University President Richard Levin was appointed Friday by President George W. Bush ’68 to an independent commission to look into intelligence failures on finding Iraqi weapons.
At a press conference Friday evening in the Corporation Room of Woodbridge Hall, Levin said he was honored by the appointment and said he felt the commission’s work was “of the utmost importance.” Immediately following Levin’s statement, approximately 20 protesters staged a press event of their own outside the building on Beinecke Plaza, chanting and waving signs to show their disapproval of Levin’s selection for the commission.
“What experience could you possibly have on weapons of mass destruction or U.S. intelligence?” Thomas Frampton ’06 asked Levin as he left Woodbridge Hall.
“I have something you lack — an open mind,” Levin replied.
According to Bush’s executive order creating the nine-member commission, the panel is charged with comparing pre-Iraqi war intelligence to the findings of the Iraq Survey Group that has been searching for weapons of mass destruction within Iraq. Of the seven members appointed by Bush Friday, only Levin is not a former or current federal government official or judge. Bush has yet to name the other two members.
“The president was looking for independent individuals who could dedicate a good amount of time, a year really, of their lives to look into the critical issue of intelligence,” Deputy Assistant to President Bush for Communications Suzy DeFrancis said.
The commission must report its findings by March 31, 2005.
Levin said at the press conference that he would bring impartiality to the commission. While Levin admitted he is not an expert in the intelligence world, he said he would bring an “outside perspective.”
“Hopefully, I was chosen because [Bush] felt a fresh pair of eyes might be a useful addition to this commission,” Levin said.
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Levin plans to balance his position on the commission and his duties at Yale without affecting his current dedication to the University. His new responsibilities will not interfere during the transition period for whomever is named to replace Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, Klasky said.
Brodhead will assume the presidency of Duke University effective July 1.
Some protesters and other members of the Yale community questioned Levin’s qualifications for the job and the reasons behind Bush’s choice.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for President Levin to take the position given the long ties of the Bush family to the University and given that Yale actually has professors with expertise in this area,” Sociology professor Andrew Schrank said at the demonstration on Friday.
But Political Science professor David Cameron, while questioning the motives behind the creation of the committee itself — calling the commission “a centrifuge to avoid a serious issue before [the 2004 election on] Nov. 2”– said it was more important to have open-minded people than intelligence experts on the commission.
“[Panel members] have to ask the right and challenging questions, so I don’t think it’s essential that everyone on the commission have an intelligence background,” Cameron said.
Only one of the panelists appointed Friday has a background in intelligence, Cameron said.
Levin has served on government panels before. He began serving on the President’s Commission on the United States Postal Service in January 2003 and was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball Economics in 2000.
Protesters also questioned Levin’s personal ties to the Bush administration. Levin was one of Bush’s first White House guests, and Levin returned the favor by hosting Bush in May 2001 when Yale awarded Bush an honorary degree.
History professor Paul Kennedy said other U.S. presidents have appointed academic leaders to advise them in the past, citing former Harvard President James Conant’s service on a committee regarding atomic weapons in the 1940s as an example.
“It’s not unusual for an American president under pressure to put an impartial and respected body together to reach out to an Ivy League president,” Kennedy said.
History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said no Yale president had ever served on a commission as important as this one.
Besides Levin GRD ’74, two other members of the commission also have Yale ties. Lloyd Cutler ’36 LAW ’39 is a former White House Counsel to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and Patricia Wald LAW ’51 is a former judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.