obama’s experience as a constitutional law professor, “He actually seemed to take everyone’s point of view seriously. If he could bring that to bear in the international level with foreign dignitaries and heads of state, I think that would put us in good standing with the rest of the world.”

Mike Eber is an LSA senior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.

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