Paul Pinsky ’68

Among Friends   Spring 2015

Reflections on Ethical Leadership

These alumni are just a few of the many MFS graduates recognized as leaders in their specialties. We asked them to share their personal leadership styles, as well as their thoughts on how to remain ethical in positions of power. Whether they are standing up for civil rights or breaking the glass ceiling, alumni bring the lessons they learned at MFS with them into the workplace.

Senator Paul Pinsky

Paul Pinsky ’68

• B.A., M.Ed. George Washington University
• Member of the Maryland Senate since 1994
• Teacher and Union Organizer
How would you describe your day-to-day work as a Senator?

I only work full-time in the state capitol for three months of the year, but I do political work year-round: speaking to town councils and meeting with constituents. During the months we are in session, I often start the day by meeting with an advocacy group to discuss legislation. I work with many advocates for progressive causes such as the environment, healthcare, and tax reform, and I spend time working with people coordinating grassroots legislative actions.

The Senate goes into session in the morning. However, most of our time is spent in committee, where I serve as Vice Chairman as well as Chairman of the Education subcommittee. We spend anywhere from two to six hours in committee listening to bills and asking questions so that we gain a better knowledge of the issues. At least one day each week, we have a voting session where we debate bills and pass or kill them. If I get out of committee early, I’ll work in my office on drafting amendments, or I’ll meet with my staff.

What have you learned from your experiences in government?

I don’t buy into the “Great Man” (or woman) theory that one or two charismatic people make the difference or make history. Any change in policy comes about because people speak out, get mobilized, and work together. I believe in collaboration: getting the best ideas from a broad array of experts. This happened when I authored the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act about five years ago, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland by 25 percent. I like to bring people into my office and knock around ideas. Frequently, this will push the envelope and develop a better idea. I’m not happy settling for the status quo.

What is your greatest passion in the public sector?

Helping people attain more social and economic justice. I know we’re making progress when I see people engaged in improving the quality of their lives. If I can put the finishing touches on progressive, public demands and help turn them into actual law, that’s when I get excited.

I think our state (and our country) can be a better place. It’s not going to get there with just one person – we have to change the culture “on the ground” to educate people and move people and get them engaged in the political process. I work with grassroots organizations to encourage people to demand what they need, and I frequently fall back on a quote from Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will… the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Senator Paul Pinsky
How did you become involved in politics?

I became a history teacher. I chose to teach through a “people’s history” – how events were driven by and affected regular working people. I used an economic and class perspective in teaching how and why things happened and how issues were resolved. I ran a fairly large organization as a teachers association president and then decided that electoral politics would be a good way to move from educating students to educating adults. I see a lot of my work in the senate as educating people and working with them to change public policy.

Did anyone at MFS have an impact on your career path?

I think it was the whole culture of the school, as exemplified by the teachers and the students. I came to Moorestown in tenth grade, so I was not a “long-timer.” There was a general culture in the school of caring for others and not beating other people down to get ahead. We learned that there is never just one answer to a problem. Our teachers were thoughtful people who made us think critically. I do remember Senior Projects and the Mock Political Convention fondly.

What advice would you give to current students pursuing leadership positions?

It’s easy to go astray. I encourage students to make improving the lives of the broader populace a driving force in their lives, not simply personal ambition. I hate to say it, but there is an inverse correlation: the greater the ambition, the more ethics tend to fall to the wayside. You can’t check your entire ego at the door, but you need to check most of it.

Sometimes you’ve got to fight the good fight, even if it doesn’t result in immediate victory. I’ve proposed legislation that, at times, has gotten crushed. Ultimately, if you keep fighting, people will come to realize the right decision. You need to hold fast to what makes life meaningful; be aware of it, come to grips with it, and don’t just pander to people to make them feel good. In the end, you need to be ethical.

Next: Danielle DeCou Garno ’93 Reflects on Ethical Leadership