William Foltz, former professor and expert on African politics, dies at 77

William J. Foltz GRD ’58 ’63, a former professor of African studies and political science, died Sunday. He was 77.

An expert on African politics, Foltz advised the Clinton administration on its policy toward the continent during his time on the National Intelligence Council between 1995 and 1997. At Yale, he expanded the University’s academic focus on Africa during his tenure as chair of the Council of African Studies. Foltz was also the first director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies — now known as the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies — from 1983 to 1989 and chaired the Political Science department from 2004 to 2005 before his formal retirement in 2006.

“Bill Foltz was widely known and respected for his work in and about Africa, and he was a beloved mentor to his students,” professor Ian Shapiro GRD ’80 ’83 J.D. ’87, the current Henry R. Luce Director, said in a Yale press release.

Shapiro added that as the first director of the YCIAS, Foltz laid the foundation for where the center is today.

Foltz wrote in a memoir that much of his career focused on “crossing boundaries” and understanding the dynamics of political power. His research and teaching spurred him to travel to many countries, including Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Chad. He also frequently advised the Rand Corporation and the Department of State.

“I had started out in an interdisciplinary program as an undergraduate, and I muddled along to work with scholars and government analysts, to cross boundaries and exercise … not power, but the arcane techniques of getting something done at Yale and occasionally in Washington,” Foltz wrote.

Foltz also evaluated his academic success by his students’ passion for scholarship. In 2006, many of his doctoral students created a festschrift — a book honoring a respected academic — to celebrate his retirement.

After receiving his A.B. from Princeton in 1957, Foltz received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1963. He was immediately hired by the University’s Department of Political Science, where he remained for the rest of his career. Even after his retirement, he continued to teach and advise students.

During a career marked by its longevity, Foltz authored dozens of publications, including his 1965 book, “From French West Africa to the Mali Federation.” He was also the recipient of the Guggenheim and Ford Foundation Fellowships. A journalism award in the MacMillan Center is named after Foltz.

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