"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


i may have to rethink some things

Via Politico:
Ashley Judd has long been an advocate for global women’s rights, but now she’s a scholar on the topic, too: Judd just received her master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“I learned a lot that is really augmenting and enhancing the work that I’ve already been doing for some years now,” the actress told POLITICO about the year she spent in school...

Meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to kick off the conference, Judd told the story of Melody, a young woman she met while on a PSI trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Melody worked in the sex industry, but as Judd questioned her, she learned that the African woman hoped to become a hairstylist.

Thanks to her academic endeavors, Judd had a greater appreciation of Melody’s experience. “I wouldn’t have realized that Melody was hoping to make a transition from the informal to the formal economy without having taken Martha Chen’s class,” the actress said, giving a shout-out to her professor, an expert on women, poverty and employment.
Two thoughts:
  1. You can get an MPA from KSG in one year?!?
  2. Upon reflection, I think this is a good thing. We're always complaining about mind-numbingly ignorant celebrities making idiotic pronouncements about development and coming up with harebrained ideas to collect leftovers for poor Africans. If more celebrities were to follow Judd's lead by getting a real education on the issues for which they advocate, maybe the realm of celebrity advocacy would improve. Of course, the bigger question is whether most celebrities' abilities to cut it in graduate school. I have a feeling that Judd is a bit of an outlier on this one...
What do you think? Should we be encouraging more celebrities to change their badvocacy ways by seriously studying the issues?


Blogger Miki said...

re: Q#1, that's the first question that popped into my mind when I read that. Maybe she got credit for "life experience" from her previous work? There are a few other celebs who have gotten their MPAs from Harvard I think.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 4:00:00 AM

Blogger Lauren Parnell Marino said...

I think this is great. If celebrity advocates are really as passionate about these issues as they claim to be, this is a great step for them to be more effective advocates. Grad school will both help them frame better arguments and be taken more seriously by policy-makers and development experts. Good job, Ashley Judd!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 4:40:00 AM

Blogger Rachel said...

Problems arise when famous people use humanitarian work to fuel their celebrity power & their own egos & senses of self, right? So I guess it depends on how she plans to use her degree -- like with the rest of us... there are plenty of people in the field with advanced degrees doing not-so-hot work.

But if she wants to concentrate on humanitarian work and use her celebrity power as one tool to that end -- well, why not? I think it's a good thing that she's gone to school -- it shows a willingness to listen, an acknowledgment that there's a lot to learn, and a recognition that good intentions, um, you know...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 4:46:00 AM

Blogger Murph said...

I agree with Rachel and it makes me a skeptic for that reason alone. I believe that she will be a better advocate for good development, but a good aid worker a degree does not make.

There is potential for rapid improvements or failures with her now being the de facto celebrity expert. Thoughts will be deferred to hers and we better hope that she gets it right.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 8:02:00 AM

Anonymous Katie said...

I am usually a skeptic, too, but this time I say well done Ashley Judd.
Re: one-year program, HKS does offer a mid-career MPA degree, which is shorter and more flexible than the 2-year MPA. So I'm guessing that's what she did.

I agree that there it remains to be seen how she will use her degree, but still...she took the time to go back to school to learn about the issues she's advocating for, and that's more than a lot of people (err, celebs) would do. I personally would love to see her spread the word, widely, that good intentions are not enough.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 8:20:00 AM

Anonymous velo said...

I'm in the camp that we should always encourage further education. It's great that a celeb would seek out more education on a complex issue and then be able to bring that knowledge to advocacy work.

Smart and educated high profile advocates can be useful. We can have the 'smart and educated' try to become high profile, or we can have the 'high profile' become smart and educated. I see both having a useful place.

As an aside, maybe Kristof can go back to school for some more education?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 9:23:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Velo, that's a fantastic idea. Let's start a #sendkristofback campaign!!!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 11:13:00 AM

Blogger Amy said...

I think it's unfair to assume celebrities wouldn't be able to cut it in graduate school, as if being a celebrity is some sort of disease and they are somehow less than human. But other than that, why wouldn't you want them to get more education and be better able to advocate for what they care about?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 1:37:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

At KSG, the MPP is the 2 year degree for relatively young students (generally 2 to 5 years out of college) and the MPA is the one year mid-career degree. Neither should be confused with the 2 year MPA-ID program, which focuses on development and includes far more rigerous economics coursework than either of the other degrees.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 2:02:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Amy, I don't disagree that education is good. But given that many celebrities can barely speak in complete sentences, it's hard to see how they could handle advanced-level courses in statistics, economics, and public policy.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 8:13:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually I'm all in favor of snark, especially when it's aimed at celebrities who think fame confers credibility. But I think your comments here are uncalled-for. Ashley Judd was an honors student and member of Phi Beta Kappa, accomplishments that predated her celebrity. I don't think her subsequent carer undermines her qualifications, and invoking her celebrity cheapens the real dedication she's shown by doing things right -- going to learn from the experts instead of pretending to be one of them.

Also, it's not like you to make broad generalizations like "given that many celebrities can barely speak in complete sentences, it's hard to see how they could handle advanced-level courses in statistics, economics, and public policy." I count on you to dispel such nonsense when others invoke it in discussions of developing countries and African countries in particular. I don't mind that you took the admittedly easy swipe in your first post, but I'm disappointed to see you defending it in the comments.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 10:17:00 PM

Anonymous Ranil Dissanayake said...

I have to say, this is just patronising. Change the word 'celebrities' to 'people' and it's not even an issue.

As for 'celebrities' not being able to cut it, this is such a broad category you might as well say 'people who are 23 years old' because it's such a broad category. There are plenty of celebrities who are pointless and don't appear too intelligent (though how anyone thinks they can judge intelligence based on an interview one gives with the E! channel is beyond me. They get asked stupid questions. They give stupid answers). There are others who speak multiple languages and have top class degrees. A number of English actors and actresses went through the public school/Oxbridge path before going into acting. There may be many problems with that, but you can't really accuse them of lack of intelligence.

And wouldn't this be self-selecting, anyway? The kind of person who wants to do an MSc is unlikely to be a completely brain-dead publicity junky.

Thursday, June 10, 2010 1:18:00 AM

Blogger Mary said...

I was at the conference where Judd mentioned the PSI trip, and while she said some intelligent things, she also at times appeared unprepared, egotistical, and out of line (famously, she used male ejaculation on women's faces in developing countries as an argument for female empowerment). Her degree and celebrity status are fine, in my view, as long as she retains some shred of intellectual professionalism when speaking on behalf of a global health organization or their international agenda.

Monday, June 28, 2010 9:37:00 AM


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