Wellesley to honor Albright with school

Ex-diplomat offers papers to college

By Joseph Williams
Globe Staff / June 12, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is offering to donate her papers to Wellesley College, inspiring the institution to create an international studies school in her honor to train a new generation of women for the world stage.

Wellesley officials confirmed this week that the Madeleine K. Albright Institute for Global Affairs will begin classes in January, and Albright, the nation's first female chief diplomat, will be the school's first visiting professor. The program, which will admit between 40 and 50 undergraduates this year, will teach students to think broadly about complex international issues such as war, famine, and climate change.

Along with traditional political science and international affairs classes, students will take courses in religion, sociology, anthropology, and other aca demic fields that can help them better understand the root causes of global problems.

"The Albright Institute will be a place where scholars and practitioners can gather to research, to reflect on, and discuss and debate global issues," Wellesley College president H. Kim Bottomly said in a statement. "It will be a place that brings a focused international perspective to our liberal arts curriculum. It will be a place that will play a critical role in Wellesley's education of future women leaders across the world."

Albright - a 1959 Wellesley graduate and the commencement speaker two years ago - told the Globe that she is "over the moon" with the honor, which she will announce in a keynote speech this weekend at her 50th class reunion. "They actually came to me because they were interested in trying to figure out how to really expand what they already do so well: training young women for leadership in a variety of fields," she said in an interview.

Wellesley spokeswoman Elizabeth Gildersleeve said yesterday that the idea for the institute emerged from discussions between Albright and the college over the working papers Albright accumulated during her career. Because some of Albright's papers contain classified material, the donation is still in the works, Gildersleeve said. Officials are determining which papers can be released immediately, and which need to be declassified first.

The institute will be established regardless of when the papers are donated.

Gildersleeve said Wellesley is establishing a $6 million endowment for the institute, "and, conservatively speaking, we are more than halfway there." Despite the rocky economy, she added, "Our fund-raising efforts have been gratifying."

The institute's interdisciplinary approach reflects her own philosophy about the complex dimensions of world affairs, Albright said, but it also is a significant departure from the traditional approach most colleges take on international studies.

As an undergraduate, Albright said, her curriculum was heavy on history and political science, and "it was a really big deal to take economics."

But as a diplomat, Albright said she quickly realized the world's problems are multidimensional, and what she learned studying economics, for instance, helped her understand forces at work behind various conflicts. "I have had to understand science," said Albright, who served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 under President Clinton. "I just came back from the Arctic. I now understand global warming."

Given the array of worldwide problems - climate change, terrorism, and economic collapse - international relations "is now such a broad field," Albright said. Students who want to work in foreign relations, she added, must understand the powerful religious and cultural forces that create radical jihadists and can use lessons from anthropology to unlock solutions for deep-seated ethnic violence.

Rick Barton, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said Albright and Wellesley are correct to incorporate subjects like religion and biology to expand students' world views at "humanity's most complex moment."

"It's really the only way you can understand why people would kill each other, and I think Secretary Albright has always gotten that," said Barton, who specializes in national security issues and directs the center's Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project. "They recognize that this is a very complex challenge and you have to approach it in an integrated fashion. That's still not the norm. If Wellesley does it successfully, they will be ahead of others."

Wellesley students admitted to the institute will take their regular classes and spend three weeks studying with professors, researchers, and international relations and global policy specialists, including Albright, according to the school. The following summer, the students will participate in hands-on internships in the United States and overseas, "applying what they have learned to experiences all over the world," according to the school.

The college also intends to use the Albright Institute as a platform for visiting scholars and world leaders as well as informal discussions with students and forums on global issues, according to Wellesley officials.

For Albright, the project is a labor of love. Though she holds a graduate degree from Columbia University and has taught for years at Georgetown University, the Wellesley campus holds a special place in her life - and the institute is the ideal honor. The current secretary of state, former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the third woman to hold that post and is also a Wellesley alumna.

"I didn't want something where they said, 'Oh, my God, we have to name some building after her,' but a project that can expand, and is so dynamic," Albright said. "I love Wellesley. I am very proud to have gone there. This is what I had hoped for."

(Clarification: A Globe story on Wellesley College's creation of an international studies school in honor of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright should have clarified that there has been no final decision on whether Albright will donate her papers to the school. Wellesley and Albright are still in discussions on the matter. )