A center’s search for global meaning

When asked what he thinks the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization is, Adam Taubman ’04 sounded as if he had been asked to explain the phenomenon of globalization itself.

“I honestly have no clue,” Taubman said. “I don’t know anything except for the fact that Strobe Talbott left and that the former Mexican president’s coming to replace him.”

But beyond the names of Yale’s two political celebrities — outgoing Director Strobe Talbott ’68 and incoming Director Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 — the burning question remains: What is the globalization center?

“The question everyone asks me is ‘what are you guys doing?'” said Haynie Wheeler, associate director of the globalization center.

Yale President Richard Levin said the center is very much “a work in progress,” but added that the center has made significant strides in its first year, citing a book on Sept. 11 and the creation of an online journal as primary examples.

But much of that activity has been eclipsed by the political drama surrounding the center in recent months.

In January, Talbott announced that, after one year at Yale, he would be leaving his position this August to head the Brookings Institution, a prestigious Washington, D.C., think tank. His move, regarded by some as a betrayal to Yale and by others as a move to greener pastures, caused tension and unease within the Yale community, several faculty members said.

And with Talbott’s announcement spreading throughout academia, professors at peer institutions began having doubts about the globalization center’s legitimacy.

“I think Yale should take advantage of Strobe Talbott’s departure to come face to face with the question of ‘Was it Strobe’s high visibility that was really the spark plug that made the institute a viable one? Is there life after Strobe?'” Richard Ullman, a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said in January. “And I’m not sure the answer is ‘yes.'”

A return to prominence

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of a globalization center was not entirely the brain child of Talbott and Levin. Instead, an original proposal from a group of Yale professors for a strictly academic program evolved into a hybrid of policy and academic thinking with input from Talbott, the former deputy secretary of state.

“Strobe, by his position and his ability to have a great Rolodex, added a very new and welcome policy dimension to the center,” Wheeler said. “He had a clear desire to reach out beyond the academic community.”

This unique globalization center, which emulates neither the Brookings Institution nor Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, was to be one of the primary aspects of Levin’s mission to internationalize Yale in the coming century.

History professor Gaddis Smith, who is currently writing a book on the 20th-century history of Yale, said that competition with peer institutions might have sparked the creation of the globalization center.

“Some universities compete in football, but Yale is among the few universities that compete for national prestige,” Gaddis said.

In the short term, the center would also serve as a way for Yale to re-establish itself in the field of international relations after a downfall during the 1950s, Smith said.

Then-President A. Whitney Griswold had ordered the dismantling of centers and institutions because he believed the strength of universities lay in academic departments, Smith said.

With Yale’s center for international studies in ruins, many top scholars in the field fled south to Princeton and played instrumental roles in transforming the Woodrow Wilson School into a nationally respected institution.

“Yale was the leading university in the country for international affairs, and Griswold just gutted it,” Smith said.

Levin said his goal is to restore that glory.

“I’m trying to put back to prominence something that was unfortunately excised from the University,” Levin said.

The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization: Year one

Having just returned from a globalization lecture at Lafayette College, Talbott looked slightly disheveled as he began his hourlong explanation of the “globalization center” that has remained a mystery to so many in the Yale community.

“The purpose is to sponsor interdisciplinary work within the University and with think tanks,” Talbott explained. “There’s a teaching element, an outreach element, a publications element, and in due course, a conflict resolution element.”

The center’s most visible product thus far has been “The Age of Terror: America and the World After Sept. 11,” a hardcover book the center co-published with Basic Books. Co-edited by Talbott and the center’s Director of Publications Nayan Chanda, the book was released in the United States in January and recently, British and German editions have also been published.

“As publisher of the book, our center has gotten huge visibility,” Chanda said. “It’s very rare that a center with four months of existence can shoot up to national prominence like that.”

But Michael Rubin ’94 GRD ’99, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the book does not lend legitimacy to the center.

“They published a book but it didn’t include earth-shattering analysis,” Rubin said. “It has to build respect. [Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government] and the [Woodrow] Wilson School have had years and years. Yale can’t expect shortcuts.”

The globalization center is also planning to increase its visibility with “Yale Global,” a state-of-the-art online journal that is slated to launch this fall.

In addition, the center has sponsored numerous lectures and workshops for both students and faculty, and has supported internships for graduate and professional school students.

But in a university where undergraduate education is deemed the core of the institution, students said the globalization center has apparently had a minimal effect on undergraduates.

Although the globalization center was never intended to play a significant role in the Yale College curriculum, Wheeler said the center has taken a number of steps to increase its presence among undergraduates. But she added that the results of the center’s efforts may not be felt by Yale College for a few years.

“If you look five years down the road and see what impact [the center] has had on undergraduate education, I think it’ll be substantial,” said Wheeler.

While the center has sponsored a number of undergraduate policy lunches and has aided some undergraduates on internship searches this year, the most noticeable effects are expected to come next year.

Sociology professor and the center’s academic director Deborah Davis has developed a team-taught introductory course on globalization that will be offered next semester. The course will be offered jointly by the Anthropology, Economics and Sociology Departments.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said he is not sure what the nature of the globalization center’s relationship to Yale College academics will be in the future, especially with the presence of the International Studies Program.

“There’s a certain kind of course that doesn’t come out of departments, and this broad, interdisciplinary course is an example of that. But we don’t want it to duplicate the efforts of International Studies,” Brodhead said.

In addition to Davis’ course, the center will support new classes relating globalization to fields such as music, women’s and gender studies, political science, and religious studies.

Talbott said the globalization center’s potential to have a real world effect lies in Yale’s undergraduates.

“If Yale undergraduates, over the years, emerge from this university with a better understanding of globalization than they would have had without the globalization center, then I think we’ll be able to call it a success,” Talbott said.

While the center’s activities and broader vision are certain to change under Zedillo, nobody — including Zedillo — knows how the center might change.

“I will not have any definite ideas or strategies until I am there,” Zedillo said. “I think any institution acquires its identity over time. I want the permanent mission of the center to be defined through a process of interaction with the Yale community.”

The politics: Washington-style

When Levin announced that Talbott would lead the globalization center in November 2000, many regarded the appointment as a successful union — Talbott, a political superstar, would lead the center, and Yale, an academic superstar, would support the center.

But the union between the political world and the academic world also proved to be a recipe for controversy, several professors said. In particular, the globalization center’s structural relationship with the Yale Center for International and Area Studies stirred trouble within the faculty ranks, professors said.

“Strobe had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, and there was a certain segment of the faculty that felt like Rick [Levin] gave away the store,” a senior professor said.

Professors said that Levin had originally been supportive of a greater degree of cooperation between YCIAS and the globalization center.

“Strobe had very strong ideas about the need for the center to have its own autonomy,” the anonymous professor said. “Strobe didn’t want to answer to anyone. He was used to being the boss of a very big and complicated organization.”

Currently, the globalization center operates as an independent entity with its own budget. When Zedillo arrives, the center will fall under the YCIAS umbrella but will continue to maintain a separate budget.

Talbott said autonomy has been an important factor in the center’s success.

“It’s one reason [the globalization center] has been able to react quickly and non-bureaucratically to opportunities,” Talbott said.

With an unanticipated change in leadership coming before the globalization center even turns 1 year old, both administrators and professors said they are not sure where Zedillo will take the center.

Law professor and Director of the World Fellows Program Daniel Esty said Talbott has already put a significant stamp on the center.

“I think Strobe Talbott has done an extraordinary job in getting this center up and running,” Esty said. “President Zedillo has the benefit of building on what is already a significant center.”

But Smith said the center has been derailed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and by Talbott’s announcement to leave his post.

“It’s almost as if they’re back at square one,” Smith said. “And they haven’t gone beyond square one, so nobody knows what square two looks like.”

History chairman Jon Butler said Zedillo will have a tremendous impact on the center as the director because of the center’s infrastructure.

“Much of the globalization center depends on the director because it’s so very new,” Butler said. “The promise of the globalization center is, frankly, the promise of Zedillo as a director.”

With so much hope surrounding Zedillo’s appointment, one senior professor said that in the long run, it will be Zedillo, not Talbott, who is credited for any future success.

“In 10 years from now, if the globalization center doesn’t succeed, people will say it had an ill-fated start and never recovered,” the professor said. “If it succeeds, then people will forget about Strobe Talbott.”

‘Globalization': the ‘interdependence’ of today?

Following a year marked by a high-profile departure and a high-profile arrival, the globalization center’s fundamental question remains — does anybody know what “globalization” is?

When asked that very question, Talbott’s answer was simple — “No.”

“It’s a fascinating subject because it encompasses the entire human experience,” Chanda said. “I feel like what we’re doing is very innovative and substantive.”

But the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Rubin disputed that claim and said the globalization center may not be a worthwhile investment for Yale.

“Yale is remarkable at being five years behind the curve,” Rubin said. “And the Yale center for globalization, when globalization is arguably a passing fad, shows exactly that.”

Political science professor Charles Hill said although the term “globalization” may eventually pass, the phenomenon itself is very real.

“It seems to me that globalization is not a fad, although people have legitimately said that it’s like ‘interdependence’ from 20 years ago,” Hill said. “But without a doubt, there’s a phenomenon out there that’s substantial and long-lasting, and it is not understood.”

In just one year of existence, the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization has seen both the high-profile departure of Director Strobe Talbott ’68 (right) and the high-profile arrival of Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81.
AFP, AlysonSudow
In just one year of existence, the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization has seen both the high-profile departure of Director Strobe Talbott ’68 (right) and the high-profile arrival of Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81.

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