Strobe Talbott ’68 unexpectedly announced yesterday that he will leave his post just one year after launching the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
Talbott will assume a new position in September as the president of the Brookings Institution, one of the oldest public policy research institutions in the nation, where he said he hopes to affect public policy more directly.
After a month of serious discussion with Brookings trustees, Talbott’s appointment to the institution was finalized at 10:15 a.m. Thursday. He will remain as head of the center until the end of the summer.
“It isn’t the decision all my colleagues would want me to make, but we all have to make decisions for ourselves,” Talbott said. “While I didn’t intend to stay for only a year, you can do a lot in a year.”
Brooke Shearer, Talbott’s wife and the executive director of the World Fellows program, will join him in Washington, D.C., where they have kept a residence during their time at Yale. Shearer said she has no professional plans in Washington yet.
While some faculty members have expressed resentment over Talbott’s decision, Yale President Richard Levin said he could understand Talbott’s reasoning.
“This was an irresistible opportunity for him,” Levin said.
Talbott and Levin’s brainchild
Levin said the concept for a globalization center was conceived during a conversation with Talbott in the summer of 2000.
“It was something that each of us had independently been thinking about,” Levin said. “It was one of those surprising coincidences.”
Talbott said the center encountered a major detour during its developmental stages — Sept. 11. In response to the terrorist attacks, Talbott collaborated with scholars, including six Yale professors, in publishing an analytical book on the attacks.
Gustav Ranis, the director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, said the book distracted Talbott from the center.
“The events of Sept. 11 focused his attentions on [the book] and took his mind away from developing the program,” Ranis said.
But Talbott defended his choice.
“The magnitude of what happened to the nation allowed that we had no choice but to put some things aside,” he said.
Although much of the fall semester was devoted to this literary venture, Talbott said he intends to spend the next semester focusing on globalization and on laying a more solid foundation for the center. The center is currently planning to unveil an online magazine in the spring about globalization, he said.
While Talbott was widely welcomed by members of the Yale community last fall, his arrival did not come without controversy.
“He was not from academia,” economics professor T.N. Srinivasan said. “He was coming from the more political echelons of society, so initially, there were problems of mutual adjustments.”
The initial controversies have been further compounded by Talbott’s sudden departure.
“I think Yale’s been burned pretty badly,” a senior Yale professor said. “Anything [Talbott] has accomplished here has been more than lost. It’s sad for the University.”
Several professors said they were disappointed because they had expected Talbott to remain at Yale long enough to help the globalization center realize its potential.
“Yale had the expectation that [Talbott] would be here for a longer term to establish the center and its academic credentials,” Srinivasan said. “And his leaving within a year of his coming leaves the center in a bit of a difficult position.”
While some faculty members expressed resentment about Talbott’s departure, World Fellows Program Director Daniel Esty said he could understand Talbott’s decision because of the Brookings Institution’s prestige.
“It’s a great opportunity for Strobe,” Esty said. “It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of things. It’s the kind of thing where you wish for different timing, but you can’t be sorry to see a Yale person getting such an important position.”
Brookings Chairman James Johnson said the institute pursued Talbott aggressively, despite knowing that he had just begun a new venture at Yale.
“Our goal was to simply find the best president,” Johnson said. “We were aware of the fact that he was at Yale, but we did everything to persuade him to believe that the presidency of the Brookings Institution would be important for his career.”
Although Brookings’ strategy ultimately worked, Talbott said, “It was a very, very difficult decision.”
Yale Corporation fellow Roland Betts ’68, who donated $5 million for the renovation of the future home of the center, said there was nothing he could do if he was unhappy with Talbott’s decision.
“I guess I am happy for him because he has a huge responsibility, but I am sorry he is not staying,” Betts said.
Talbott, who said he was not unhappy with the financial resources available at Yale, added that he plans to keep in touch with the Development Office to help fund-raising efforts.
“I am well aware the strategy will have to be changed [in my absence],” Talbott said.
Levin said that Talbott’s departure would not affect the center’s current funding and that he has spoken with all of the donors within the last 48 hours.
“We have been quite successful in securing funding to cover the first two or three years of the center’s activities,” Levin said. “All the supporters of this enterprise are proud and happy to be supporting the internationalization of Yale.”
Despite speculation that this summer is the make or break point for the center, Talbott said it was only a “transitional and important summer.”
“We have already passed the make or break point,” Talbott said. “I feel confident this one is here to stay.”
Levin and Yale professors associated with the center said they felt confident the program will survive long after Talbott’s departure.
“It is in its early days yet, and it is just in its takeoff phase,” international studies professor Charles Hill said. “It shouldn’t be difficult for Yale to find an outstanding replacement.”
While Levin said the center’s future was not in jeopardy, he did agree that re-evaluation was necessary.
“I do want to hear from the faculty to hear those reactions about the initial period and whether the concept is fine as is,” Levin said. “It is a natural time to take stock and figure where to go from here.”
Talbott said the venture “is going very, very strong” because of the support of the administration and key faculty members and the enthusiasm of the student body.
“What I came here to do took off really fast,” Talbott said. “I’m going to do everything to help keep the momentum.”
Even in his new position, Talbott, a former Yale Corporation fellow, said he hopes to continue working with the University.
John Thornton, the head of the Brookings Institution’s search committee, said Talbott’s Yale affiliation was a gain for the institution.
“From the Brookings point of view, it makes sense to have some number of alliances with world-class universities where the strengths of the universities are complementary,” Thornton said.
And Talbott said this alliance is the key reason the Brookings Institution approached him.
“In a real sense, Brookings didn’t just come after me,” Talbott said. “They came after Yale.”