Early grant recipients interviewed by John Immerwahr (see Part I of this report) emphasized that the staff was the most supportive, industrious, and helpful staff they worked with in a government agency. How did this happen? Undoubtedly, part of the energy arose from the excitement of starting something from scratch. But the sense of mission and zeal went beyond that.
First, none of these staff members saw themselves as part of a bureaucracy, and with reason. Several FIPSE positions were designated exempt (i.e., non-civil service) in order to attract those committed to education rather than to the civil service. The FIPSE director was authorized to fill the exempt positions from the educational field for limited periods of time (usually three years). At the end of the period, these staff members could be reappointed, terminated, or (as happened in a few instances) transferred to a civil service position. The intent was to infuse the staff with people who had not been separated from the field for long-those who still had a fresh sense of the problems and possibilities in the field, but who also appreciated its remarkable diversity. The educational experience of the staff was further reinforced through the use of short-term interns from the field. FIPSE's first staff appointments included those from public and private college teaching and administration, higher education research, and K-12 teaching.
Secondly, FIPSE's special mission helped distinguish its staff from other federal employees. One FIPSE staff member recalled, "Those of us who came to FIPSE in the early years wanted to bring about significant changes to the business of higher education, and we saw higher education itself as a force for social change." This orientation toward change shaped how FIPSE staff members saw their role; they were not simply program officers in the usual sense. In funding particular projects, they sought to support new ideas with far-reaching potential.
Third, staff members considered themselves to be professionals rather than administrators, and this perception was bolstered by the role the staff played in the grant process. The guidelines stated:
Director and staff will review proposals to determine their eligibility for funding, their comparative rating in terms of the priorities of the Fund, and the soundness of project design. Outside readers and consultants will frequently be asked to evaluate proposals. . . . Final decisions will be made by the director of the Fund in consultation with the board.
The director-at least the initial director-sought staff consensus as a final determinant of grants decisions. Neither the director nor the staff shirked responsibility for these decisions by hiding behind a process that took reviewer-subjective ratings and then reduced these ratings to a number that was the basis of the final decisions. Using this kind of numbering system, many other agencies effectively eliminated staff from the decision-making process and used them only as process administrators. FIPSE never took this road, even though some in the bureaucracy criticized it as being open to charges of unfairness for involving their own intellects in the process.
Finally, staff members were committed to FIPSE and worked with zeal because they were part of a mission rather than just a job. Several of the first staff members had followed the origination of the FIPSE idea from dream to reality. The first director of FIPSE, Virginia B. Smith, worked with Clark Kerr at the Carnegie Commission and had primary responsibility for the Commission's report, Quality and Equality, that had called for the establishment of a federal foundation for higher education. Russell Edgerton, the first deputy director, had worked with the Newman Task Force and was a part of early planning efforts for the foundation. Three of the first program officers, Carol Stoel, David O. Justice, and Charles I. Bunting, had been involved in the planning group. (At various points later in FIPSE's life, Charles Bunting and Carol Stoel each served as deputy director and as acting director.) All of these people believed that higher education could more effectively meet its goals and serve new types of learners. And the staff was small, friendly with each other, and for the most part, young and eager.
Those selected for the advisory board had also been involved in the inception of FIPSE, so they had first-hand knowledge of the struggle to establish a foundation: Lew Butler had been involved with the White House Working Group in 1969; Ted Mitau and Laurence Hall had both written papers on the foundation; Frank Newman was author of the Newman Report. Their enthusiasm for this new enterprise complemented and reinforced the commitment of the staff.