What do you think of when you hear the words “think tank?” Maybe a group of people around a table coming up with ideas about the government? Today, I spoke with Patrick Martin (Master’s Candidate in Applied Economics), the director of the Torchlight Policy Center, FSU’s own think tank. Torchlight is always accepting applications and for more information, check their Instagram @torchlightcenter.
Her Campus (HC): For people who don’t know, what is the Torchlight Campus Policy Center?
Patrick Martin (PM): The Torchlight Center is an on-campus think tank. The term “think tank” itself is something that not many people know because it’s a broad term. Some think tanks are for activism and some are partisan or non-partisan. Basically, we aim to be a bridge of information between experts and policymakers because the people who are writing policy are normally not experts in that field, and that’s okay. The people who are experts in the field are not the actual people that are writing policy, so we connect the experts and policymakers. We’re the experts in finding the experts. We bring that research and deliver it to the policymakers and students.
HC: And this is for FSU’s SGA, right?
PM: Yeah, this is for FSU’s SGA. In the national environment, there are over a thousand “think tanks” that each have their own niche and do their own thing. Some focus on things like criminal justice or higher education, but the cool thing about the collegiate environment is that it’s a shrunken-down version of the national one. If there are a thousand think tanks out there for our huge national government, then there is room for one think tank on our smaller campus; like how there is room for one newspaper or one Senate. Our campus is a microcosm of a small government and a think tank can play the exact same role.
HC: For sure! What inspired Torchlight Center here? Where did you draw inspiration from?
PM: The answer to that question has honestly evolved over the last year and a half. So, when I first started Torchlight here at FSU, it was informed by my experience at two think tanks: the James Madison Institute in Downtown Tallahassee and the Devoe L. Moore Center in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. Then, bridging that over to my experience here at FSU, I had experience in a couple of SGA positions and, with that, I got a hands-on look at how messed up internal SGA workings are. Not SGA specifically, but the party systems in general. The point being, I had experience both in think tanks at the state level and with SGA.
Then, I was searching for other campus think tanks and found a place called the Student Resource Institute over at UF. We got in contact with the people leading that and both groups were like “this sounds like something we can try to develop as a model, and then see if other campuses would be interested in doing this.” We’re thinking of taking what we’ve learned here at FSU, for the Torchlight Center, and what we have developed is a national model that we can take to different colleges. FSU would be the flagship chapter.
HC: Why do you think that having a think tank on campus is so important? I know that you’ve mentioned that SGA is “rigged”, so why would this help?
PM: At first, I was very gung-ho on the accountability part, which is still important. I emphasized pointing out “oh, they said they did this, but it’s false,” or “they’re lying about this” or “they’re lying about that,” which, there is a place for that in a think tank. When I started, my emphasis was on the accountability branch and the executive branch scorecard, which takes the promises of the executive branch and tracks the completion of them. It’s something that we’re still doing now, but at that point, it was my only goal. It was my outlet of “SGA is lying and I know they’re lying and it’s wrong because they did not complete this policy, but they’re saying that they did.” That’s one thing we still do but in a calmer and more collected way.
Student interest groups can also request research from us. We can give them the data they need for activism. We aren’t activists for any issues and we don’t really promote legislation. Very rarely, we release a policy memo that can recommend a policy based on a really long paper that takes a long time to write.
HC: What is the ideal vision for what Torchlight center would be, a year and a half after it was founded?
PM: The goal is that Torchlight would be regarded as a trusted source of information. When someone sees a product from the Torchlight Center, the first thing that they think is “this is unbiased and a group of people spent the time to produce the best summary of facts available to the public.” I want the information to be understandable and useful to the four main audiences we have, which are students, student leaders, university administration, and local government. The goal would be, at some point, for us to produce things that FSU can then use when they lobby. When a legislator reads a request for “20% more funding” they ask themselves “why.” When they aren’t given an answer to that, I feel like they just throw it away. Hopefully, we can be the ones to figure out the metrics that make sense to the people at the top, because they don’t speak the same language as the students with their boots on the ground. If an organization like Torchlight can turn experiences of racism and homophobia into the language that the administrators can understand, such as graduation and retention rates, then we can validate those students’ experiences and turn them into things that the administration can act on.
HC: Thank you so much for your time!