While former British prime minister Tony Blair’s politics have sparked protests at several universities in his home country, his reception in New Haven promises to be significantly warmer.
Most Yale students and professors interviewed said they are excited to welcome Blair, who will teach a course next semester on faith and globalization under the auspices of the Divinity School and the School of Management, although several — including the authors of anonymous posts on the News’ Web site — questioned whether his support of the Iraq war leaves him qualified to teach at the University.
When Tony Blair approached the London School of Economics in 2006 about heading a possible school of government, the British media reported, students and faculty at the prestigious university, upset at the former British prime minister’s steadfast support of the Iraq war, rebuffed his entreaties. But when told of the British students’ reaction, Yale Diplomat-in-Residence and international-relations lecturer Charles Hill — a prominent supporter of the Iraq war and a former foreign-policy advisor to one-time presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani — shook it off.
“Yale students are certainly not as immature as that,” he scoffed.
Hill said he thinks Blair’s “real-world experience” will offer his students a unique learning opportunity.
While disputing the accuracy of those British media reports, Blair spokesman Matthew Doyle conceded that the former prime minister has prompted a wide range of reactions — both positive and negative.
“I don’t think it will come to a surprise to Mr. Blair that there are a range of views about him on campus,” he said. “That is something he is fairly familiar with.”
Several faculty and staff members said they will heartily welcome Blair, the political mastermind who brokered peace in Northern Ireland after 30 years of conflict, to New Haven. Daylian Cain, an assistant professor at the SOM, said he hopes to audit Blair’s class.
“To have a former prime minister — it’s just exciting,” he said. “It’s contact with a huge person.”
Andrew Saperstein, associate director of the Reconciliation Program for the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at the Divinity School, said he thinks it is “fitting” for leaders like Blair to work with professors in an academic setting, as their real-world experience can inform their teaching.
The Reconciliation Program seeks to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians. Blair will launch a foundation to promote interfaith dialogue later this year.
In an interview this week, University President Richard Levin said Blair’s experiences on the international stage will make him a valuable asset to Yale.
“Asking this man to teach at Yale does not constitute an endorsement of each and every one of his political views,” Levin said.
Still, several students interviewed said they object to Blair’s appointment because of decisions he made as prime minister — especially his support of U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 during the war in Iraq.
Ian Convey ’11, who interned in the British Parliament in 2005, said a majority of the “insane unpopularity” in the United Kingdom from which Blair suffered at the time can be attributed to his support of the Iraq war.
Convey dislikes Blair, he said, because he found Blair to be “too conservative” in areas like education and health care.
“He missed many opportunities to effect meaningful reforms,” Convey said.
Claire Gordon ’10, who lives in the United Kingdom, agreed with Convey, saying Blair’s actions in Iraq “spelled his political demise.” But she said she is “pretty pumped” about Blair’s arrival and the accompanying excitement.
During his tenure as prime minister, Blair was supportive of U.S. foreign policy, sending troops to Afghanistan and later Iraq to work with the U.S. military. That stand cost Blair the support of many of his constituents, who called him Bush’s “poodle” and accused him of relying on faulty intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq. Last June, Blair resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by fellow Labour Party member Gordon Brown.
Nonetheless, Mahima Sukhdev ’10, also a U.K. resident, pointed to his skills at regulating the economy and work in Northern Ireland as examples of Blair’s effective leadership.
Blair will serve as the Howland Distinguished Fellow for the 2008-’09 academic year. As fellow, he will teach a seminar alongside Miroslav Volf — Yale Center for Faith and Culture director and a Divinity School professor — and participate in various campus events during the year.
Blair’s son Euan will graduate this spring from the Graduate School with a master’s degree in international relations.