Publication Date: Wednesday, July 21, 2004|
The professor and the president
The professor and the president
(July 21, 2004) Professor Martin Carnoy's special link to an ambitious young graduate student has spanned a third of a century and a presidency
by Tyler Bridges
It was one of hundreds of meetings that Stanford Education Professor Martin Carnoy has held with prospective graduate students over the years.
But one 1970 meeting stands out as launching a unique, collaborative student/teacher relationship -- one that has lasted more than three decades and helped bridge two continents.
"I could see that this guy was a pusher, that he was very ambitious," Carnoy recalled of his first impression of a young Peruvian named Alejandro Toledo.
"He had the ambition of someone who has come from the bottom and clawed his way up -- who had the ambition to go way beyond where anyone expected him to go," Carnoy said.
Carnoy accepted Toledo into the Stanford International Development Committee, a Ford Foundation-funded graduate-school program designed to groom future education leaders in Latin America.
Under Carnoy's guidance, Toledo earned a doctorate in education from Stanford.
Today, Toledo is the embattled, "reform" president of Peru, and Carnoy visits there regularly to advise him on education policy.
The two friends laughed recently about their initial 1970 meeting, which took place at Stanford's Cubberley Hall. Now they were in Peru's presidential palace in Lima, seated at a long conference table.
"He was a hippie professor, and a progressive," Toledo recalled of his mentor.
"I became hippier during his stay at Stanford," Carnoy added with a smile, noting that Toledo then had shoulder-length hair. Carnoy was 31, Toledo 23.
Toledo turned serious when he identified Carnoy as one of four persons "who have been critical in my professional success in becoming president of Peru. We had this chemistry, and he helped me to get some funding to get into this program.
"We are two crazy people who have in common a vision for change," Toledo said.
Later, drinking a Coke at a bar across the street from the presidential palace, Carnoy marveled at the unimagined heights achieved by Toledo.
He also cited an unexpected twist from his five "adviser" visits to Peru: Carnoy, the expert who has advised governments in California, Washington and abroad on education, is now learning from his one-time student.
"The stuff I do is very abstract," he said. "I write policy papers. I'm in the game of ideas. I try to convince people that my ideas are more solid. I'm supposed to be a world expert.
"But I have learned that you can't think in terms of ideas -- you have to think in terms of laws," Carnoy said. "Let's say a reform gets into law. Then you have to get it implemented -- the kids could possibly be worse off if it is not implemented properly."
He's also learning about process and politics: "I realize now how difficult it is to get things done. It takes an enormous amount of energy. It explains to you why so little happens. I'm getting a big education."
The two men come from different worlds. Carnoy was born in Poland, but his family moved to the United States to escape Nazi repression of Jews when he was 18 months old.
Toledo was born in the high mountains of Peru, one of 16 children, only nine of whom survived infancy. He was a "cholo," a term for Peruvians with mixed blood but obvious Indian features who traditionally have been relegated to the margins of power and society. He shined shoes and sold soft drinks at soccer games to help his family make ends meet.
Toledo escaped the life of poverty that afflicts half of Peru because an elementary school teacher convinced his father to let young Alejandro become the first family member to attend high school. Two Peace Corps volunteers also took a shine to penniless Alejandro and helped him leave Peru in 1965 to study in the United States. These plus Carnoy constitute the Big Four of Toledo's life.
Toledo graduated from the University of San Francisco before getting two masters degrees and his doctorate at Stanford. Carnoy was his thesis adviser and main sounding board.
At Stanford, Toledo -- known as "Alex" -- was a charismatic organizer of parties. He met his wife, Eliane Karp, also a Stanford graduate student, at one Palo Alto party. Toledo, short and wiry, was a whiz on intramural soccer fields, and coached American Youth Soccer Organization teams in Palo Alto. Carnoy's sons, David and Jon, played on one team.
"I never heard him talk about running for president or getting involved in politics," Carnoy said in an interview at his Stanford home. "I always assumed he would work for international organizations."
Toledo did work for the World Bank and the United Nations, and taught at Harvard University. But he secretly nourished a dream to return to Peru and be elected president so he could help lift his country out of poverty.
Toledo ran for president in 2000, following a dozen years of economic and political upheaval in Peru: hyperinflation that reached 7,500 percent one year, a guerrilla war that had left 69,000 dead and finally a president, Alberto Fujimori, who used an iron-fist and bribes to retain power.
With the same tenacity and street smarts he used to pull himself up, Toledo came from last in the polls to narrowly lose to Fujimori.
When corruption engulfed his administration later that year, Fujimori resigned, and in 2001 Toledo won the presidency with a promise to respect democratic rights, provide better lives for the poor and improve the country's woeful education system. He became the country's first "cholo" ever elected president.
Toledo insisted that Carnoy attend his inauguration, along with presidents and dignitaries of other nations. Unable to reach the president-elect in the days beforehand, Carnoy arrived in Lima from a family vacation in Paris, still unsure whether he had tickets to any of the events.
Security guards at Toledo's office gave him the cold shoulder until the president-elect spotted him and greeted him effusively.
"From that moment on, we were royalty," Carnoy said. "He is incredibly loyal to his friends."
Carnoy got a prime seat during the president's inaugural speech in the country's congressional chamber and one of the coveted spots the next day when Toledo held a second symbolic inauguration at Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel.
Carnoy, who lost a 1984 race for Congress against the Republican Ed Zschau, sensed from the beginning that his former student would encounter difficulties as president. "I looked at the (light-skinned) faces in Congress and said (as if he were speaking to Toledo), 'You're in trouble. You'll have the same trouble Clinton had. You'll have to fight people who don't like a smart outsider.'"
Although Toledo has presided over one of Latin America's strongest economies, opposition interests have continually placed obstacles in his path. That and self-inflicted wounds by the politically inexperienced president have left him with an approval rating of only 7 percent.
Two of Toledo's happiest days as president were when he visited Stanford for two days in 2003 as the university's commencement speaker. The visit included a spontaneous post-commencement walk through the Quad with Carnoyto Cubberley Hall.
"I want to see my office," Toledo said as they entered the building.
Carnoy obliged him by unlocking a door that led to the basement offices. "Oh, my God! What memories!" Toledo called out. He tried unsuccessfully three times to yank open the locked door of his one-time office.
With Carnoy and seven security guards still in tow, he then headed to the Stanford Bookstore, where he rifled through clothes racks to find a sweatshirt and T-shirt for his daughter, who is studying at a university in France. Afterward, a seven-car motorcade, waiting outside the bookstore, whisked the president to San Francisco.
Before he departing the campus, Toledo recalled his 1970 meeting with Carnoy, remembering that he drove south to Stanford on Bayshore Freeway in his 1959 Triumph, a $300 purchase that included a hole in the floor.
"It was a beat-up car, but I drove freely, with the wind through my hair. I don't have the freedom today," he mused.
During Carnoy's recent visit to Lima, Toledo was embroiled in yet another political crisis as the Congress was preparing to hand him a major defeat by firing one of his cabinet ministers.
"Having a tough day at the office?" a journalist asked. Toledo replied with a four-letter word he had undoubtedly learned in California. The following day he would shake off the congressional vote and vow to muffle his critics with a strong economy that would put more money in the pockets of ordinary Peruvians.
"I am always amazed at how thick-skinned he is," Carnoy said later.
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