Twenty minutes into the first class of the semester, a Columbia University foreign policy professor interrupted class. “I see the phones and the cameras,” she said. “This is not a Taylor Swift concert.”
To avoid further disruption, Professor Keren Yarhi-Milo offered the students a five-minute reprieve. They could raise their phones to photograph the famous co-teacher standing on stage, new professor Hillary Clinton.
“That,” Clinton noted as hundreds of cameras trained on her, “is like the paparazzi,” a subject, like foreign policy, that she knows well.
Across New York, students and teachers are back summer vacation this week. For Mrs Clinton, 75, it marks her return to school after a much longer period. It’s been nearly 50 years since his time as a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, Ark.
On Tuesday, the day before her first lecture, Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, was setting up her office, which overlooks campus from the 14th floor of Columbia’s International Affairs Building, and studying her filing cabinets. outlines and notes.
“I feel good,” she said during an interview in a conference room adjacent to her bright office, “but I’m nervous.”
As is the case with most of the ventures started by Mrs. Clinton – which has long been something of a national Rorschach test, loved by many and hated by many others – her new mission has a greater significance than a simple return to its academic roots.
The new position at Columbia could allow Clinton to re-emerge publicly as a foreign policy expert, after years of being portrayed in the press and in the public imagination as Donald J. Trump’s defeated presidential candidate.
For any liberal politician, but perhaps especially for Mrs. Clinton – who could have imagined herself years ago in 2023 completing a historic presidency – there is perhaps no easier landing ground than an Ivy League campus in New York.
The course is offered by the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, a graduate school where tuition is over $65,000 per year. “Inside the Situation Room,” as the class is called, is part of a larger partnership between Ms. Clinton and Dr. Yarhi-Milo, the school’s dean and professor of international relations who studies psychology and the mechanisms of decision-making. of decision.
Together, the women are also creating Colombia’s new Institute of Global Politics, where an inaugural group of fellows includes Marie Yovanovitch, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine; Stacey Abrams, Georgia suffrage activist and former gubernatorial candidate; and Eric Schmidt, former CEO and President of Google. Fellows will work with students and scholars to combine research and practical experience in hopes of solving social and political problems on a global scale.
A spokeswoman for the school of public affairs says that while other high-profile figures, like Madeleine Albright, have been invited to teach on campus, few, if any, have been given the same tenure as Clinton. , who was named a full professor in addition to her role at the institute. The spokeswoman declined to share details of Clinton’s compensation or compare it to other faculty members.
The course – named after the White House command center – is intended to deconstruct how choices with geopolitical consequences are made, through the lens of Dr. Yarhi-Milo’s data and Ms. Clinton’s experiences. Over 800 students applied to take the course, submitting essays for review; approximately 370 graduate and undergraduate students have been accepted. All were checked by the secret services.
Lectures will cover topics such as whether groups make better decisions than individuals and how public opinion influences foreign policy. Among the assigned readings: “How to Stand Up to a Dictator” by Maria Ressa, and excerpts from Mrs. Clinton’s 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” in which she recounts her years as secretary of state under the administration. Barack Obama.
Students can expect Mr. Trump to only intervene when he addresses specific topics in diplomacy or historical foreign policy cases, such as when he ‘withdrew’ us from the Iran nuclear deal. negotiated for the first time by Mrs. Clinton.
“This course, she says, is not about him. »
Indeed, in the hour-long interview before her first class, as Mrs. Clinton talked about leaders from Vladimir Putin to Abraham Lincoln, she felt like she was a million years away from the most public battles rude today.
This year, she says, she’s not following the Republican presidential primary closely. As polls indicate Mr Trump will win the nomination, she said: ‘I hope people of good faith on all political stripes understand the dire consequences there could be if he returns to the House. White. A spokesperson for Mr. Trump, Steven Cheung, replied: “Hillary Clinton still cannot recover from her devastating loss in 2016 and leads a miserable existence because she has to relive that glorious moment every day. »
Clinton said she didn’t bother to watch the Republican primary debate on Fox News last month.
For what? “Summertime,” she said, reflecting on the season’s activities that brought her joy: the movies (“‘Oppenheimer,’ she said, ‘was amazing’); books (she stayed up until 3 am reading “Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett); and the theatre. Last Sunday, she took her three grandchildren to the “Lion King” on Broadway. “There’s nothing quite like seeing him with little kids,” she said.
Four days later, it would be Hillary Clinton on stage.
On Wednesday afternoon, the students entered the Altschul Auditorium before the 2 p.m. class. This would be the first of Mrs. Clinton and Dr. Yarhi-Milo’s weekly lectures. Students must also attend weekly focus group meetings with teaching assistants, who will grade their assigned courses.
Dr. Yarhi-Milo told the students there would be no shortage of contemporary foreign policy crises to unravel: the war in Ukraine, the spy balloon that flew over the United States, and tensions in Taiwan, to name a few. name a few. To think about how leaders react, students would read and discuss game theory, behavioral psychology, time pressure, and other things that shape decisions. “That’s all I can tell you because I wasn’t in the room,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton was often, and she shared several stories, including one that actually happened in the Situation Room. In early 2009, after being named Secretary of State by President-elect Barack Obama, but not yet confirmed by the Senate, she received a message from Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, telling her that ‘She should relate to the situation room.
Mrs. Clinton and other members of the new administration met with Bush officials, who briefed them on what they considered to be credible threats of attacks against the inauguration and against Mr. Obama.
It was his first time in the Situation Room in an official capacity. “You are attracted; often you don’t know there’s a crisis until you walk into the crisis room,” she said. “It’s not in the headlines yet and sometimes it never is, which isn’t so bad.”
But being involved in high-level policy-making has consequences, even years later. As Mrs. Clinton explained to the students how to make decisions, a small group protested outside the building, chanting, “Shame on you! Expel Hillary Clinton!
Dahoud Andre, organizer of a group called Komokoda, said he hoped to pressure university officials to end their relationship with Clinton, who was secretary of state in 2010 when a earthquake ravaged Haiti. He believes that the violence and political unrest that continues to plague the country has its roots in the US response. A Columbia spokesperson declined to comment on the protest.
The President’s House
On January 28, 2017, Mrs. Clinton sat down to dinner at a mansion built for presidents, more than 200 miles north of the White House, where Mr. Trump had made his home eight days earlier.
It was the president’s house in Columbia. She was present for a dinner in her honor hosted by Lee Bollinger, the longtime leader of the university, whom she has known for years.
After the 2016 election, he said, he wanted Columbia to be on his mind as it considered its future. Last year, when he was about to resign, everything fell into place. When Mrs. Clinton met with Dr. Yarhi-Milo, Mr. Bollinger said, “It all lit up. »
On Wednesday, at the end of 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.
Then the students exited the auditorium and buzzed into a courtyard.
Akaysha Palmer, who is studying for a master’s degree in public administration, said she was glad the discussion did not include the loss of Mrs Clinton to Mr Trump. “I just want to focus on his role as secretary of state,” she said.
A classmate, Bukuru Anastazie, was of the same opinion. “His name is always attached to a man’s name,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to talk about her.”