Marsha Ternus will retire as director of The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement following a visionary tenure that guided the Institute through three highly successful formative years.
Ternus, a 1977 Drake Law School alumna and the former chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, was appointed to the part-time directorship on Aug. 1, 2013, shortly after Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (Ret.) and Drake University partnered to create the Institute.
When Ternus retires on June 1, she will have overseen more than $7.6 million in philanthropic contributions to the Institute and helped to forge its nonpartisan mission to inform citizens, inspire creative cooperation, and catalyze change on issues of social justice, fairness, and opportunity.
“Under the leadership of Marsha Ternus, The Harkin Institute has found a physical home at Drake University, developed a clear and compelling mission, and initiated an engaging slate of public programming,” said Marty Martin, president of Drake University. “The rewards of her efforts are already reflected in the numerous student learning and community engagement opportunities that the Institute has provided under her leadership.”
The Harkin Institute has rapidly established itself as a vital resource for the cultural enrichment and political engagement of Drake students and community members. The Institute will immediately begin its search for a full-time director who can advance the Institute’s mission and enhance its image, reputation, and impact as a leading citizen engagement and public policy organization.
“In these early years, the Institute has offered activities that enrich the experience of students on the Drake campus and opportunities for the thoughtful and nonpartisan consideration of contemporary public policy issues by the larger central Iowa community,” Ternus said. “The Institute is now poised to begin its substantive public policy work and provide a national voice on issues that were integral to Sen. Tom Harkin’s career of public service. Full-time leadership will be required to achieve this vision, which I cannot offer without curtailing my own professional endeavors.”
The Institute has filled to capacity a number of free lectures and programs focusing on some of the most pressing issues of our time. Ternus’ professional reputation and connections were invaluable to the Institute’s orchestration of large-scale events—hosting dignitaries such as Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and Vice President Joe Biden, and launching smaller-scale events such as the twice-yearly Sussman Lecture series.
Drake students have benefited from Ternus’ commitment to educational outreach. She led the development of a series of intimate, hour-long lunch sessions with accomplished politicians, attorneys, journalists, and public policy leaders, and guided weekly student discussions of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which students watched together as they munched on free popcorn prepared with a popcorn machine donated from Sen. Harkin’s congressional office.
Under Ternus’ leadership, the Institute has articulated four strategic public policy focus areas: people with disabilities, retirement security, wellness and nutrition, and labor and employment.
Last year, the Institute convened a panel of disabled and non-disabled Drake students for a discussion about issues of importance to persons born after the 1990 signing of Sen. Harkin’s signature legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those interviews with the “ADA Generation” were trimmed into a series of three videos available at www.drake.edu/harkininstitute/adageneration/.
“Focusing on the challenges and triumphs of the ‘ADA Generation’ is very important to Marsha,” said Estelle Montgomery, assistant director of The Harkin Institute. “Not only because it was one of Sen. Harkin’s major policy emphases, but because she shares the Senator’s commitment to empowering young people with disabilities and to inspiring all Millennials to embrace inclusivity.”
Ternus is a native Iowan who served as chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court from 1993 to 2010. She has extensive experience in the private practice of law and as a member of the judiciary, and received honorary degrees from Iowa Wesleyan College (2005), Simpson College (2010), Coe College (2011), and Drake University (2015).
Following her time as director, Ternus will continue to serve the Harkin Institute as chair of the Institute’s National Advisory Council. She will continue to practice law in Des Moines, with a focus on appellate and trial case consulting and arbitration. She also serves on the board of directors of Iowa Public Radio and as part of a four-judge team sponsored by the National Center for State Courts that participates in workshops on judicial writing and decision-making for Caribbean trial and appellate judges.
“Under the exceptional leadership of Marsha Ternus, the Harkin Institute at Drake University has grown, matured, and become a national presence,” Harkin said. “I am delighted to know she will stay on as chair of the National Advisory Board.”