Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Last week was a banner week for me. I managed to complete the second full draft of my PhD dissertation and get it off to my committee for their perusal and recommendations. It is fully formatted, footnoted, bibliographied (is that a word?), and revised according to the recommendations of my committee chair.

This is for a PhD in Public Policy from George Mason University. It is a bit ironic that these are the same as my high school colors from which I graduated fifty four years ago. I kid you not.

If all goes reasonably well, I will take my orals in three months or so, then on to graduation in mid-May, where President Alan Merton himself will slip the green and gold hood over my shoulders.

Now, this also might not happen. My committee may hate the dissertation. I may have to go into major rewrites. If so, I will probably miss my absolute deadline in September and be lost and gone forever.

If so, it will only be my fault. I should have finished it long ago.This has been going on for almost fifty, I repeat, fifty years. I first entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina in September, 1960. I fully expected to walk away with the degree in five or six years. In the summer of 1961, however, I got a fellowship to serve an internship on Capitol Hill with Congressman Hale Boggs. That was the beginning of the end. I went back for internships for the next four years and became totally enamored of life and work in Washington. In 1965, I came to work in Congress for a year or two, and never looked back.

I never got far away from university life. Later, I served a fascinating eight years on the George Mason University Board of Visitors. So when I began to contemplate retirement, I began to reflect on my youth and what I may have missed. My failed PhD quest came up front and center. I discussed the issue with some GMU professors and officials, and they all encouraged me to jump into the fray. That was in the fall of 1999.

I had a great time in the beginning. I made new young friends (all of who have already finished) who are friends to this day. I got into disciplines that were complete mysteries to me – calculus and statistics to be precise. I finished the coursework in about three years, got through my qualifying and dissertation proposal exams, and then sort of slowed down. I piddled away at the research, conducted numerous interviews over a period of another year, and began writing.

Then about eight months ago, I was reminded that my absolute deadline was beginning to loom. I got to work – and finished the first draft in a marathon session in August – and sent it off to the chairman of my committee. You know the rest.

My wife will be the happiest, though. She has threatened to leave me if I don’t hurry and get the damn thing done. She claims it is the only thing I have talked about for the past ten years, and she has had enough. She is wrong, but I will do it to humor her.

If you hear a big band sound and cheers pouring out of the Arlington Art Center sometime in mid-May, you will know it happened. Come on in and join the fifty year rewind to my younger days.

Richard Barton may be e-mailed at rbarton@towervillas.com