The first class of the semester had started 20 minutes ago when a foreign policy professor from Columbia University interrupted the lecture. “I’m watching the phones and the cameras,” she said. “This is not a Taylor Swift concert.”
To avoid further confusion, teacher Keren Yarhi-Milo offered the students a five-minute break. They could hold up their phones to photograph their celebrated colleague standing on stage, newly appointed professor Hillary Clinton.
“This,” Hillary observed as hundreds of cameras focused on her, “is like the paparazzi,” a topic about which, like foreign policy, she knows a lot.
Across New York City, students and teachers returned from summer vacation. For Hillary, 75, it was a return to education after a much longer gap. It has been nearly 50 years since her time as a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville.
On Tuesday (5), the day before her first speech, Hillary, the former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady of the United States, was setting up her office overlooking the campus, on the 14th floor of the International Affairs Building. from Columbia, and studying his binders of projects and notes.
“I feel good,” she said in an interview in a conference room adjacent to her bright office, “but nervous.”
As with most of Hillary’s endeavors — which has long been a kind of national Rorschach test, loved by many and hated by many others — her new work has greater significance than simply a return to her academic roots. .
The new position at Columbia could allow Hillary to publicly re-emerge as a foreign policy expert, after years of being portrayed in the press and in the public imagination as the presidential candidate defeated by Donald Trump.
For any progressive politician, but especially for Hillary – who years ago perhaps imagined herself completing a historic presidency in 2023 – there is no softer landing pad than a traditional Ivy League university in New York City.
The course is offered by the Columbia School of Public and International Affairs, a graduate school whose annual fee costs more than US$65,000. “Inside the Situation Room,” as the course is called, is part of a broader partnership between Hillary and Yarhi-Milo, dean of the school and professor of international relations who studies the psychology and mechanics of decision-making.
Together, the two are also creating Columbia’s new Global Policy Institute, where the inaugural group of speakers includes Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; Stacey Abrams, Georgia voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate; and Eric Schmidt, former president and chief executive of Google. Faculty will work with students and academics to merge research and practical experience in hopes of solving social and political problems on a global scale.
A school spokesman said that while other well-known figures such as Madeleine Albright have been invited to teach on campus, few if any have received the same tenure as Hillary, who has been named a full professor in addition to her role at the institute. He declined to share details of Hillary’s compensation or how it compares to other faculty members.
The class – named after the White House command center – aims to deconstruct how choices with geopolitical consequences are made through the lens of Yarhi-Milo’s data and Hillary’s experiences. More than 800 students signed up for the course, submitting essays for consideration; approximately 370 graduate and undergraduate students were accepted. All were vetted by the Secret Service.
The lectures will discuss, for example, whether groups make better decisions than individuals and how public opinion influences foreign policy. Among the assigned readings: “How to Confront a Dictator” by Maria Ressa and excerpts from Hillary’s 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” in which she recounted her years as secretary of state during Barack Obama’s administration.
Students may expect Trump to appear only when it comes to discussions of specific topics in diplomacy or in historic foreign policy cases, such as when the Republican pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was first negotiated by Hillary.
“This course,” she said, “is not about him.”
On Wednesday afternoon (6), students entered the Altschul Auditorium before class at 2pm. It would be Hillary and Yarhi-Milo’s first weekly talk. Students are also expected to participate in weekly discussion group meetings with teaching assistants, who will evaluate their work.
Yarhi-Milo told the students that they had no shortage of contemporary foreign policy crises to resolve: the Ukrainian War, the spy balloon that flew by the U.S., and the tension in Taiwan, to name a few. To consider how leaders responded, students will read and discuss game theory, behavioral psychology, time pressure, and other elements that shape decisions. “That’s all I can say, because I wasn’t in the room,” she said.
Hillary often was, and shared several stories, including one that actually happened in the Situation Room. In early 2009, after being nominated by then-President-elect Barack Obama as Secretary of State but not yet confirmed by the Senate, she received a warning from Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, that she should go to the Situation Room.
Hillary and other members of the new administration met with people from the Bush administration, who briefed them on what they considered credible threats of attacks on the inauguration ceremony and on Obama.
This was the first time she was in the Situation Room in an official capacity. “You’re involved; a lot of times, you don’t know there’s a crisis until you walk into the Situation Room,” she said. “It’s still not in the headlines and sometimes it never will be, which isn’t all bad.”
At the end of Wednesday’s class, students were invited to ask questions. One asked about gender disparities in foreign policy; another asked about the potential use of artificial intelligence in diplomacy.
Afterwards, the students swarmed out of the auditorium and into the courtyard.
Akaysha Palmer, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration, said she was glad the discussion did not include Hillary’s defeat to Trump. “I want to just focus on her role as secretary of state,” she said.
A fellow student, Bukuru Anastazie, agreed. “Her name is always linked to a man’s,” she said. “It’s really refreshing that it’s about herself.”