Blair begins Yale career

With his class roster finalized and his syllabus printed and ready to go, Yale’s most famous rookie professor will make his long-awaited debut in the classroom today.

And while former British prime minister Tony Blair does not break a sweat when staring down world leaders, facing a class full of overeager Elis may prove more unnerving.

“I’m sort of a bit nervous for it, really,” Blair confided Thursday in a telephone interview with the News. “I was never a star student, and I’m coming along mixing with a whole lot of people who I’m sure are a whole lot more clever and smarter than I am.”

For Blair, 55, today marks the beginning of a three-year teaching appointment, one that will add a palpable dose of celebrity to the Yale faculty. After leading his seminar on faith and globalization in the School of Management and Divinity School, to which hundreds of students applied for admission, Blair will address Yale students, faculty and staff in a conversation with University President Richard Levin at Woolsey Hall this afternoon.

In the interview, Blair said he was particularly excited for the chance to teach, something he has not done before, and to be able to do it on a topic for which he cares deeply.

“These issues have to be explored in depth, not just through making speeches but through interacting with young people who are interested in the same topics,” Blair said. “The chance to actually come to such a great institution as Yale and be able to interact with students — for me, it’s a tremendous privilege.”

The two-hour class, held in the Law School, will include an introduction by co-teacher and Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf, remarks by Blair and an open discussion with the students. The topic is the stakes of faith and globalization.

If adherents to a religion form exclusive loyalties oriented against practitioners of other religions and against globalization, Volf said in an interview Thursday night, conflict and violence will ensue. But if religion promotes respect for others, it can be a source of peace and help humanize the effects of globalization, he said.

The course aligns with the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which was launched in May. Blair said he hopes the class will be a model for teaching elsewhere around the world on the topic of faith.

“There’s an opportunity here to do something that is really new and different and far-reaching in its effect,” he said.

Volf, who has already taught one meeting of the seminar, said the students are excited about the perspective Blair will bring.

“There’s … a lot of anticipation in terms of how he will bring both his experience as one of the major leaders on the world stage to bear on the class discussion, as well as his own view of faith and in particular how, from his vantage point, what the stakes are in getting right the relationship between faith and globalization,” Volf said.

Few other details about the class have been revealed, although one of the students in the seminar, Robert Li ’10, said the course’s syllabus was clearly designed to give Blair as much flexibility as possible to discuss whatever he pleases.

Blair, for his part, vowed to do his part to make sure his students aren’t starstruck and that treat him like any other professor. The former prime minister won’t merely be lecturing to students; he emphasized that the small size of his class — 25 students, including six undergraduates — will be particularly conducive to discussion.

“I’d like to make this quite lively and thought provoking,” Blair said. “The important thing is with a course like this where you end up teaching with a relatively small group of people, you get the chance for interaction, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Blair will be the second former head of government teaching at Yale, joining former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81, the director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. His teaching post comes by the Howland Distinguished Fellowship, which was created in 1915 to honor a “citizen of any country in recognition of some achievement of marked distinction in the field of literature or fine arts or the science of government.”

Past fellows have included the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, journalist Sir Alistair Cooke and stateswoman Indira Gandhi.

But the fellowship is not Blair’s first introduction to Yale. His eldest son, Euan Blair GRD ’08, graduated in the spring with a master’s degree in international relations, and the former prime minister said he was in part drawn to Yale because of the positive experience his son had at the University. Blair said his son reported that Yale “was a fantastic place,” and that he thought his father would like it here.

But the elder Blair said he does not want to be treated as merely a VIP when visiting campus, as he was when he spoke at Class Day in May. He said he hopes his talk today, scheduled for 4:30 p.m., and other public events on campus would help him become part of the fabric of the University. He pledged he will also root for Yale to win The Game. (“I guess I better!” he quipped.)

But don’t expect to see the former prime minister at Toad’s any time soon. Blair said he didn’t ask his son for advice on campus hot spots.

“I think the places that he thought it was really great to go to would be better for people his age than mine,” he said.

—Isaac Arnsdorf, Zeke Miller and Raphael Shapiro contributed reporting.

Comments

  • Athena Murphy

    "But the elder Blair said he does not want to be treated as merely a VIP when visiting campus"

    He is not a VIP - he is a warmonger who has caused the deaths of over a million people. It is totally Orwellian that he should be treated as some sort of respected statesman with this sort of a gruesome record.

    Or do Iraqis and Afghans, Palestinians and Lebanese simply not count according to those who appointed him to this position at Yale?

  • Sarah D.

    Maybe you should take this as an opportunity to learn from someone who has viewpoints that differ from your own, Athena.

    If you stop slinging insults at democratically elected officials and listen to their logic with an open mind, you'll learn much more than if you stay in your ideological corner and regurgitate left-wing talking points on cue.

    Agree or disagree with him, you must admit that Tony Blair has had a lifetime of experience in politics that makes him a viable educator.

    And who better to explain the logic that led to the Iraq War? Ask him tough questions. That's what he's here for. Just be sure to listen to the answers.

  • Athena

    Sarah D - I have done nothing but 'listen' to this man for the 10 years he was prime minister of my country. I even helped elect him in 1997. And for that I am truly sorry to all the people that he has murdered and all the lives he has destroyed.

    I do not agree that a war criminal is a 'viable educator'. Perhaps you should ask yourself why you are not offended by the mountain of lies that this man told that enabled him to murder over a million people across the Mid-East, not to mention the thousands of young soldiers sent to die on a lie.

    It is no conspiracy and nothing peculiar to the left to acknowledge that this man lied out of his teeth. The evidence is out there in the open - the Downing Street Memo is but one sliver of this evidence.

    I am not quite sure where you are coming from but it would do you some good to rediscover some humanity.

  • Monique

    Athena - How about those who perished in 9/11 and the lives of innocent people who were victims of suicide bomber? Were they not entitle to justice? Mr. Blair did what he was supposed to do and what he believed the right thing to do. In fact, in my personal opinion, those soldiers who are fighting to combat terrorism are brave cause those extremist cannot fight them face to face. Terrorist hit and run, is that bravery or cowardness?

  • re: #4

    Wow, that was a really bad response to the points brought up by #3. Did you seriously just equate the war in Iraq with 9/11?

    "In fact, in my personal opinion,…"

  • Sarah D.

    Athena,

    Believe me when I tell you this: I am no supporter of the War, or of Tony Blair's policies. A great many of them were train wrecks--much of the world can agree on this.

    But do you actually believe that these mistakes were done with the intention of killing and the intention of destruction? Do you think he is an evil soul with insatiable bloodlust who delights in dead Iraqis? Do you think he craves war and loathes peace?

    He was a high-profile elected leader with a life of experience in professional politics. For all I'm concerned, that qualifies him to direct discussion in a seminar on globalization at Yale.

    Last, contrary to the personal insult that ended your comment, I think I have humanity. Maybe it is wrong to assume that I am an awful person because I disagree with you regarding Tony Blair's teaching credentials.

    Kinda connects to my first comment, actually.

  • visitor

    #4, what does Iraq have to do with 9/11? I thought Mr Bush/Blair went there for WMD not for 9/11. Check your fact please.

  • Athena Murphy

    "But do you actually believe that these mistakes were done with the intention of killing and the intention of destruction? Do you think he is an evil soul with insatiable bloodlust who delights in dead Iraqis"

    Do you not know the definition of war Sarah? And there are not many left who regard the invasion of Iraq as a 'mistake'. There is too much evidence to show that it was based on lies spin and propaganda.

    Millions took to the streets to oppose this war - 2 million in my own city of London. We all saw through the lies and deceit. And we certainly all knew that invading a country would end in the mass murder of civilians. That is not rocket science.

    5 years later there is an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis dead - and that's not even to mention Afghanistan. Anyone who was truly against war would bother to check their facts and see through these imperialist adventures. And they certainly would not welcome Tony Blair teaching at Yale in an attempt to rehabilitate him as some sort of respected statesman.

    He is not respected - he is one of the most despised leaders of modern history. His nickname is B-Liar and he will go down in history (the honest version) as the war criminal that he is.

    Shame on those who wish to re-write history and in the process treat the countless dead Iraqis, Afghans and soldiers - killed on a lie - as totally worthless.